STORY CEO and founder Rachel Shechtman has an impeccable eye for great product, an inclination to take risks and a willingness to engage in groundbreaking methods that often defy retail tenets. Her one-of-a-kind retail store, based in New York, takes the point of view of a magazine, changes its selection like a gallery and sells things like a store — and the character traits that led to STORY’s conception are also part of what make Shechtman an ideal ambassador to young people on the cusp of entering the retail industry.
In January, Shechtman was a featured speaker during the Student Program at Retail’s BIG Show. She also worked in partnership with the NRF Foundation and KPMG on the 2017 Student Challenge Competition, The Big Pitch.
Nearly 30 teams from NRF member schools selected one of the following themes to focus on: Made in America, Sensory or Travel. The two- to four-person teams were tasked with creating a 20-page pitch presentation, mock website and 90-second pitch video to convince Shechtman why and how their STORY should be produced. Each proposal was created to provide an experience for the customer through selected merchandise, marketing approach, social media campaigns and curated events.
The winning team from Georgia Southern University focused on the Made in America theme. Shechtman describes the competition as “easily one of the top five most moving experiences of my career, if not my life.”
The contest went so well that plans are in the works to replicate it next year with a new twist, and Shechtman is already excited to see what the teams will come up with.
Shortly after the event, STORES Editor Susan Reda spoke with Shechtman about her advice for young people looking to step into careers in retail.
What’s the one thing you hope the students took away from your presentation at NRF’s Student Program?
Just because it’s not in a textbook doesn’t mean it’s not possible, and just because it’s been done one way doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be done. Coloring outside the lines is not necessarily the new normal, but right now there’s not one person who has the answer. There’s not one brand who has the answer, there’s not one strategist who has the answer and there’s not one way of doing things that’s the right way to do them. Given what’s going on in retail there’s more risk in not taking risks. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or challenge existing frameworks, because no one can see into the future.
What impressed you most about the winning theme, Made in America?
I was blown away by all the teams — literally moved to tears. Here’s the thing: It’s not as if the students could Google ‘rotating concepts shop’ and paraphrase a presentation. It’s a new model and there are no step and repeat comparable examples out there, so the students really had to invest a lot of focus and thought to this challenge. It required a tremendous amount of time, energy, effort and discipline, and the students spent months studying who we are, what we do and how we work. They developed a relationship with our brand, and their attention to detail, breadth and depth blew me away.
Thinking back to the winning team — everything from the STORY-branded porcelain bowl that they served nachos in to the STORY subscription box they envisioned truly left me speechless. There were playing cards that were branded Made in America STORY, a candle … a mug. So many of the final presentations had strategies and specific tactics that were things that we’ve either considered doing or plan on doing.
What advice do you offer to young people just starting out?
Question everything, and don’t be afraid to ask. The worst that happens is someone says no. I think our own inner dialogue gets in the way: “They’re too busy. They’re too important. I’ve got to wait till I know more.” The worst that happens is someone says no.
I’d also add that failing at something or not producing the results that you think you wanted isn’t a deficit. When you make a mistake or when you think you’re failing, it’s not a negative — it’s a positive. Think about it. You will never make the ‘mistake’ again since you learned what didn’t work the way you wanted, which will inform making it better the next time. I make mistakes at STORY almost every single day. If you want to do something different and you want to take risks, you have to be open to that and just keep moving forward.