Lines of eager teens and kids as young as eight stretched around the block of a Chelsea boutique last month, waiting to meet their favorite YouTube stars as part of a collaboration between the store, called Story, and DreamWorks Animation's AwesomenessTV.
But for marketers, the real star inside was founder Rachel Shechtman. The 37-year-old consultant has more than 12 years of experience working with brands like Toms and Gilt Groupe and has turned those insights into a concept shop that blurs the lines between retail and media.
Story is a retailer that's curated like a magazine, reinventing itself with new merchandise and a fresh store design every four to eight weeks.
With Ms. Shechtman at the helm, the four-year-old shop has earned sponsorships from companies like Target, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard; media brands including AwesomenessTV, NBC Universal and Condé Nast; and notable players like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. For its next collaboration, the retailer is linking with women's retailer Dressbarn for an installation called "Her Story," which opens April 27.
Story's work with brands goes beyond retail. The 24-person shop offers the services of a full-scale creative agency, including public relations and marketing, content creation, and a place to experiment with retail while garnering customer data. "We enable big companies to act like startups," said Ms. Shechtman. For example, Story did a holiday installation with Target, curating some of its products and placing them in a faux home setting.
"This wasn't about sales. This wasn't about national exposure," said a spokesman for Target. "This was really about learning ... and allowing us to see our brand through a different lens."
The store came together in eight weeks, an unprecedented feat for the big-box chain, which is part of Story's draw in today's fast-retailing environment. In 2013, Story created a 60-second spot for American Express' Small Business Saturday, because the company -- also featured in the spot -- was able to turn it around faster than AmEx's agencies could, Ms. Shechtman said.
Story is Ms. Shechtman's retail and marketing playground, crafted after years of testing theories on clients. It was meant to connect brands with consumers while merging marketing, merchandising and business-development strategies.
"Story's like my living lab," said Ms. Shechtman. "Every year, I have a new Rachel theory and I just explore and test it out." Last year's "theory" was about opening up discovery and access in a physical world, just as Kickstarter and Etsy do online. This year, she's "obsessed" with understanding the cohort under the age of 18, dubbed Generation Z.
Since its 2011 beta opening, Story has housed 21 unique "stories" including a color-themed collaboration with Benjamin Moore, the retailer's first major brand sponsor; and a living ad created with Details magazine, Birchbox Man and Procter & Gamble, which featured an in-store barber who offered cleanups using products from the Gillette, Braun and Old Spice lines.
Sponsorships, which previously ranged between $70,000 and $300,000, now start at $300,000, Ms. Shechtman said.
Story's most recent effort, with AwesomenessTV, featured merchandise built around and inspired by six of the network's stars including Ingrid Nilsen, Connor Franta and Meg DeAngelis, as well as events with the talent and other creators like Dylan's Candy Bar founder Dylan Lauren. Called "Your Story," the collaboration ran from March through early April.
The collaboration allowed AwesomenessTV to gauge the power of its influencers and gather sales data as it expands its retail presence.
"It was a physical touch point on what had essentially been a digital brand," said Jim Fielding, global head of consumer products and retail at DreamWorks Animation's AwesomenessTV. "It really helped bring our story to life in ways I'm not sure we could have even imagined."
Sounding board on speed dial
Story also consults for NBC Universal, working behind the scenes on efforts including the 2015 network TV upfront and the launch of USA's upcoming series "Mr. Robot." For the latter, Story connected NBC Universal with iStrategyLabs for a beacon push at SXSW in which the company pretended to hack attendees' phones as if Mr. Robot was watching them.
In addition to offering a large Rolodex -- Story has worked with 24 brands and 1,300 vendors -- Ms. Shechtman serves as a "sounding board" for NBC Universal as it looks for new ways to tell stories and build experiences, said Alexandra Shapiro, exec VP-marketing digital for USA Networks at NBC Universal.
"I have her on speed dial," said Ms. Shapiro. Ms. Shapiro is not the only sponsor to form a tight bond with Ms. Shechtman. A Target spokesman said he spent many a night with Ms. Shechtman, her sister Jenny, and her parents, while they collaborated on the story "Home for the Holidays."