Made In America: How an Innovative NYC Store Celebrates U.S. Manufacturers

Rachel Shechtman has been steadily gaining fame for having turned her shopping expertise into a unique business venture. A retail industry consultant whose clients have included TOMS and Lord & Taylor, her idea is to elevate the consumer experience of the brick and mortar store to what she calls “translational storytelling.”

Story is her 2,000-square-foot shop on 10th Avenue at 19th Street in Manhattan. Shechtman says it “has the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery, and sells things like a store.” She swaps out the entire inventory and interior design every three to eight weeks, and managed to achieve profitability in year one, generating revenue from a combination of sales, brand partnerships, and sponsorships, such as a Benjamin Moore sponsorship of a recent color-themed Story.

Now, through at least September 29, she’s putting the spotlight on U.S. manufacturers. Her “Made in America” Story takes shoppers on a cross-country journey to meet artisans and makers. Co-curators who helped her select the store’s featured items are themselves American brands: Boulder-based Made Movement is a marketing agency dedicated to the resurgence of American manufacturing, and Flint and Tinder is the first premium U.S. men’s underwear brand.

From talking at TEDx to being profiled by Cool Hunting to being named among Fast Company’s 100 most creative people in business, Rachel Shechtman is making a mark on the retail world. Yahoo! Small Business spoke with her about how she hopes to impact businesses that are making goods in the U.S.

What inspired you to create a Made in America story?

As a business we are always supporting small entrepreneurial companies. In summertime, our customers are locals and tourists. We wanted a story that is dynamic and compelling to everybody. This one is creatively interesting and inspiring and also a serious and important conversation to be having. We think of innovation all over the world, but there’s so much at our fingertips and in our back yard.

On a recent trip to Detroit for a speaking gig at Ford I spent some time in the city at a creative co-op called Ponyride and discovered cool new brands like Detroit Denim, Kate Bordine Jewelry, and Smith Shop, and I thought, “How can more people see this and learn about all these different brands?”

We made Story into a living discovery platform featuring brands across the country. So if you can’t get on a plane to Detroit or walk down Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach to discover Aviator Nation you can still experience all these brands in one place.

How much of the country do the products in Story represent?

We divided the store into four sections: East Coast, West, Midwest, and South. We have over 100 different companies who manufacture in America. There are more than 1,000 products from about 40 states.

What do you hear from any of these companies about the challenge of manufacturing in the U.S?

To be honest, our conversation with them isn’t about their business challenges. It’s really about discovering what they’re doing and amplifying it: How can we help them create more awareness for what they’re doing in the form of sales, exposure in the store, and press? It’s about celebrating the fact that they are making it in America and showing how people can vote with their dollars by buying American-made products.

What’s important to you about making products in the U.S .and buying American-made products?

To me the two big headlines are “supporting small business entrepreneurship” and “creating jobs.” They go hand-in-hand. Without entrepreneurs we don’t have new businesses or jobs. It’s a great opportunity to practice what we preach as American citizens who want a healthy, vibrant economy. Economies are created through jobs and jobs are created when businesses are successful and have revenue. We’re furthering the conversation so someone will think twice when they’re buying: If you have a choice between two pairs of sunglasses and one is made in the U.S., there’s an impact behind that buying decision.

Are most of the brands recent startups?

There’s a whole range. On one end of the spectrum are historic brands such as Lodge cookware from Tennessee, which is 100 years old, and Randolph Engineering, which was started by Polish immigrants in Massachusetts in the ’70s and is the supplier of sunglasses to the U.S. Army and Navy.

And then we have newer brands and startups fresh off of Kickstarter like Flint and Tinder – we’re featuring their new denim jeans which are otherwise only available presale online. Some were selected from past pitch nights we hosted for designers and brands at Story, such as Smith & Chang skin care products from Schoharie County, NY, and TGT tight wallets from Brooklyn.

Then there are other little gems like the Smith Shop in Detroit and BTW Bakery, an amazing gluten free bakery in Hastings-on-Hudson founded by Helene Godin —you can only get her product if you go to her bakery. So our store is this visual road trip where you can experience this movement across the country in the form of these products and stories.

Do you think products made in America are generally costlier than those manufactured outside the U.S.? In other words, are consumers being asked to spend more to buy American?

No, not necessarily as it relates to the items we are selling; however for certain industries and product categories, yes. And for those industries often time the expense isn’t in the manufacturing but in the finishing costs—the labor.

What do you think has been the impact of this Story on your shoppers?

We’re sparking the conversation, creating awareness. I believe, the future of retail and what we’re doing is about building community and entertainment for consumers and using retail as a new channel and frontier to showcase to our brand partners another way that people consume media. We’re telling stories. It doesn’t mean you have to buy anything; it just gets you to think differently about things.

Has Story made an effort before this concept to feature American brands?

We’ve always had companies that manufacture in the US, but I’d be lying if I said this story hasn't heightened my awareness of this. I was just at a trade show buying merchandise for holiday. I discovered a handful of companies making great bowties and asked the question, ‘Where are they made?’ for each brand. The one that was made in China was taken out of the consideration. This won’t always be the case, however it is a step in the right direction.

What’s your next Story?

I like to say that, just like you don’t know what’s on the cover of your favorite magazine before it arrives in the mail, we don’t tell what’s coming next at Story. But I will say that the Made in America Story has already been extended through September due to an overwhelming response.
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