Once upon a time (well, actually, early May of this year) I went to New York for a vacation. As part of my trip I visited a store called Story. With a name like that, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just another bookstore. Instead it’s one of the most buzz-worthy retail concepts of recent memory, garnering glowing previews in Fast Company and PSFK.
The reason for all this attention is that the founder of Story, Rachel Shechtman, has decided to treat her retail space as if it were a print magazine. This means not only bringing a particular editorial sensibility to her curated selection of items for sale, but “publishing” a new issue of her store approximately every two months. A kind of permanent pop-up shop.
I’m not a retail expert, but it seems to me that assembling a store from scratch is a lot of work. Having to do that five or six times a year sounds more like aggravated punishment than an innovative approach to retail.
The theme of the store when I visited was “color.” (“Color” was issue two. I was too late to see “Love,” the debut issue.) This meant that almost every corner and section of Story was painted a different colour.
It took me a little while to realize that all the red objects were different from all the green objects. In other words, the store wasn’t selling identical objects arranged by colour, but instead trying to say to customers “this is what Story associates with the colour silver.”
I found Story to be theoretically interesting and a pleasant space to browse, but the experience wasn’t as emotionally compelling as Kiosk, another New York store that offers a more quirky and gee-whiz approach to curated retail. Perhaps a better indicator was the fact that I didn’t buy anything at Story.
Worth pointing out is the salesperson waiting by the front door who asks every customer whether they’ve been to Story before. It’s his or her job to briefly explain the concept of the store. About an hour after I left, it occurred to me that a truly successful expression of the Story experience would be self-explanatory. While many magazines still include a Letter From the Editor, none provide instructions to their readers on how to operate their magazine. (Flip page, browse content, repeat as necessary.)
It’s never easy being first in a given category, as Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out. A few years from now, magazine-style retail might go mainstream, and Shechtman will be hailed as a visionary. Or, more likely, the concept will continue to evolve, until it offers a retail experience that manages to be both self-explanatory and a bold new approach to selling stuff.
When that happens, consumers will finally live happily ever after.