My first million: Pepita Diamond of Wrapit

Pepita Diamond blames the fact that she eloped in her early 20s on her 'unnatural fascination' with weddings. But her obsession has paid off - in the form of her £8m a year wedding list service, Wrapit.

If you were a friend of Pepita Diamond and happened to be getting married, you might have wondered whether she was planning her own nuptials. Why? Because from the flowers to the catering, the Canadian fashion journalist was always on hand with questions, looking for the kind of information that every bride-to-be needs to know. Diamond blames her "unnatural fascination" with weddings on the fact that she eloped in 1996 when in her early 20s, and thus never had "a proper full-on" one herself.

But her obsession has paid out big dividends. Without her unending curiosity, Diamond would never have found the solution to one of her friends' biggest pre-marital problems wedding lists. Dull, staid and old-fashioned, "nothing actually spoke to my friends, my generation. And nobody was actually doing anything online in the area. I thought this is it... the absolute perfect opportunity. It was just there waiting for me."

It was the summer of 1999. Although her boss first laughed at the idea of Wrapit, an online wedding-list service, "lo and behold, when he did the research, he saw it was a big market". £200m a year was spent on wedding lists in the UK and the figure was rising at 15% annually. He wanted in. Together, they raised £400,000 to get the website which required a sophisticated database to manage the lists up and running. And getting word out to the public wasn't hard. "Brides are a very specific customer. They congregate in the same places, they all read the same magazines, they're all looking at the same websites. So they're very easy for us to target. But we needed showrooms... to capture this audience that was being attracted to our website, but wanted to come in for a personal experience."

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A pioneer of the idea of bricks and clicks', they opened a 600 sq ft showroom in London's Wandsworth costing £1,200 a month. It helped bring more customers into a business that, by 2002, was growing at 25% a year. But most of their money was still being ploughed into technology, so that they could deal with "80 prospects, and 80 up-and-running wedding lists" a month, rather than the 20 prospects and ten lists that a traditional list could have coped with.

They were then approached by someone who wanted to open a franchised showroom in Harrogate. They jumped at the chance. "We wound up taking a profit share with them, which worked very well." They used the model to roll out other franchises and by 2004 they had nine showrooms, with total sales of £2.9m.

Wrapit now has 14 showrooms with sales of £8m a year, thanks partly to the fact that lower overheads mean they can afford to hold more stock than most list services. "If we have a relationship with the supplier, chances are we can get almost anything from that supplier for our couple because we'll be custom ordering it. We're not trying to flog stock that some idiot buyer bought a few seasons ago and that has been languishing in the back room. So this means that we genuinely have a larger choice than any wedding department store. And couples love that."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.