NEW YORK — When Rue La La last month named Robert Hall chief marketing officer, there was some collective head scratching within the fashion industry. Hall had been vice president of brand development at Boston Beer Company for the last decade. His appointment begged the questions: Do beer and fashion have anything in common, and if they don’t, does it matter?

This story first appeared in the May 24, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It may look like we made an untraditional hire,” said Ben Fischman, chief executive officer of Rue La La. “Bob has a combination of fabulous brand building experience and an understanding of viral marketing. He has a great knowledge of the Internet and the brands we work with. Just because he doesn’t come from an Internet company on the West Coast doesn’t mean he can’t be successful.”

Rue La La hopes Hall will help the e-commerce site’s participating brands communicate more with its member base. “Unlike many of the people in the private sale space, we believe we’re a platform for our brand partners,” Fischman said. “We want to put our brands on a pedestal.” The e-tailer eschews traditional advertising such as TV, print and outdoor, opting instead for less-expensive crowd sourcing, leveraging the power of friends telling friends and virality.

“The specialty beer market operates much like high-end spirits and wine,” said Hall, adding the business has similarities to luxury fashion. “What interested me was the opportunity to extend my understanding in lifestyle marketing. What [also] excited me about coming to Rue La La is the dramatic change in consumer behavior. This is a rapidly growing category.”

“[Rue La La] wanted someone who was going to be an intelligently disruptive thinker,” said Gene Manheim, a managing director at Herbert Mines Assoc., who led the search. “They wanted someone who would make the company a little uncomfortable as it’s considering what it’s going to do to attract and retain customers.”

Fischman said Rue is not having difficulty accessing merchandise as the field gets more crowded. “Our members love that they’re buying product they see in other stores,” he said. “We also leverage excess fabric or excess capacity. It’s about all opportunistic opportunities. Because we’re a lifestyle destination, there’s always plenty of opportunities because we can sell a great contemporary fashion brand or great sneaker brand or a luxury hotel in the mountains or a luxury skin care brand. That provides us with the flexibility, so there’s always something. We run brands fairly infrequently on purpose. We limit brands to four times a year because we want to constantly be offering new and exciting options.”

Rue La La might take its business outside the e-commerce space. “We have done some testing of giving Rue La La a pop-up-shop mentality and taking the excitement of a New York pop-up sale across the country,” he said. “The great part of Rue La La is the event nature of our business.”

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