Polo Ralph Lauren is ready to give Rugby a national stage four years after its launch.

This story first appeared in the July 31, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On Aug. 12 — in time for the back-to-school shopping season — Polo is launching e-commerce on rugby.com with an expansive Web site that marries the lifestyle of the brand with innovative, interactive features.

The site marks the second standalone e-commerce site for Polo after ralphlauren.com. It will offer Rugby clothing and accessories, which will be supported with editorial content, from style advice to videos and blogs. The setting is designed to exude the Rugby brand’s lifestyle — preppy collegiate with a rebellious, irreverent streak, which could appeal to multiple generations beyond the target twentysomethings.

The new site signals how much Rugby has evolved since its first store opened on Boston’s Newbury Street in 2004. The scope of Rugby’s assortment has been rounded out with tweed jackets, sportswear suitable for first jobs, suits and eveningwear. There are 12 Rugby stores nationwide. The latest opening was in Natick, Mass., this month.

“For us, Rugby is very much the younger brother of Polo, and the last couple of years have really been a testing ground,” said David Lauren, senior vice president of advertising, marketing and communications for Polo Ralph Lauren. “We opened some stores in outdoor malls, like we did in [Charlottesville] Virginia, and we didn’t really feel that that was the right environment, so we closed it. We opened a couple of stores near college campuses. Some of them have been great successes, some have not, so we have started to learn about different university communities. We opened some stores in small towns like New Canaan, Conn., which have been a tremendous success.

“The Web site will be our first real national test of the brand,” he added.

The site will accept international credit cards, though there is a caveat: there must be a U.S. shipping address.

The site’s look underscores the Ivy League feel of the brand. It features exclusive images set against a golden, vintage newspaper background that gives it a sense of heritage without looking old.

The team that built ralphlauren.com also created rugby.com.

“We are going to use our key learnings and build upon them, but we are going to step it up as best as we can because we feel a younger audience will be more interested in the technological breakthroughs,” Lauren said. “They will have expectations to see more content, more video and more fun ways to shop.”

For example, rugby.com will have a “create-your-own” feature in which shoppers can custom-design a Rugby shirt, from choosing their own patches and numbers to their placement on the shirt. More designs will be added to this program before the end of the year.

The site will feature videos where experts and employees offer their style advice, as well as information on cities that feature Rugby stores, from restaurants in New Canaan to cool bands or donut shops in Seattle.

Polo is using a Quick Shop interactive shopping feature that allows visitors to see items on moving bodies in a video presentation.

The plan is to integrate the new site into Rugby stores with in-store Web stations and a 24-hour interactive experience through shopping kiosks that take up a full window display in stores — Boston, New York and Washington — similar to the 24/7 interactive kiosk used at the 888 Madison Avenue Polo store to sell U.S. Open/Polo merchandise in 2006.

This fall, Rugby also will kick off a program that emphasizes social action and philanthropy. The company has singled out social entrepreneurs it believes represent the best of its generation and is working on special, cobranded product collaborations to benefit underdeveloped and underserved communities. The first two collaborations are with Blake Mycoskie of Toms Shoes and Lauren Bush (David Lauren’s girlfriend), who has been making her mark with the Feed Bag initiative on Amazon.com and at Whole Foods that raises funds to feed schoolchildren around the world. “These programs run through Christmas,” Lauren said. “After that, we will identify new and up-and-coming social entrepreneurs.”

There will be icons on ralphlauren.com to draw customers to the new site, and all Rugby collateral, hangtags and store windows will be tagged rugby.com.

“One of the reasons we didn’t do this before is that we needed to build a core following,” Lauren said. “We needed to make sure that the vision of the brand is clear and that it could work for a customer of any age, from a big city customer to a small town customer. We know it is ready for a national stage.”�

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