The entrepreneurial couple beating John Lewis

The entrepreneurial couple beating John Lewis

In just six years, Prezola has grown rapidly to become the UK's favourite wedding gift list service - even bigger than the John Lewis gift list which has dominated the lucrative wedding gift market for decades.

Prezola.com helps couples to create stylish, modern wedding gift lists, where family and friends can choose from more than 50,000 products by 500 premium brands, including the likes of The White Company, Graham & Green, Le Creuset, Jo Malone, and Habitat.

The online wedding gift list service has sold more than 1M gifts to date.

"Challenging the market dominance of retail giants such as John Lewis and Debenhams was not for the faint-hearted," admits Dom.

Having gone from zero to £10M in five years, Prezola is expected to grow by a further 50% this year alone with a turnover of £15M supported by a team of 50, based at the firm's headquarters in Bath, Somerset and a 13,000 sq ft distribution centre in Wiltshire.

During the couple's relatively short time in business, they have attracted private equity backing to the tune of £3M, undergone a company restructure including the introduction of a chairman who previously served as operations director at Amazon and COO at eBay Europe, and acquired a rival wedding website called GettingMarrried.co.uk

Across both brands, the Beavens will help 30,000 UK couples with their weddings this year, with £90 per gift being the average spend.

There are around 300,000 weddings each year in the UK, and the wedding gift market is estimated to be worth around £300M per year.

Prezola's best-selling gifts are designer dinnerware sets by the likes of Sophie Conran, luxury ash wood professional knife blocks, Sonos wireless speakers with Amazon Alexa, and fluffy Egyptian cotton bath towels.

More quirky gift options include a 12" vinyl record by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, a hand-made ostrich feather floor lamp with a ticket price of £3,600, and fun experiences such as a themed escape room experience for two.

Ali said: "Prezola’s unique curation of products and brands reflects our audience’s desires perfectly - listening intently to our consumers and closely mirroring their needs has been essential.

"Growth has come predominantly through recommendation as happy couples spread the word. Managing that growth carefully, juggling cash flow with infrastructure needs, and planning ahead carefully has been crucial."

The Beaven's ambitious three-year plan is to grow the UK business from £15M in 2018 to £50M in 2021 and launch into Europe.

Prezola has won numerous awards including The UK Wedding Awards 'Best Gift List 2018', Feefo's 'Most Trusted Service 2018' and The British Wedding Awards 'Wedding Gift List of the Year 2018' - even Ali herself is nominated for PwC's 'Private Business Woman of the Year' for 2018.

She joked: "If all else fails, I think I deserve an award for working with my husband for this long!”

The couple, who have been married for 23 years, were both aged 40 when they started Prezola back in 2012. They have two children, aged 16 and 18.

Dom said: "The car we sold to fund the business was a black Land Rover and it was Ali's pride and joy. She came back from a PTA meeting and I'd washed it, which was a lovely surprise.

“But I'd also put it on eBay! The cash paid for our first three full-page ads in Conde Nast's 'Brides' Magazine.

"We also sold our family home in Bath which funded our first warehouse and the next two years of growth within the business.

“It used to be a nursing home and we bought the property as a wreck. Ali developed it from a shell into an amazing family home - Prezola was born in the kitchen of that house."

The idea for the business came after Ali, aged 47, was struggling to compile an online present list and internet geek, Dom, realised there was a gap in the market for a new kind of wedding gift list for the internet generation.

Ali, a qualified interior designer, and Dom, who was head of digital and social media for Comic Relief and before that MD at Future Publishing, one of the UK's leading magazine companies, immediately resigned from their jobs and got busy working with developers, designers and retailers from their kitchen table to get Prezola launched.

"Prezola is now the UK's leading wedding gift list service, just nudging ahead of John Lewis," said Dom.

"Since 2012, Prezola has been digitising wedding planning and we are taking market share from the likes of John Lewis who have not invested."

The wedding sector has been dragged into the 21st century with Prezola being one of the first e-commerce marketplaces.

Dom added: "Ali focuses on consumers and ethics. We don't use plastics, our packaging is 100% recycled, and our warehouse is energy efficient.

“As a former apprentice earlier in her career, Ali launched our apprenticeship programme and we have four apprentices so far.

“On reputation she champions consumers and this year, we won the Feefo trusted service status with 5,000 5-star reviews.

"As an aggregator of so many brands, building those relationships from scratch was key.

“Opening doors and overcoming objections from major retail businesses was a huge challenge, but Ali’s persuasion and passion means we now work with over 500 brands, from major internationals to fellow startups.

"She has found inspiration in fellow female entrepreneurs, particularly Chrissie Rucker of The White Company, who took her business from nothing to £200M through dogged determination and an unwavering belief in providing an excellent product."

Dom is CEO of Prezola, responsible for the commercial and tech side of the business, whilst Ali is Creative Director and focuses on product selection from research to buying as well as promotion.

Couples visiting the Prezola website simply register an account to start creating their wedding gift list. They can add items to their gift list, and guests can then purchase them directly on the Prezola site.

Cash gifts and honeymoon funds can be added. There is free standard delivery and a bespoke gift wrapping service.

Published: 25 September 2018

Article by Chris Middleton
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