I’m hoping that Rachel Shechtman, founder of the storied STORY theme shop, will perform a real “miracle on 34th Street” and on the many other streets where Macy’s resides across the country.
Macy’s recently acquired STORY, the 2000 square-foot buzzy rotating-theme shop in the shadow of the High Line in Manhattan. More importantly, through the acquisition they hired Rachel Shechtman, who will become Macy’s newly created brand experience officer. Hmmm, this is kind of like Walmart’s acquiring Marc Lore’s ecommerce expertise through its acquisition of Jet.com. Both CEO Jeff Gennette and President Hal Lawton know that to be successful, the hundreds of buildings bearing Macy’s nameplates must become cool experiential, hang-out destinations for demanding next-gen consumers. Macy’s also needs to serve this dominant consumer group with places it wants to visit more often. In other words, to overstate the obvious, shoppers can find more stuff on their phones than in any of those Macy’s buildings, so why should they spend time going to those places and wading through all that stuff? Increasingly, they are not.
So, Macy’s reached out to Rachel, considered by industry leaders to be a highly creative and strategic thought leader. The strategy for STORY, which she launched in 2011, was to create rotating experiential themes and products every four to eight weeks intended to be so intriguing they would compel customers to visit the store more often. (https://thisisstory.com/our-story/ ).
Another way to describe it: “STORY is a retail concept that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.” Rachel has been supportive of emerging designers and artisans, offering them a role in her merchandising narratives. Past STORY themes have included “Work/Space,” “Love,” “Home for the Holidays,” “Beauty,” “Style.Tech” and “Color.” The themes also offer experiences. For example, its “Love” theme offered shoppers the chance to make their own bouquets of flowers.
STORY also hosts weekly events such as book signings, workshops and panels, that provide interactive experiences. A few examples: “Snack ’n Shop for Cinco de Mayo: A Sweet + Savory Celebration;” “Pitch Night with Bloomingdale’s CEO Tony Spring and O Magazine’s Creative Director Adam Glassman;” “Trunk Show + Tell with Juniper Books:” “Sproga Yoga Session with Yoga Dan;” and “Workshop: F*it NYC;” “The Future (of Design) Is Female;” an Interactive workshop.
Hey! It’s Only One Shop
I was very skeptical of the STORY model when I first visited the store in 2012. I said to myself this is not scalable, but maybe it’s just a nice little business. Well, whether it is, was, or could be, doesn’t matter. Rachel just got scale overnight with hundreds of blank canvases named Macy’s on which she can reimagine a transformed department store. Her sister Jenny Shechtman will continue running STORY on 10th Avenue and on 19th Street, reporting to Macy’s.
Anyone who might dismiss Rachel as simply being limited to one experience of running a mom and pop shop, albeit a very clever one, should be corrected. She founded Cube Ventures, a retail and marketing consultancy in 2003, with clients such as Kraft Foods, Gap, Gilt, Toms and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, among others. STORY received Fashion Group International’s 2014 Rising Star Award for Best Retail Concept and was named to Time Out NY’s list of 15 NY Top Shops. STORY’s model of “retail media” has earned attention from the press, and she has been profiled by the New York Times, Ad Age, and named to Crain’s NY 40 Under 40 List for 2015, Fortune’s 40 Under 40 List for 2013, and on Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business. She also sits on the Digital Advisory Board of American Express OPEN, the Director’s Council at Baker Retail Center and in January 2016, Rachel joined the Board of Directors of National Retail Federation (NRF) and serves on the Marketing & Media Committee of the Cooper Hewitt.
A lightweight she is not. Jeff Gennette was quoted: “Rachel is a unique and innovative voice in retail, and we are thrilled to have the STORY team join the Macy’s family. Bringing Rachel’s perspective to the table will help create more enriched and engaging in-store experiences and brand activations. We are committed to growth in 2018, and this is one important step along the way.”
By the way, this isn’t Macy’s first bold commitment to reimagining its department store model as a platform of many different compelling experiences. In November 2016, Macy’s announced a collaboration with Brookfield Asset Management in an out-of-the-box strategy to address 50 owned and ground-leased stores and associated real estate and property in malls not owned by major mall owners (https://www.therobinreport.com/macys-imagine-what-could-be-there/). Former Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said in a WWD interview, “We’ll look at the land first and imagine what could be there. That’s very different from selling or just renovating. We have a much broader view of the longer term. These 50 locations that we’re looking at are just a gold mine for development.” Lundgren’s statement was analogous to Macy’s viewing the space of each of those locations as blank canvases waiting for the painter (I assume now to be Rachel along with Brookfield) to create a compelling painting. This new picture has one objective: delight consumers.
The creative process for this painting now begins. Demolish, renovate, add, delete, change. Build go-to entertainment and lifestyle community shopping villages, including residential and office space. Lundgren mentioned a variety of possibilities, including adding other stores and restaurants and replacing parking lots with office parks and hotels.
Wow, I thought to myself. When is the last time I heard from any growth-obsessed, Wall Street hounded retailer utter the words “long term,” much less “we have a much broader view?”
A Challenged Opportunity
So, Rachel comes on board with high expectations to bring her imagination to life. She said, “STORY will now have a national stage to leverage its learnings and relationships to create impact at scale. I’m energized by the opportunity to further build new customer experiences across the Macy’s portfolio, while also continuing to pursue new business models and brand partnerships.” This statement also suggests that her reimagining is not limited to replicating STORY’S model within Macy’s stores.
I have no doubt that Ms. Shechtman will create a vision of awesome experiences and a continuous rotation of new and different ideas that will compel young consumers to keep coming back for more. Her biggest challenge will be in bringing her vision to life at the scale that Macy’s operates.
If she does, then she will have created many miracles on 34th Street as well as so many other streets across the country.