To many investors, boo is now a synonym for bust. But not to Ben Narasin, CEO of fashionmall.com. In 26 crazy hours after boo folded on Tuesday, May 30, Narasin swooped in to buy rights to the boo brand for an undisclosed sum. Then he hopped on a plane and flew from New York to London to scavenge the freshly abandoned boo offices. He spent three days and two sleepless nights sorting through the ruins of boo, racing to rebuild as soon as possible. By late Friday afternoon, when he was "nearly in a coma" with fatigue, he hit gold. The creative director of boo.com happened by and "mentioned something about boo 2.0," says Narasin, "I said boo what? What was that?"
It is a key to the coming reincarnation of boo. For now, the original dream of a one-stop global cybershop for apparel is likely dead or, at best, delayed by the difficulty of coordinating sizes, colors and tastes, not to mention deliveries, across cultures. Retail analysts say the near future for online shopping is in the dot-com arms of bricks-and-mortar businesses like Land's End or Neiman Marcus. And that's where Narasin is headed. He plans to revive boo as a portal, like fashionmall.com itself, which connects customers directly to suppliers from Eddie Bauer to Gucci. Boo 2.0 is software that will make those connections with boo style and graphics.
In some ways, the revival is more ambitious than the original. Becoming a portal frees boo from the chore of handling customer orders. Narasin envisions the new Miss Boo as a "global cool-hunter" who would scour everything from Army-Navy shops to Paris flea markets for "boo" stuff. He sees Miss Boo as an "arbiter of taste," a sort of Martha Stewart for affluent young trendies. "I look at this as the rise and fall and rise again of the phoenix," says Narasin, who hopes to relaunch boo by October.
He figures he bought the guts of boo. But so does Bright Station, the London company that paid $375,000 for boo's back-office technology, which can calculate taxes and prices for 18 countries in nine languages. Bright Station will license the technology to other retailers. It's not yet clear who got the better deal, but many analysts are skeptical about the value of the boo name. "Boo disappointed investors and customers every step of the way," says Evi Black Dykema, senior online retail analyst at the Gartner Group. "Fashionmall bought a tarnished brand. It's not clear to me why they didn't just launch a new one."
Narasin agrees boo was killed by excess, but says that "the way they spent helped develop the brand." A certain "arrogance and elitism" was part of the allure, he argues. In fact, one of his first moves will be to distance boo from fashionmall.com for fear that trendy Europeans will shun any mall.
Certainly the spartan New York offices of fashionmall are a far cry from lavish boo style. Drab walls are now adorned with images of Miss Boo retrieved from London. Nearby, "The boo Room" is plastered with fashion shots of models who could embody boo style. "When I want to think about boo, I sit in here," Narasin says dreamily. "I bring people who I think are boo in here. It's a rare human who's really boo." He's betting customers will be easier to find.