HaulerDeals takes online brand building offline, with a real world fashion show

By Michael Carney , written on October 17, 2012

From The News Desk

It’s hard to throw a stick in Los Angeles these days without hitting a fashion ecommerce startup. Each has its own wrinkle, but the theme is that a town (and an industry) long known for its wholesale district and bricks-and-mortar designer boutiques increasingly has been going digital.

One of the most recent market entrants, content and commerce YouTube fashion channel HaulerDeals, took a step back toward the world of traditional fashion last night, launching its in-house brand Local Socialite with a flesh-and-bone runway show at Los Angeles Style Fashion Week.

HaulerDeals’ business is built around 15 full-time style gurus, aka “haulers,” each who joined the company with hundreds of thousands or even millions of YouTube subscribers and an aggregate 1 billion plus video views. These stars spend their time discovering the best product deals around and introducing them to this faithful audience along with advice on how to maximize each look. Unlike the vast majority of content companies, HaulerDeals makes its money via commerce – selling actual products – as opposed to advertising.

Early companies in the fashion ecommerce space, such as ShoeDazzle and BeachMint, have relied heavily on celebrities to build aspirational brand value. HaulerDeals, instead, shies away from the attention-driving effect of Kim Kardashian, for example, instead preferring to use approachable, everyday women who happen to be extremely fashionable.

At the end of the day, HaulerDeals and its various competitors are less about the clothes themselves, which are commodities in the very strictest sense of the word, but more so about the brand and the story that can be built around them. Last night's event was a perfect illustration of the company’s strategy: to provide accessible high-fashion, discovered and distributed by relatable, real women. The fact that the company can now call its line “off the runway,” surely doesn’t hurt.

Last night’s event was an opportunity for the digital pseudo-celebrities to rub elbows with their real world fans and the full spectrum of LA fashion industry stars and wannabes alike. Following a glitzy outdoor cocktail party entirely out of character for a startup, the crowd moved inside the Vibiana, a now-converted historic cathedral, for the runway show.

The models consisted of the reigning Miss California (pictured above) and Miss Teen California, a dozen or so other models, and to the crowd’s utter delight, six of the haulers themselves. The haulers were unmistakable as the incredibly personable and attractive, but not quite model-height women, strutting their stuff to the loudest applause. It was this reaction that that underscored the power of using a real world event such as this to build an online brand.

Like everyone else in the highly competitive space, HaulerDeals is constantly looking for ways to differentiate itself, and having a real, live fashion show seemed to do the trick. The real magic, though, is that the video content from the event will go up on the site today and throughout the week. “We’ll get a million views for free,” founder and CEO Kenn Hennman tells me. The products displayed will be available for the first time today on the company’s site, and if the reaction of last night’s audience is any indication, it should be quite popular.

Local Socialite doesn’t design or manufacture its own products, but rather “white labels” those sourced direct from other manufacturers. Although not clearly stated by the company itself, this fact was confirmed by another ecommerce entrepreneur in the room, who told me that his company carries much of the same merchandise on its site.

Not so much a technology company, HaulerDeals happily falls into a category that might be described as “tech-enabled,” and last night’s event gave a preview into what we can expect from the company going forward. A similar example would be Sole Society and its recent partnership with Nordstrom’s to leverage the retailer’s physical stores as a showroom.

HaulerDeals is backed by LA ecommerce juggernaut Intelligent Beauty and its early investor CrossCut Ventures who collectively put $1 million into the young company in June. The early buzz around the company and the financing round was enough for Sarah Lacy to hear about it up in San Francisco despite the Hennman’s efforts to remain stealth.

Early engagement and conversions on Hauler site have been extremely encouraging, according to the CEO. Expect it to keep one foot firmly planted in the physical world, as the company continues to leverage all the direct-to-consumer brand building power and economic efficiencies that ecommerce has to offer.