Carolyn and Nat, the New York couple featured in the slideshow above, recently decided to get married. Like many of their peers, they decided to entrust Zola with their wedding needs. Zola first launched as a digital wedding registry, but in the first week of 2019, it launched a wedding planning pop-up shop in the Flatiron district in New York City. The store will be open until April, which is the end of wedding planning season, according to Zola’s data. Then, in May, wedding season begins.
But in case a couple doesn’t want to wait till then–or is tired of planning a big, fat wedding–all of Zola’s store associates happen to be ordained. If you want, you could just get married in the Zola store. Carolyn and Nat decided not to go that route, and no other couples so far have taken the brand up on its offer. But it’s only the second week the store has been open, so there is still time.
When they visited the store, Carolyn and Nat stopped by the CBD lounge to calm their nerves, checked out a wedding playlist listening booth, and created little plastic replicas of themselves at a 3D cake topper printing chapel. (Using generic toppers for your three-tiered wedding cake is so 2018.) They could also take care of more serious wedding business, like registering for gifts, designing their wedding website with the help of an expert, and looking at the more than 200 designs for invitations and save-the-dates that Zola offers. Zola employees mill about the store, and are trained to answer questions like what size mixer you should buy, how you gently tell guests not to bring their kids to your wedding, and more.
The store itself has wooden floors and sections designed to look like a modern home. The idea is to give couples ideas about what they might want to register for. There are also large tables, much like the Apple store, where customers can play with products. Interactive displays (like the sound booth and the 3D cake topper machine) are dispersed throughout the space. In front of the large glass window, there is a human-sized wedding cake topper.
Zola has created an in-store experience that’s optimized to relieve the worries couples experience when they’re planning their weddings, which ultimately benefits Zola’s business. Zola’s primary revenue stream comes from selling products through its wedding registry service.
Shan-Lyn Ma and Nobu Nakaguchi launched Zola in 2013 as an e-commerce wedding registry site. From the start, the founders recognized that the best way to get new couples to use their registry was to help them navigate the wedding planning process. For instance, couples could use a tool on the registry that calculates how many gifts they should register for, and at what price points, given the number of guests they are inviting. Couples could also use a registry checklist to identify what products they do–and don’t–need in their new home. Finally, the couple can determine when–and where–they would like their gifts delivered, so their apartments don’t fill up with kitchen appliances before they need them.
Since then, Zola has expanded into other services. It offers free wedding websites that can be integrated with tools like guest list managers and planning checklists. These are available to all couples, whether or not they register for gifts on Zola, but given that the registry plugs neatly into the other free tools, the goal is clearly to encourage them to use the registry as well. The company has also started to sell wedding invitations.
Zola has grown quickly, thanks to several infusions of VC funding, including a $100 million Series D round last summer, bringing its total investment to $140 million. Zola has managed to consolidate many tools–the wedding planning, the invitations, the registry–that, until recently, tended to be offered by separate companies. That was inconvenient for couples because they had to go to different stores and websites to organize their wedding.
With its pop-up, Zola’s founders can gauge whether there is an appetite for an in-person wedding planning experience. Zola appears to be inspired by the many startups who have been trying to woo customers back into stores–after the so-called retail apocalypse–with entertaining experiences. In one corner of the pop-up, for instance, there is a closet carousel, inspired by the one Alicia Silverstone has in the movie Clueless. But instead of ’90s outfits, couples can press a pedal to rotate through sheets and towels to add to their registry. Gimmicky? You bet. But like many other retailers, Zola is throwing things on the wall to see what sticks.
Zola says that 350 couples–existing Zola customers who were informed of the launch–attended the store’s opening. And no wonder: I would certainly have availed myself of a CBD chill lounge if one had been available when I was in full-on Bridezilla mode.