Everyone’s received a gift they didn’t really want. Whether Grandpa got you socks at the holidays or your mum (mom) picked out a top she thought was just, “you” for your birthday, the thought is appreciated, but you might end up digging through the wrapping paper for a gift receipt. For couples, wedding gifts are more than just tokens; they set the tone for their new marital household and help them establish their lives together through the choices they have made together. Nobody wants to spend their honeymoon worrying about returning unattractive flatware, and wedding guests want to know their gift will be appreciated and not sent right back to the store it came from.
For Ali Beaven, that gift was a nice, but very much unwanted China doll she received for her birthday in her late 30s. After she received the doll, she and her husband, Dom Beaven, began brainstorming about a better way to buy gifts for loved ones and, the same day, they registered the name Prezola with a rough plan for building a shopping resource for a market in dire need of stress-free gifting: engagements and weddings.
The “Six-Month Plan”
Once the idea for Prezola was formed, Ali and Dom knew they had struck potential gold, and they decided to commit. Funds were short, so Dom sold their beloved Land Rover on eBay, they quit their jobs as head of digital and social media for two major firms and interior designer, moved into a smaller home, and began to think in the short-term.
“We never had a six-year plan,” says Dom. “It was instead always whether we could get through the next six months. That was always our target.”
Living frugally paid off, big time. Ali and Dom were able to place full-page ads in Conde Nast’s Brides Magazine with the funds from selling their car and, with substantial bravado and a little exaggeration, they set their sights on attracting the biggest names in the wedding market from their kitchen table. Within six years, Prezola overpowered John Lewis to become a £15 million ($19 million) wedding industry powerhouse.
Smoke and Mirrors, Real Results
Soon, Dom and Ali learned that the trick to attracting big-name brands was to pretend they weren’t a small-time, home-based company. Large, luxury brands expect small companies to offer deep discounts that they would never offer on their own websites and expect cut-rate service. Prezola has a different tactic for attracting suppliers. Their reasoning is, department stores push their own-brand products for wedding registries, and, back in 2010 before Prezola was formed, couples had to spend hours in the store compiling a list of items they want. An online platform can leverage convenience for both couples and their guests by saving trips to the store and offering the best items without the stress of physically combing through shelves. For Prezola, the promise of convenience and service was enough to make up for it not having a brick and mortar store like its competitors.
“Some of it is smoke and mirrors but we had the fundamentals in place. We also found that the luxury brands were sensitive about their prices being shown online but we persuaded them through methods such as selective distribution agreements and promises to never discount,” says Dom Beaven.
Dom and Ali spent two years building the site and securing their first suppliers and launched their industry-defining platform on Valentine’s Day 2012.
Trailblazing the Online Exodus: Viral Marketing and Investment
While many suppliers still believed their best bet in the wedding market was physical department stores and boutiques, Prezola’s vision was prescient at the time. Today, we’re used to seeing empty storefronts while online platforms thrive, but when Prezola was conceived, a fully online wedding registry platform was a novelty.
This setup is a viral marketer’s dream. Referrals to the site are effortless and self-propagating, and the website’s stunning customer service, outstanding reviews, and unparalleled convenience for both compiling a registry and shopping for a gift will have first-time users wondering why they ever spent hours browsing department stores before their special day. Although many brick and mortar stores offer registries, brand availability is limited, and quality and customer service are often lackluster compared to a platform created specifically to cater to weddings, with the needs and wants of couples in mind every step of the way.
As the pinnacle of social events, weddings present a unique marketing opportunity. Everyone’s mingling, everyone’s thrilled for the happy couple, and, if there was a registry, almost everyone bought their gifts in the same place. When wedding guests shop for stunning, top-brand gifts on Prezola.com, they see for themselves the variety and convenience the site offers. When the time comes for them to celebrate their own special day, they’ll remember their shopping experience on Prezola’s gift list and are more likely to choose it for their own registry.
For couples who value experiences over things, Prezola’s present list is unique in that it provides not only a convenient registry and shopping experience, it also lets couples plan and fund their honeymoon directly through the site in lieu of gifts. Prezola also lets couples set up donations to their favorite charity if they would rather give back than receive gifts.
In response to Prezola’s success, the UK’s most active investor, BGF, invested in the company in 2017 and is prepared to assist in its global expansion. Its first target market is the U.S., where the wedding industry is booming, but where registry services that aren’t with big-box stores like Walmart, Target, and Macy’s are few and far between.
Prezola Gift List: Expecting a Great Reception through Future Expansion Overseas
If Prezola’s UK success is any indication, the wedding market is hungry for stress-free gift-giving solutions for weddings. Prezola’s wedding list business model has proven its job-creating and sales power. In six years of operations, it has grown from a kitchen table in Bath, UK to a 50-person enterprise. Prezola has sold over 1 million gifts worth £15 million ($19 million), and the Prezola gift list website offers luxury items from the most exclusive brands in the UK. The company’s revenue grew 57% in 2018 alone, making it the UK’s leading wedding registry website.
Prezola is poised to enter a burgeoning market. In the U.S., the amount couples are willing to spend on a wedding has reached an all-time high of $32,329 as of 2016, according to The Knot. In 2016, the industry netted over $72 billion in revenue, which climbed to $76 billion in 2019, according to the market research firm, IBISWorld. Over 64% of brides find inspiration for their big day on sites like Pinterest, and the DIY trend is on the decline, with more couples opting for traditional, costlier ceremonies than kitschy hobby-store aesthetics.
Prezola’s uniqueness is present not only in its business model and expansive offerings but also in its hiring practices. Companies operating in the U.S. under business visas are required to provide employment to U.S. workers, and Prezola’s model is perfect for the U.S. market. The company makes a point to hire young people who have chosen not to pursue a degree. It has an apprenticeship scheme aimed at young people, who form a particularly vulnerable demographic in the United States. Although overall U.S. unemployment is down to just 3.8%, 6.3 – 11.5% of people aged 18-24 are unemployed. Despite these numbers, skyrocketing college costs mean more young people must face the working world straight out of high school. Prezola has already helped several young UK workers start their careers, and a similar scheme in the U.S. would be a welcome addition to the market.
Dom Beaven is proud of the scheme’s results.
“Some kids don’t want to go to University and so we offer them the chance to work for us. We have two to three apprentices in our head office and warehouse. Indeed, our warehouse manager started here as a summer gift wrapper.”
The E2 Visa Might be Prezola’s Best Bet in the U.S.
If it makes the move and expands to the U.S., Prezola will be required to apply for a U.S. immigration business visa to begin operations and transfer some of its owners, managers, or employees. For companies based in countries with a treaty of trade or commerce with the U.S., like the UK, the E2 Treaty Investor Visa is an advantageous visa for this purpose. The U.S. has a long history of accepting UK nationals applying in the E2 treaty investor visa category, which is known for its flexibility. E2 visa holders can travel freely in and out of the U.S. while they hold an E2 visa, and their spouse can also work in the U.S., while their dependent children under 21 years of age can study. The E2 visa can be renewed indefinitely providing the principal E2 visa applicant still qualifies, making it one of the most appealing non-immigrant visas for many foreign entrepreneurs. Another visa that may also apply to Prezola, is the L-1A intracompany transferee visa, which allows foreign companies who set up a subsidiary, affiliate, or branch office in the U.S. to transfer executives and managers that meet certain criteria. Whichever visa category is deemed the most appropriate, British people and their family may want to get acquainted with British vs American Words.
The number of E2 visas issued to UK entrepreneurs has been increasing (for the most part) over the last several years. In 2014 2,915 visas were issued, in 2015 it was 2,935, in 2016 it was 2,969, in 2017 it was 2,862, and in 2018, 3,065 E2 visas were issued to nationals of the UK. Thousands of UK E2 visa holders have created valuable jobs across numerous industries and have shared some of the best talent the UK has to offer. If Ali and Dom Beaven decide Prezola should set its sights on the U.S. market, it is poised to forever change the way Americans say, “I do.”