The founder of a £10 million turnover eCommerce business says a pivot during COVID-19 convinced investors of its value.

Dominic Portman started up Boulevard in 2016 and now offers more than 100,000 products to customers in 20+ countries online, working closely with manufacturers and distributors to grow product listings on marketplaces such as Amazon.

His first foray into retail saw him buying up pallets of returned toys, fixing and reselling them. Then while at Nottingham Trent University a decade ago, he had the idea of selling fancy dress outfits to students – and Fancy Fresher was born. “While I didn’t realise it at the time, this was the start of my journey into building supply chain relationships,” he says.

Fancy Fresher was a huge learning experience for me. It taught me the power of networking, and listening to those key players within your industry, as well as the importance of really getting to grips with the market size you’re operating in. These are the things that help you to grow a business from day one.”

Dressing up

His next business was Fancy Dress Worldwide. “I witnessed the shift that was happening from the high street to websites, and then the more recent emergence of online marketplaces, and I also saw that many of the industry leaders were lagging severely behind with marketplace tech,” he says.

“Each channel has its own unique requirements, and I felt that if we could focus on building the tech to sell purely on marketplaces, we would gain a significant advantage while being able to sell to a wider market.”

As Boulevard, he built technology platform Eiger, which still powers its two fulfilment centres in Worcester today. In the first year it generated more than 50,000 orders worldwide for Fancy Dress Worldwide. “It was a real shock!” he reflects. 

“The platform is used by every function of our business for day-to-day tasks: it covers everything from our supplier connections, inventory management, order processing and dispatch, courier management and marketplace listing and pricing. 

“It has uniqueness in every pillar of the business because we have built it from strong foundations, innovating to build something that perfects every function we require. Put simply, Eiger allows for scale in a very complex market.”

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COVID conundrum

Portman always planned to expand into more product categories, but when COVID halted social gatherings around the globe – and with it the market for fancy dress – those ambitions were expedited. “We onboarded 20 new suppliers in the following 12 months,” he says.

While also building out a team of 15 business development managers and data analysts, Boulevard raised a seed round of investment with Fuel Ventures. It now employs 70 people and manages 100,000 orders per month.


“I think what ultimately swung the balance in our favour was that it was clear to investors that not only did we have a strong proof of concept in what we had achieved in the party and costume category, but we had proven our determination and grit when our backs were against the wall during the pandemic, by achieving a rapid and successful pivot,” reflects Portman.

“At the time, I think investors saw this agile process as a crucial trait for any business to have at such a turbulent time. Additionally, I had spoken to Fuel about three years before they ever invested. While it had only been a casual discussion, we were already on their radar when we decided to push for investment.”

Looking back, would he have done anything differently? “Ultimately, no. Where we are today is a direct result of every up and down that comes with growing and scaling a business. 

“I have a growth mentality, which means I try to view lessons learnt and, more importantly, the application of those lessons, as a very positive thing for myself and for the business. 

“This can only strengthen the likelihood of things going to plan over time.”

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