By Laura Gayle, Business Woman Guide
Starting a subscription box company can be a great way to dip your toes into the waters of 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. In fact, the industry has exploded in the last few years, growing from just $57 million in 2011 to $2.9 billion in 2016.
However, not all subscription boxes are bound for success. In some cases, even the biggest names have 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 own 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. Cleary, the market can sustain subscription boxes of just about anything, but there are already a significant number of players in the game. As such, it’s important to be strategic in determining what you’re going to sell and who you’re going to target.
Entrepreneurs have varying opinions on this subject. Some believe that mass-market appeal is the best path forward since this will increase your potential audience, while 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. Picking a strategy will guide the rest of your business plan from marketing to how you prepare for your launch, so be sure to fully understanding who you’re pitching to and why.
Consider also the other products making a splash in the subscription industry before committing to a particular concept. While it’s possible for multiple boxes to exist in the same space – for example, Plated, Hello Chef, and Blue Apron all manage to coexist relatively 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 a current product. While Purple Carrot, for example, may not be as big as Plated, but its vegan options serve a market the bigger 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 important 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. Bear in mind that cheaper subscription boxes tend to do better, at least initially, but don’t sacrifice quality simply for the sake of getting cost down.
Subscription boxes also tend to include more than one item per box. So one way to keep costs down would be to include items of varying value. High-quality products that are in high demand will cost more but you might be able to find good quality items that are in low demand which cost less. A lot of 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 huge discounts for inventory they can’t get rid of.
Focus on a Great Website and e-Commerce Tools
Selling online is obviously a very different ballgame than selling in 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 convince them to buy at all. You’ll want to make sure that your website accurately represents your product while also hyping it up. Take enough pictures so that customers aren’t left wondering, and definitely include reviews of the products 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:
- 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
You have a good idea and a smooth checkout process, but if no one knows about it, your sales will fail to make a mark. Before your launch, you need to 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 don’t need to utilize every marketing strategy under the sun, but 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 jump 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:
- 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 important 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 a hodgepodge of items from Amazon; instead, you want to provide a customized, specially-curated appearance. This means creating a memorable unboxing experience so that customers will feel valued, important, and, of course, loyal.
To do this, choose a box that’s the right size for the items you have, not too big or too small simply 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 ultimately choose to package your products. If you’re feeling really ambitious, consider throwing in a little 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, solid marketing, a standout website, and beautiful packaging, it’s possible to set your subscription box up for success from day one.