Vender of the Week: Podarok

Podarok Oxford front

Who: Podarok

Where: Cambridge and Oxford, England

Why we fell in love with Podarok: 

It’s safe to say that Andrey Pronin has been an entrepreneur from the get-go. While starting his own tourism business during his university years, he quickly discovered the endless opportunities available within the beautiful mix of technology and business. Having now moved into the world of retail, Andrey uses Vend as his secret weapon of technology and has once again found success. His beautiful boutique, Podarok, has two locations in the UK as well as a thriving online store and has recently been shortlisted as one of the UK’s Top 50 Start Ups. We couldn’t be more stoked to have helped the very talented Andrey on his way to retail success!

How did you get started in the wonderful world of retail? 

I was a student in my final year at Cambridge University when I started my first business. It was a social enterprise whereby my company hired students to give walking and academic tours around the cities / universities of Oxford and Cambridge. By adopting new technologies the business was able to generate profit and with further growth we managed to secure contracts with bigger institutions to provide tours for all of their groups coming to our cities.

Two years after starting the business, and a year after my graduation, I decided it was time to move onto something new. I sold my business to another interested party within the tourism industry and was looking for new opportunities when I stumbled upon a derelict gift shop in the heart of Cambridge. The business looked outdated and rightly so – it was 18 years old with the same people running it! The retail industry had taken a big hit in the UK at the time, with internet sales proportions the highest in the world (yes, this is how the UK is)! I was always interested in retail, as it is the oldest business model, and I wondered whether the same adoption of new technologies would allow me to transform the business.


After some deliberation I decided to buy the business and transform it into something new and vibrant. In my view there were just three areas that I needed to focus on to transform it entirely.


    1. The right team with plenty of energy and enthusiasm
    2. A good value proposition to our customers (i.e. the right products)
    3. A streamlined work process which involves new technologies to reduce costs and increase productivity

Once the shop was ours we renamed it Podarok. I’ve taken on board a highly experienced (retail) manager, Amy, who was able to build a fantastic team. Together we spent many hours, days, and months to scout new products and develop the correct product offering for our customers. Podarok is an independent boutique offering handmade products: jewelry, housewares, gifts, print, and so on. And so, points 1 and 2 were sorted. However, I’ve seen too many wonderful people getting into big trouble by thinking that having beautiful products and a pretty shop is all that is necessary to succeed. YOUR SHOP IS A BUSINESS. It is fantastic that you know your products and that you are an expert in what you do. However, if you don’t control your stock, analyze your sales, keep your margins in check or control your costs, it’s just a matter of time until the business ends up in trouble.

Podarok Sign

What brought you to Vend and how’ve you found it?

Many small shops are not able to compete with larger stores due to the difference in resources available to each. However, with new technologies and software such as Vend, the tools which were previously available only to the ‘big boys’ are now available to smaller businesses.

When I started Podarok, the previous owners were using a 10-year-old Casio receipt till. All of the other independent shops were using similar machines. When I asked “How do you control stock? How do you know what sells best? How do you know what makes you the most money?” the usual reply was, “It’s all in my head. I know my business well.” It really struck me that their businesses were reliant on their expertise and therefore were not scalable or transferable. Moreover, I refused to believe that you’re able to successfully analyze sales by just having everything in your head. And then there were other business owners who would spend thousands on POS systems which were really bad, not flexible, and required expensive maintenance.

After researching into what could suit my needs I stumbled upon Vend. Stock control – check. Sales analysis – check. Cloud based – check. No need for bulky expensive hardware – check. It was a no-brainer really. I looked at some other similar software but Vend was the one that had most of the things I was after. On top of having Vend for stock control and sales we also use Xero for accountancy and Shopify for our website. All of that is at a fraction of the cost that would have been necessary if everything was built bespoke for us or if we had gone with some old-style POS system.

What this allowed us to do was reduce costs and most importantly, scale! Within less than a year of starting we were able to open another shop in Oxford (our first is in Cambridge). The start up costs of a new shop were tiny compared to other similar businesses because we didn’t need to buy bulky equipment or pay huge fees. In we went, and started selling straight away!


What’s your favorite thing about Vend?

Of course my favorite feature has to be the sales reports. By day, by month, by period, by hour, but most importantly, by supplier. We can predict what is going to happen next year and therefore plan our staff rosters and product ordering in advance. This saves us a lot of time, and therefore, money. We only order what we need and know that will sell. We are able to order only as much as we need because we can see how much was sold before. We also only employ as many staff as we need by looking back at the level of sales.

What would be your words of wisdom to new retailers? 

Retail is tough. In today’s world you have to be micro-specialized, and have a niche you work within. Gone are the days when you could open a shop and sell anything. Now, not only do your products have to be unique, but also the process of buying a product from your shop must be an ‘experience’. If someone wants to buy an extension lead they can do it online or in their local supermarket. Your shop must be somewhere people enjoy spending their time – only then can you hope they will part with their hard earned cash in your shop. ‘Experience shopping’ is the newest thing in retail and only these type of shops on the high street will survive.

And, of course, you must embrace new technologies. There is just no way to have a profitable business if you don’t control your cash flow or know what sells and what doesn’t. New technologies also allow you to have a fully transactional website and this is a must. The bottom line is: before, a retail business was 80% admin and 20% selling, however, this is no longer true if you want to be successful. To create ‘experience shopping’ the selling must be what takes most of your time if you want to woo your customers. And to do that, one must reduce time spent on admin. Software such as Vend and Xero allow for just that.

– Andrey Pronin, Owner / Experience Retail Extraordinaire, Podarok

Do you have a few tricks of the trade that could help our community of 12,000+ Venders find retail success too? Get in touch with Grace to share your experiences!

About Grace O'Hara

Grace is a Marketing Assistant at Vend and helps make cool things happen behind the scenes. She enjoys talking to incredible Vend retailers from around the world and making the world a better place with her side projects. You can get in touch with Grace by email or connect with her on Google+.