Rachel Shechtman, Story, Woman Entrepreneur

story25b-1-webI had heard Rachel’s name pop-up a few times especially from friends of our who have know her forever.  They said we should meet.  I briefly met Rachel at an event as we passed in the hallway but never connected again.  Fast forward we were both getting interviewed by Jonathan Fields for his show.  I was coming in and Rachel was leaving.  We connected and pulled out our calendars before departing and scheduled a breakfast.

I love Rachel’s story.  Fourth generation entrepreneur.  Total innate understanding of brands, trends and retail.  Her creativity is from within.  Her energy is powerful and contagious.  Her rotating store is called Story.  The store changes like a gallery, creates new content every time like a magazine and sells like a store.  She creates a different concept every 4-8 weeks.  The concept up right now is called Stor-her-y.  Rachel and I also got to sit down in the store and have an intimate conversation surrounded by people who came to here us talk (thank you) about my path (and hers) a week or so ago.

Rachel is from West Hartford, CT.  Her father practiced retail, tax and personal estate law.  Her Mom is a serial entrepreneur.  She has been in the food space since Rachel was 2.  Her Mom started a company, Nanshes Gourmet in the food space where she eventually became one of the top 20 women businesses in the state of CT although it wasn’t easy to get off the ground.  She then moved to Gift Expressions after closing Nanshes then sold to Herbert Candies.   Interesting article on Rachel’s mom here.  All of Rachel’s grand parents and great grandparents had a fabric store in Waterbury, CT.  At 12, Rachel’s Mom took her to Jacob Javits Center for a gift show and she knew right then that she was going to into retail.

They traveled a bit as a kid.  The family joke was that she really went to school sitting in the back of the car listening to her parents talk business on the way to a ski trip or a beach trip.  Her father was pragmatic and her mom was creative and sales oriented.   After graduating high school she went off to Colorado College to major in economics.  What she loved about the school is it was on the block program so you take a semesters worth of work condensed into three weeks.  It was like having a total immersion into a variety of things.

Rachel’s first summer of college she spent in East Hampton working for Ina Garten at her store Barefoot Contessa.  Her Mother had her summer internship at Dean and Deluca in the exact same space Ina Garten’s store was many years back and as Rachel says, “it all comes back around”.  She also worked one summer for Steven Stolman making clothes and slippers.  He would make products out of home fabrics. Her junior year Rachel went to London.  She was hoping to get a Ralph Lauren internship but it didn’t work out so she ended up in PR and quickly realized that was not for her.  She had a variety of working experiences in college that really helped her filter out what works for her and what doesn’t.

She graduated from college and returned home.  She started out working for her Mom’s company.  Rachel loves to cold call.  It was the beginning of the internet in NYC.  Rachel would pick up the phone and call start-up companies about gifts.  Within a few years she was doing business with 1-800-Flowers, FTD, Neiman-Marcus and Costco.  Yet it became clearer and clearer that she really did not have a passion for food but for shoes.  Supposedly her personal collection is quite good.

In late 1999 she moved out of her family home and to NYC.  She worked on a start-up that never really got started.  It made no sense to her that people were making money on start-ups that weren’t making money themselves.  She finally worked for a real start-up for 8 months until the internet business in NYC burst.  She was starting to raise money herself then for her own idea.  The first meeting she had with a guy in 2000 basically said to her that her timing sucked.  Instead he hired her as a consultant to look at trends in retail.  Through that she met a woman who had a business called Vivre.  She went to work for her for three years.  She spent a year and a half doing merchandising and another year and a half  building out the website.  What was great about Vivre is that they were essentially a department store where she could source out anything from a gum ball machine to a Loro Piana cashmere sweater.   The woman behind Vivre was a little ahead of her time because it was before anyone was selling third party merchandise.

Rachel left with a slew of ideas.  She met with the woman who started Bliss, Marcia Kilgore, by bringing her chocolates at Saks where they were doing an in-store spa.  They stayed in touch and Rachel ended up doing a three month consultant gig for her.  That turned into another consultant gig for DVF, Tom’s Shoes, Gilt, Kraft, JCPenny etc.  That became a 12 year consultancy gig.  They each gave her the ability to come into a large company and create something unique and small and then mash it up.

It finally became time to launch her own thing.  She had a partnership with Tom’s Shoes and Microsoft.  They both told her to do her idea.  The first week in May 2011 she had found a spot.  She was able to move in Oct 2011 and on a dare pushed herself to open the shop in December 1 2011.   She called the opening a beta-launch.  The place was a cement block without running water or electricity.  She figured it tech companies launch beta’s why couldn’t she.

The Story opened and 10 days later a full spread appeared in Fast Company about the reinvention of retail.   It was insane.  Then she began the stories.  The first one was a love story on February 2012.  The rest is history.  Rachel’s energy and modern future thinking is impressive.  Each story has a theme that makes you think and want to come back for the next one.  The products are curated and there is always a conversation around it to be had.  Rachel puts on pitch nights for brands and really embraces the community.

Rachel is not one to sit around.  It is always fun to watch what the next Story will be but what will be more interesting is what Rachel’s story will be as she moves like a bull in a china shop through the world at large with a sharp mind sitting on her shoulders.