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A Startup Store: Beta

A story-centered approach to collaborative retail

by James Thorne in Culture on 02 December 2011

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Taking the principles learned from NYC-based start-ups, retail consultant Rachel Shechtman quietly unrolled A Startup Store last night in the shadow of the High Line. "A Startup Store has the point of view of a magazine, but it changes like a gallery and it sells things like a store," she says. Shechtman calls the concept "transactional storytelling," placing a narrative at the center of a retail venture. The store will be completely reinvented every four to six weeks, with a different theme guiding every detail.

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The first story is "Beta." Shechtman asks, "If a website can be in beta, then why can't a store be in beta to work out its kinks?" As workers walked around setting up displays and adjusting light fixtures, the first few customers browsed the selection of goods from five NYC startups. Birchbox, a subscription retailer of beauty products, is displaying their monthly collection with a range of items from both couture and grass-roots brands. Also featured is Quirky, an online community that selects products to invent based on user votes.

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Shechtman grew up around trade shows and as a girl wanted to shop for a living like the buyers she met. Six years ago, the idea for this new retail concept was born. A simple conversation with Shechtman essentially offers an education in retail, and she sees a clear path for the future of story-driven consumption. "As people have less time, they want more from their experiences," she says. Dedicated to crafting new business models and forecasting trends, Shechtman wants to create an experience that is as much about the process as the final product.

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In a display case near the back of the store is BaubleBar jewelry's range of original neckwear. Nearby you can check out the goods from Joor, an online professional matchmaker for designers and retailers. The site is a valuable resource for up-and-coming brands as well as bigger businesses looking to reach boutique audiences.

Shechtman plans to launch a complimentary online shop that, with a fixed name and web address, will ironically have a more permanent feel than the polymorphous brick-and-mortar location.

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Until recently, the interior was masked by massive eyes plastered by anonymous artist and TED prize-winner JR. Now, the current exhibition is displayed on modular furniture made from 90% recycled paper by Way Basics, and Mark Kusher of Architizer will curate the furniture of each new installation by matching architects to the theme. The back wall of the space holds artwork from Artspace, an online marketplace for affordable pieces from top contemporary artists.

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As the store evolves, a permanent name will be attached and graphic designer and typographer Stefan Sagmeister will provide the logo and branding—a rare treat from an artist who rarely does this kind of commercial work. Each upcoming installation will be underwritten by a brand that fits with the overarching theme. The store launches officially in February as a "Love" story.

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