Secrets to Making it Big With a Subscription Box Business
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By Laura Gayle, Business Woman Guide
Starting a subscription box company can be a great way to dip your toes into entrepreneurship. With relatively low startup costs and a sales model that has generated significant excitement in the market, there’s a lot of potential for profit. The industry has exploded in the last few years, from just $57 million in 2011 to $2.9 billion in 2016.
However, not all subscription boxes are bound for success. Even the most prominent names have sometimes seen some bumps in the road. Birchbox, for example, has had numerous struggles with debt and many rounds of layoffs, despite consistently positive press. To guarantee your success, you will need a plan that exceeds expectations. Here’s how to make it big with your subscription box business.
Start With a Killer Strategy and a Winning Product
Subscription boxes come in all shapes and sizes, from meal prep kits to cat toys. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Clearly, the market can sustain subscription boxes of just about anything, but many players are already in the game. As such, it’s essential to be strategic in determining what you sell and who you will target.
Entrepreneurs have varying opinions on this subject. Some believe the mass-market appeal is the best path forward since this will increase your potential audience. In contrast, others prefer a niche approach with a smaller but more dedicated following. Both methods have proven successful, but it’s best to pick one and stick to it. Choosing a strategy will guide the rest of your business plan, from marketing to how you prepare for your launch, so be sure to understand who you’re pitching to and why fully.
Consider the other products making a splash in the subscription industry before committing to a particular concept. While multiple boxes can exist in the same space – for example, Plated, Hello Chef, and Blue Apron all manage to coexist peacefully and profitably in the meal preparation arena – you don’t want to attempt to play catch-up in a market with plenty of existing players. Your best bet is an in-demand product with a largely-untapped market to maximize your available opportunity or to take a niche approach to current development. While Purple Carrot, for example, may not be as big as Plated, its vegan options serve a market the more prominent players do not.
In choosing a concept, you also need to know what you’re selling and for how much. If you’re making it yourself, be sure to secure the rights. It’s essential to focus on things your customers will want that are still in your budget, so make time for research and market tests before committing. Pricing for your subscription box will depend on your products, but don’t forget about overhead – everything from storage space to shipping should be factored in. Remember that cheaper subscription boxes tend to do better initially, but don’t sacrifice quality to get costs down.
Subscription boxes also tend to include more than one item per box. So one way to keep costs down would be to have items of varying value. High-quality products in high demand will cost more, but you might find good quality items in the low market and cost less. Many companies can’t figure out how to get rid of dead stock and are happy to part with items for cheap. Search local businesses in your area or online that offer enormous discounts for inventory they can’t get rid of.
Focus on a Great Website and e-Commerce Tools
Selling online is a very different ballgame than a physical shop. Selling items in a brick-and-mortar store is a much easier sell. Customers can touch and feel the item before they buy; if they’re shopping for clothes, they can try them on; if they want makeup, they can sample products; you get the point. When selling online, you have to communicate all of the benefits customers can expect in a relatively limited way. If you can’t convince a customer to buy within their first few moments of browsing, you may not be able to persuade them to buy. You’ll want to ensure that your website accurately represents your product while also hyping it up. Take enough pictures so customers aren’t left wondering, and include reviews of the consequences if you can.
In addition to a website that resonates, you need to make purchasing easy. 28% of online shoppers admit to abandoning a purchase because the checkout process is too complicated, so do everything you can to keep customers committed. Do your due diligence on e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Magento, and Big Commerce, and be sure to choose the best one for your purposes, not just the cheapest.
To optimize your checkout process, consider incorporating the following:
- One-click purchasing options
- Acceptance of a wide variety of payment methods, including all major credit cards, gift cards, and PayPal
- Promo codes for initial purchases or ongoing membership
- A streamlined registration process limited to only necessary information
- Easy opt-out or cancelation processes
Create a Stellar Approach to Marketing
Before your launch, you must put plenty of time into marketing to ensure as much exposure as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money – even the most effective digital methods are relatively low-cost – but it does mean investing in strategies that work. You have a good idea and a smooth checkout process, but your sales will fail to make a mark if no one knows about it.
You don’t need to utilize every marketing strategy under the sun. Still, it may serve you well to embrace as many avenues as possible, especially the affordable ones, to improve your odds. The more customers you have jumped on-board before you officially launch, the more press you’re likely to receive once you go live, increasing the momentum you’ll have moving forward. How you choose to market is on you, but your options include the following:
- Social media business pages across platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest
- Sponsored or targeted social media posts to increase visibility in your niche market
- Relationships with social media influencers and subscription box bloggers
- Affiliate programs
- Branded hashtags
- Promos for users who share images and hashtags on social media
- Celebrity endorsements or celebrity-curated boxes
Establish a Beautiful Presentation
First impressions matter. While your first encounter with your customers will likely be online, their first brush with your products will come with their initial subscription box. This is the most crucial step in the customer journey and how they will continue to connect with your brand. You don’t want to make customers feel like they’ve just received an assortment of items from Amazon; instead, you want to provide a customized, specially-curated appearance. This means creating a memorable, unboxing experience, so customers feel valued, influential, and loyal.
To do this, choose a box the right size for your items, not too big or too small to save on postage, and use custom packaging, like branded tissue paper or creative boxes, to stand apart from the crowd. Above all else, you want to speak to your business and personify your brand, no matter how you package your products. If you’re feeling ambitious, consider throwing in something extra, like a piece of candy, a sparkly fabric hair tie, or a press-on tattoo to make your customers smile.
Subscription boxes are a hot industry, providing a solid opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs. With a great plan, good products, reliable marketing, a standout website, and beautiful packaging, it’s possible to set your subscription box up for success from day one.