An In-Store Revolution

A New York brick-and-mortar entrepreneur takes a cue from e-commerce: She curates limited-time-only themes and product lines, hosts community events, and sells sponsorships.

Walking into the Startup Store feels a lot like walking into an art gallery. Located in the heart of Manhattan's fine-art-saturated Chelsea neighborhood, the airy space showcases items hung on walls and perched on clean white pedestals. (Check out the video above to see for yourself.)

But this isn't art, per se. Insead, they're products for sale, made by New York-based start-up businesses.

One corner features perfume and moisturizer samples from cosmetics-subscription service Birchbox. In another corner, there are hangers, dustpans and other housewares from the innovative product company at Quirky, and in the back of the store, there's sparkly necklaces and bracelets on display from Bauble Bar, an accessories retailer. Each of the five start-up sections also comes with a sign that explain the story behind the founders and company.

Cool idea, right? Don't get used to it.

Every four to six weeks, the space will entirely reinvent itself—new inventory, new look, and new theme. The store name will change too.

"Basically, we curate like a magazine, change like a gallery, and sell like a retail store,"  says Startup Store founder Rachel Shechtman. "It's story telling through merchandising. Right now, the story is start-ups."

The store, which opened in early December, is in an informal "beta" state while working out last-minute kinks Shechtman asks: "If a website can be in beta, why can't we?" For its official opening in February, she says, the exhibition theme will likely be love.

"Just like MoMA may have Andy Warhol brought to you by PNC, we will do a love theme brought to you by a sponsor like or OKcupid, with products and in-store events around that idea," she says.

The Startup Store joins a long list of businesses looking for a fresh online-like approach to traditional brick-and-mortar retail. Others attempt to emulate the online shopping world. Pop-up shops, which are temporary stores with limited inventory, have become the brick-and-mortar version of flash sale sites, such as Ideeli. Retailers can now team up with online communities, such as Zaarly, to get paired with customers looking for products in their area. Of course, the bevvy of daily deal sites, like Groupon, help draw new customers to retailers with discounts.

"The future of retail will be less about consumption and more about community," says Shechtman, who spent the last decade as a retail consultant to companies including Bliss and Gilt via her firm Cube Ventures.  "There's all this energy and innovation around online communities, and that's great, but I want an offline community revolution by bringing the stories to life in my store."

And part of building that community is curating the shopping experience.

"This whole idea of curation—tastemaking—has led to a lot of success in the online shopping realm, so it's a natural progression to have it play out in a real store," says Marc Kushner, co-founder of Architizer, who helped design the space. "People want an expert opinion."

It's much too early to tell if the store is a success. But Shechtman has plans to open five stores in the next three years, and a way to turn a profit. Come February, she will have three revenue streams: product sales, as well as sponsorships and event tickets.

"We want to use the merchandise like a magazine uses editorial content. Advertisers can buy into a consumer dialogue around a theme," Shechtman says, adding that a sponsorship would go for anywhere between $50,000 to $100,000. And like any good retailer, she plans to leverage the store's location.

"There are five million people walking the High Line every year, and the billboard across the street goes for $45,000," she adds.

In addition to a revenue stream, in-store events—with food and music—will also serve to enhance the store's core mission of fostering a community. "The neighborhood response so far has been excellent," she says. "Neighbors come by, say hello, they want to talk about the products."