Macy's just announced that it is acquiring Story, a highly innovative retail store in downtown Manhattan. It's only one store, so it's not a huge deal. But the significance of it is big because of what Story is.
What Is Story?
If you're not familiar with it, Story is a unique retail concept whose founder is Rachel Shechtman. The idea is to sell things in the store, of course, but it's more than that. About every three months, everything in the store goes away, and entirely new inventory is brought in. More than that, every new cycle has a new theme. Themes they've done recently include: Love, Home For The Holidays, Beauty and Remember When. The products in the store are consistent with the theme, so the inventory speaks to the customer with one voice. The change in the store makes it fun to keep coming back; it's retail as entertainment.
It's not only products that generate revenue for Story. Story partners with companies that sponsor the themes. Sponsors have included Intel and American Express. Advertising on the wall in the store is consistent with the theme. Among other things, the advertising creates an additional stream of revenue for Story.
The sales associates at Story are very well trained. They know about the theme; they know how to promote it and work it into your store visit without being pushy. Story is fun to be in and in many ways is what retail has to become. (You can find a more detailed discussion of Story in this article describing it by my fellow Forbes contributor Pam Danziger.)
Why Is This Important?
Traditional retail stores, especially department stores, have to change. It's not enough just to have a wide variety of products in the store — that doesn't bring people in anymore, and it's not exciting and unique. Story addresses that issue by giving consumers a reason to come in.
There needs to be more stores like Story. As a company with an individual founder, it's challenging to find the human resources to build out many stores like it. With Macy's resources, Shechtman will be able to expand Story to many other locations. More important, Shechtman will bring Story-like marketing and merchandising to Macy's where it's needed most. The possibility of making an environment like Macy's open to the kind of creativity that Story has is just the kind of potential that department stores need.
Will This Work?
There's the rub. When you put an entrepreneur inside a huge company, strange things can happen. Sometimes you look at the background of a large company CEO, and you read that they founded a small business that got acquired by the company they now run. Their ideas and moxie were so good and so daring that they advanced rapidly in the bigger organization and wound up running the place. Other times you hear from entrepreneurs that the environment of the company that acquired them is so stifling that they couldn't leave fast enough.
Will Macy's give Story the run room it needs to grow and bring Story-like creativity to Macy's? Or will will it crush the creativity with bureaucracy and drive Shechtman elsewhere? I don't know — there's no way to know, and that's the risk. Here's one thing I do know: Macy's needs Story to succeed. If it recognizes that enough, it will give Shechtman the support she needs to Story-ize parts of Macy's that will make shopping in department stores fun again. I sure hope that happens.