Lately, I’ve been receiving a semi-frequent emails from people requesting insight or advice about starting a subscription box business.
It’s flattering to be a business “to watch” or one that hopeful entrepreneurs admire enough to reach out and wanna pick your brain. It’s really cool…and slightly annoying.
Okay, before you think I’m a complete jerk for saying that. Hear me out.
I welcome new subscription boxes on the market, especially in Canada, where the industry isn’t so saturated. I don’t feel threatened in the least. I believe there’s room for variety in this industry and even room for similar boxes to co-exist. You can’t be something to everyone so there’s value in providing options and a need for business owners to put their own spin on something to attract their unique audience. Sure, copycats are inevitable, but the fact of the matter is, if you’re not doing something with authenticity, you’re not going to survive.
I genuinely want to be helpful! Really and truly. But here’s the thing. My life, for the most part is utter chaos – a revolving door of to-dos, want to-dos and the don’t want to-dos but have to-dos. I care for my son full time, spend the majority of my sans baby time (when he’s asleep or when my husband is home to tap me out) hustling to grow my business and then of course, it’s nice to get some face time now and then with my baby daddy himself. Oh, and then there’s my own self-care. Yeah, that thing. So, that fits in…somewhere here.
I would love to have the time to respond to each individual and unique request for information and insight. But I simply don’t have that kind of time to offer right now. Maybe one day, I will.
Until then, I thought I would write a blogpost that I can refer people to that captures the essence of what most people seem to wanna know and also provides some tangible advice to those seriously considering a subscription box business. So here they are; my top five tips.
ONE: Choose your platform wisely. SAAS (Software as a service) apps are a popular option. Cratejoy is one example. However, when I was starting out with Oh Mother Care Kits, they weren’t optimized for Canadian businesses as well as they could be, plus their fees are high. Shopify (with add-ons) is a good Canadian option, although their fees are still a little high compared to building your own platform with Woocommerce (and using Stripe for payment processing).
Think about how you want your website to function. The look and aesthetics is important but it’s secondary to the ease of use and functionality of it. So make sure to think through how you want customers to navigate and order from your site.
TWO: Do not ignore the importance of customer acquisition. Getting customers is the hardest part of any business. Don’t underestimate this. Invest time, energy and money into a few different marketing channels (because what works for one, doesn’t always work for another and you won’t know starting out where your marketing dollars will best be applied). I would strongly advise testing the various options in the online/digital sphere (e.g. Facebook advertising/remarketing or Google Adwords). Local exposure and advertising is good to a point but for subscription boxes that are purchased online and ship nationally, you need to be seen everywhere, not just at a local tradeshow. So think about your scope.
THREE: Market wisely. Track your spend. Track conversions. Get good with Google analytics and the different advertising platforms, or find and hire someone who is.
FOUR: Know your numbers. Run them, once, twice, ten times. Make sure you’ve accounted for EVERYTHING that will contribute to the cost of your box (e.g. boxes, paper inclusions, stickers, tissue paper, crinkle paper, products, labour to assemble – if you don’t plan on doing this yourself etc.). I sat in front of a spreadsheet for so many hours in the beginning months that I started dreaming in spreadsheets. Inevitably, things are going to cost more than you think they will so make sure your profit margins will allow for this.
Shipping is expensive in Canada (compared to the U.S.). This is an important consideration.
Reconsider large, elaborate expenses in your start-up, like custom design/branded boxes. These are costly and they don’t typically make financial sense until you’ve hit a certain subscriber-base (500+).
I invested upfront in professional design/branding, and while I don’t regret it, I could have turned a profit a lot quicker without this large expense. However, I’ve also received a lot of positive feedback on the branding from customers and admirers and I believe it has contributed to the business’s appeal and draw. I could not have turned out such a great look without help nor could I have rolled out my launch in the same time frame. All this to say, some things you want to get right or “close to right” out of the gate and some things can be developed and improved upon as you grow. These will be different for everyone and based on your priorities and skill set.
FIVE: Be patient. Profits don’t happen overnight. Try EVERYTHING once. Experiment. Take risks. Prepare to be surprised. Prepare to fail. Prepare to change gears often. But know, there are no quick, express lanes to building a business. It takes A LOT of hustle to see results and keep seeing results. Even paid advertising takes time to nurture and perfect.
Blogging, especially, is a long-term game plan. It takes months for Google to pick up content in their rankings. And therefore, it’s easy to neglect from the get-go in our quest for immediacy. But don’t. Even if you’re only publishing one quality blogpost a month, that’s something and eventually it can and should pick up some traction.
In terms of blogging, it will also take time to figure out what kind of content your followers, subscribers/customers want to read and what subjects interest them. The strategy here is touch on a variety of related/aligned topics to your brand and then narrow down based on feedback and response.
So there they are; my top five bits of wisdom regarding a subscription box start-up.
To those who received this post in response to an email inquiry, I sincerely hope this offers something of value to you and your prospective venture. Good luck.
To all you other curious folk, thanks for tuning in.