BOO NAMES NEW BOSS: KATE BUGGELN
Byline: Valerie Seckler
NEW YORK — “It’s going to be fun. I never take a job that I don’t think will be fun.”
That’s one way in which Kate Buggeln, newly appointed president of Boo.com, has assessed the risk-reward scenario shaping up for her as chief of the fashion Web site’s relaunch this fall.
It’s not that Buggeln — a 39-year-old former Bloomingdale’s merchant and Internet consultant — is viewing the Boo venture with rose-colored glasses.
But in an exclusive interview with WWD Friday, Buggeln was charged up about the Boo brand’s potential and why she’s willing to take a chance on it.
“It’s a brand with lifestyle content that is integral to its identity and can be expanded into a new range of products,” offered Buggeln, who is already at work in Boo’s Madison Avenue headquarters, even though her official start date is July 31. Those products, she said, could include home merchandise and travel goods and services.
“My broader vision is to extend the Boo brand across the customer’s lifestyle — beyond what they wear, to what they do and where they go,” Buggeln continued. “Therefore, we would expand beyond the portal business model into Boo product and Boo licensing.”
Then, with a laugh, she noted that any such projects are “long down the road. First,” she acknowledged, “we have to get the site up and running.”
Buggeln — tall and slender, with an athletic air — doesn’t appear to be someone who takes things slowly, however. For one thing, she’s on the job at Boo more than two weeks before her start date. For another, Buggeln and her husband on Thursday night celebrated her new post with a midnight kayaking adventure on the Hudson River, near their home in Nyack. “We had champagne toasts too,” she said. “Can you tell I’m excited about the brand? I’m not the typical Boo customer, but to be the Boo president definitely resonates with me. I do identify with the independence and self-confidence of that customer.”
The prototypical Boo customer is one in whom Buggeln sees potential for big business in cyberspace. “They are incredibly independent, affluent, trendy,” she stated. “These 14-to-27-year-olds who were spending more than $100 per transaction at Boo.com are the brand’s sweet spot.”
When asked what compelled her to jettison her job with LakeWest Group, a retail management consultant, Buggeln said, “I was ready, in my life, to take a risk.
“Having said that, I don’t perceive this as a tremendous risk,” she continued. “When I consider the strength the Boo brand still has, and the staying power of the Fashionmall business, I believe it’s a balanced risk.”
Fashionmall.com, which has been live online since 1994, acquired the Boo.com brand, Internet address and Web site content in June, when the previous owners were liquidating the business, as reported in WWD.
As LakeWest’s executive vice president, Buggeln led the consultant’s e-business and business strategy practices.
Clients she has advised during her 17-year career — which she began merchandising home goods at Bloomingdale’s, — include Gucci, Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Gump’s, J.Crew, L.L. Bean, eZiba.com, and, for the last few months, Fashionmall. At Gucci, Buggeln was a member of the turnaround team that repositioned that label. Most recently, she led the launch of fine art and artifact e-tailer eZiba, and worked with L.L. Bean to expand its retail channel.
The biggest challenge currently facing Boo, according to its new president, is “finding the right product and getting enough of it.”
“I’m a former merchant,” Buggeln pointed out. “But even as an Internet consultant, I realize that fabulous product starts [an e-commerce site]. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter if you have a great Web site.”
In response to a question, she said, “I don’t expect troubles getting product, given the response we’ve seen to the Boo brand. It’s still a name that holds intense attractiveness to retailers and manufacturers of various [fashion] brands.
“The bigger challenge,” she added, “will be editing the assortment to get the right items on the site. I won’t compromise the site by adding brands that don’t fit the Boo concept, just to get product online.”
Boo’s relaunch, still tentatively slated for Sept. 30, could stretch into October, Buggeln said Friday.
“We will get the site launched, in a September-October time frame, when it’s ready,” she projected. “We have to be dead-on right when we launch.”
To buttress Boo’s management, Buggeln has hired a chief technology officer, Joseph Marquette, with whom she worked at LakeWest. He’s set to take the new post at Boo.com on July 31.
Most recently, Marquette, a 12-year veteran of retail and consulting, was operating vice president of e-tailing strategies for LakeWest.
Buggeln’s next move, she said, will be to hire a creative director — “the brand protector. I am a brand and business builder,” she noted, “but I need someone to protect the image and vision of Boo.”
She said she expects to hire the creative director by July 31.
As for Buggeln herself, she said she was “not out looking for a job.”
“But when this opportunity was presented to me,” she added, “it was too appealing to turn down.”