How To Start a Subscription Box Business: 15 Actionable Steps
Today Im sharing all my secrets and I will walk you through 15 easy steps to start a subscription box business.
Are you thinking about starting a subscription box business but feeling overwhelmed and have no clue where to start? Don’t worry that was me in 2016 when I started to think about starting my own subscription box. There weren’t a lot of resources and it seems the options were endless. Needless to say I felt incredibly overwhelmed and wasted too much time and energy researching all the moving parts to launch a box business.
Today Im sharing all my secrets with you. I started a pet focused subscription box company and within two years, I grew it to 6 figures of revenue with zero staff or help. I figured out each and every step on my own and learned a ton of valuable information.
Now, I will share my 15 actionable steps (in detail) on how you can create and launch your successful subscription box company with ease. I share details on everything from how to choose your box idea, to how to create the actual box, and how to start your prelaunch.
So grab a coffee, or a glass of wine and let’s get started. This should take about 10 minutes to get through but I promise it’s worth it.
1. Narrow Down Your Box Idea + Niche
You likely already have a strong idea of what your box idea is. If not, here are a few practical tips. Make sure your idea is specific. The more specific, the better ability you have to market to your ideal customer. Think of in demand areas like food, fitness, health or something super niche like a sticker box. The possibilities are endless.
Other things to consider:
-Keep in mind shipping costs and the size of your box matter. The heavier and larger your box size is, the more expensive to ship. MY best advice is to try to keep your product as light and small as possible, as this has the lowest shipping costs. We will go into shipping costs in step #5.
-Your competitors: How saturated is this market? In my opinion, competitors are good, that means your idea is already validated. It’s important to come up with a unique value reposition for your product. Think how you can make your box different in some way.
For example, when I was in the early stages of The Dapper Dog Box, I knew I wanted to start a subscription box for dogs but there were so many other dog boxes saturated in the market. I researched, did extensive competitor analysis and came up with two unique ideas that no-one else was doing. 1. Offer bandanas and accessories in my dog box and 2. Offer items for the humans. After I came up with two unique ideas, I validated my ideas by interviewing 20+ people. After interviewing people that fit into my idea customer, I learned that most people did not want things for themselves that would clutter u their house. But they all loved the accessory idea, so in the end I decided to go with the dog bandanas as my differentiator!
2. Determine Who Your Ideal Customer is
Once you’ve found your niche and market fit, spend some time fleshing out your potential customer (pro tip: this may mean researching your competitors’ customers). Get as granular as you can with this exercise. How old is your customer? Where do they shop? What is their income level? What is their preferred social platform?
Once you’ve started advertising, refer back to these answers and adjust as necessary. You may find, for instance, that your idea of the perfect customer was a 20-something West Coast city dweller, but in reality, they’re a middle-aged mom in the Midwest. Be open to learning who your true customers are over time and pivoting your marketing strategies accordingly.
Pricing your box correctly is really important. You don’t want to price your box too high or too low. The box price you set can show your value proposition and even attract (or alienate) different types of customers. Make sure your margins are at least 50%. If they aren’t at least 50% it will be hard to grow and scale and actually make profit.
Don’t just price your box the same as your competitors. This is a huge mistake. In the end price your product at whatever you want but make sure your showcase an immense value proposition for your customers.
Things to consider when deciding on a price:
- Products inside your box and how much they cost
- Price of actual box and inserts inside
- Are you fulfilling it or is this outsourced
- Packing materials, tape, label printers etc
- Customer acquisition costs
- Shipping fees: will shipping be free or will you charge, how much will shipping cost you?
- Fixed costs: software platforms, email marketing, email, hosting etc.
4. Choose Your Subscription Platform
There are a few options here! I am listing the most popular options for people starting subscription businesses and that is Cratejoy, Subbly and Shopify.
For my subscription box business I used Cratejoy. I went with Cratejoy because it seemed the best option that included the most comprehensive things to help me grow the box but also included all the right analytics like CLV and churn rate. I had some minor issues with cratejoy but overall I believe its the very best option because it is a platform created for the subscription box customer (you) to make your life easier.
Best Choice If You: Want a one stop shop that makes it easy for you to start a subscription box business:
Cratejoy is my top choice for subscription box companies. I used it personally so I can vouch for it. It’s a platform that was literally built for subscription box businesses. I personally love dit. It has all the analytics you need, built right in. You can check your churn rate, your customer lifetime value and a million other important subscription customer metrics right there. They make it easy for you to also start the business as the website, shop page, website themes are all built right in.
Cratejoy offers a CJ marketplace option which means they will
Best Choice If You: Already have a shop on Shopify and/OR you plan to launch a robust commerce shop business in addition to the subscription
Shopify is an e-commerce storefront , so for businesses that plan to do an extensive sho age and want to sell a lot of products in addition to subscription boxes, this may be a good choice for you. You essentially add an app for the subscription component. Click here for details on BOLD subscriptions App
Best Choice If You: Want a robust all in one subscription platform with the lowest price
Subbly is another full service subscription platform that allows you to build and launch a subscription box business easily all within one platform. The other cool thing about this platform is that it can integrate a “ checkout” option for existing businesses, which is pretty dope if you already have a website that is converting customers, you don’t have to start fresh. Services start at $14 per month for their checkout plan, and $29 a month for their full service website + checkout plans. Their transaction fees are 1% . They do not offer a marketplace option. This means they do not have their own “store” of subscription businesses that they showcase. This is a positive and negative however you want to look at it.
Cratejoy offers a marketplace option, which can be good but since they take a % of sales and use aggressive affiliate marketing, you want to make sure that customers are going to your website more than crate joys marketplace so you make the $$.
5. Understanding Shipping and How It Affects Your Business
Understanding that shipping will be one of your biggest costs and you need to think about that when you are determine what your business is. The larger and heavier your box is, the more $$ you spend on shipping. If you can create a product that is LIGHT where you can ship the product for under 1 LB, that will be the cheapest option by far. Once you go over 1 lb, shipping rates jump.
Think about a product that can be shipped in a polymailer bag for under 1 lb. packages under a lb, shipped via USPS in the USA, are going to be around $5. If you ship a box, that is around 1.5 lbs, that is going to be $8 +… so you can see how much shipping actually costs and if you offer it as part of your product for free, then you need to make sure you build in shipping costs. When you are thinking of your product its also important to understand that the bigger and heavier your product is, the more $$ shipping costs. Keep it small and light as much as possible.
Once you figure out your box size, and what products you have, Pirateshipis our #1 recommended shipping provider. They sync up with everyone of the providers we mentioned above and they offer the lowest shipping rates. They are super easy to work with and they have a really great chat feature in case you get stuck or have questions. They are A+ in my book.
6. Create Your Brand
Create a Pinterest board with your vision. What do you see for your business, think about who your customer is and what you might want your brand to be. Pin anything that inspires you, from colors to home decor to art and fashion. You’ll start to see trends and patterns here.
You will want to come up with 2-3 colors, fonts and a personality for your brand. Always go back to who your ideal customer is and what resonates with them. For The Dapper Dog Box, my ideal customer was a 25-35, female, working professional who had at least one dog and identified as a “modern dog mom.” My customer treated her dog like a child and cared about the quality of food, treats and toys they bought for their dog. So everything I did for the business was catering to that customer. Everything was bright, fun, and colorful and that was the personality of the business.
7. Design + Create Your Box
When you are first starting off, I highly recommend getting a box from a company like Boxes or Packable. They will be more expensive up front but while you are launching and figuring out how to market your business, its best to keep things simple so you can pivot and change when necessary! Here are my recommended options:
A white or cardboard Box with a gorgeous sticker. You can get these boxes from Uline or amazon for $1or less. Get a cool sticker and slap that baby on. While I do not recommend this option for super high end boxes, its a great, cheap and simple way to start. Start simple, get customers and then make things better.
Get a designed and customized box from a company like Boxup, Packable or Packlane. ALL of these options do not require a pre designed box art work. You can design your ideal box right on their platform with colors, fonts, logos.
These boxes are corrugated mailer boxes, that will cost around $2 -$4 each but you can order small quantities to test and see what you like. Play around with designs, fonts, colors etc. This is a great option for when you are just starting out and do not want to spend a LOT of $ in ordering a huge quantity of boxes or investing in print lates + die boards ( which I will explain in the next option)
The above box with the cute corgi, was my very first box, created by Packable. I used only my logo and one color to design this box.
Investing in a large quantity of boxes with print plates and dye boards. This option is only for those who have been in business for a bit of time and know exactly what they want for their box. Just for reference I didn’t do this option until I was 1.5 years into my business. I knew exactly how to design the box for my ideal customer and because I had 1.5 years under my belt,
I knew how to create the most epic + gorgeous subscription box. These types of boxes are created at local box companies. I have used NW paper box in Portland, OR and had them shipped to my location in Seattle. At around 2-3,000 quantity these cost me a little more than $1 per box. So yes the cheapest option but you have to be able to pay a few thousand dollars to buy your print lates and dye boards. Once you design your artwork you cannot change it so this is why I recommend this option for the super serious and invested sub box owners.
8. Create a Sample Prototype Box with Products
This is where the fun begins. SH*T starts feeling real here as well. This is the first official step in your pre launch phase. A prototype box is meant for you to start your marketing, well before you actually launch. You create a small box that will be similar to your actual box and start marketing it on social media and/or your landing page or website. There are easy tactics here to get started. 1. Order sample items from amazon, or a local shop. Once you have your first sample boxes, you plop your items inside and voila, you have a prototype box. Get a few images made and get to marketing )
Below is what I did for my prototype box. I found out there was a pet expo in orange country where I lived in California at the time. I went to the event, got a few bags of dog treats an a few toys that were a good match of what I wanted to add to the actual box. Then I went to a few boutique pet shops in my neighborhood and bought a few more toys and treat bags so I could create a variety of sample boxes for marketing and for my first website images.
My actual subscription box would have 2-3 treat bags, 2 toys and 1 accessory like a bandana or bowtie, so when I crafted my prototype boxes, those were the items I included in my boxes and images. It’s important to always set clear expectations for your customers, so if you plan to add sample size products to your box, its not a good idea to include large full size products to your prototypes. If you don’t have your actual sample boxes printed, you can use a white box and get a small amount of stickers made. I would recommend waiting until your sample boxes are printed because it makes a huge difference in customer experience.
Below is one of the first monthly themed boxes I sent to my first cohort of customers.
9. Create Your Social Channels
Social media channels are the easiest way to not get in front of potential customers, but it’s an easy way to start building up your pre launch buzz before you launch your business. To build buzz, make sure to set up social media accounts and consider running ads or giveaways to attract signups. Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook are a good start.
You might be thinking, if my business hasn’t launched, what content do I post? You can start posting a few different types of content, for example I launched a dog subscription business.
When I was starting out, I started posting pictures of cute dogs with teaser posts that we were launching a dog subscription box soon and for followers to stay tuned for giveaways and launches. I made it fun for people to follow the account before I had anything to sell. Not the prettiest feed back then but here is a glimpse of my initial first few posts for The Dapper Dog Box Instagram. I grew this from 0 – 42,000 followers in less than 2 years, eventually building out over 30% of my customer base from this one channel.
10. Start your email list and list building strategies
( include opt in, landing page, freebies, giveaway)
While you are in your pre launch stage of your business, you have to start growing your email list. Email is still one of the most effective ways to market your product and has one of the higher ROIs of all channels. Here is a few ideas:
- Host a giveaway: You will learn soon enough that people LOVE free stuff. Here are a few platforms that you can host giveaways on without even having a website.
Rafflecopter, Wishpond, Vyper, PromoSimple. You can also accomplish the same type of giveaway using a landing page builder from your email provider. Most offer landing pages, like mail chimp, omnisend and flodesk.
- Build a landing page with a special offer. This can be anything but make it good so you ensure people actually give you their email. Emails are sacred to people and they need a good reason to give one. For subscription boxes you could offer a FREE 6 month subscription or two 3 month subscriptions as a potential prize. You can build out multiple offers and see which one has the best conversion rate, and then stick with that one.
- Leverage your social media channels. Add your landing page offer in your bio of your channels. Make sure you make your Instagram and Pinterest business accounts and optimize your profile. That means include searchable words that your ideal customer would use to find your service. For example. Patchwork Pet Dog Toys, the instagram profile includes “ plush dog toys, it includes a call to action, it includes the link to start shopping.
11. Create Your Pre launch strategy
Build buzz to generate leads.
A prelaunch is the process of marketing your box before you launch in order to gauge interest, collect email signups, and build buzz around your upcoming launch. Most prelaunches are hosted on email signup landing pages, and for Cratejoy users, we recommend using our prelaunch website theme. It easily connects to Mailchimp and allows users to customize the page with their personal branding.
Plan giveaways, week your landing page, create countdowns for email campaigns, social media campaigns, coordinate free giveaways to build awareness and generate buzz ( refer to the cratejoy article for this step)
– Create an epic giveaway or two or three! You should have one giveaway where you give away your product as a prize. One giveaway should be the big one where the prize you offer is pretty epic enough that your ideal customer can not resist giving you their email for a chance to win this prize. For example if your ideal customer is a dogmom, then offering 1-2 12 month subscriptions to Barkbox as giveaway prizes would be something that most dog parents would happily give you their email address for a chance to win that. Think of something that your ideal customer wants or needs, think of a pain point they have and then find a product that saves the pain point and give it away. You can create these types of posts on either social media, use it as a popup on your website, or make it the headline of your pre launch landing page, where you let customers know your shop is opening soon but they also have an opportunity to win something in exchange for email. Since you are a brand new brand which means you have to work harder to build that awareness and trust, I recommend your prize be a substantial one. One last option is offering a giveaway through websites like “ sumo” where you create a landing page offering the same thing. This is another avenue to promote a giveaway if you do not want to use your main website/temporary landing page to promote this. You may want to stick with a business launch teaser instead. Either way works!
12. Connect with Influencers on Instagram
Within your niche, influencers will be a game changer during your pre launch phase. They will be your first cheerleaders, taking great product and lifestyle images for you and also promoting your product to their followers.
In exchange for free product plenty of influencers will be happy to do a few posts on social media and provide lifestyle images for you. Getting a collection of candid images that you can use for your marketing and social media is very important. This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build up buzz and start getting in front of your ideal customers.
How to Find Influencers:
Refer back to Step #2, Identify your ideal customer. Head over to Instagram, Tags section and start doing hashtag research. If you’re launching a dog subscription box, then start looking for hashtags that relate to that niche. For example, look at the hashtag #dogsubscriptionbox and you’ll see hundreds and thousands of posts from people posting photos with their boxes. You could potentially find a few people from this group to contact and see if they want to promote your new box. You could also look at #dogmom #dogmomlife if your customer is a dog mom.
Keep your eyes out for beautiful images of HUMANS and products. Look for accounts that have high engagement, good images and creative captions. Follower count isn’t always the most important but engagement is. You can then reach out and ask if they are interested in being a brand ambassador
Now whatever your customer is, find them on instagram, in particular your idea customer who is already promoting brands and has a good sense in doing it well or someone who has an engaged audience. Follower count is not always the only thing to look for. Look for good quality images, good captions, at least a few hundred followers and most importantly one that has engagement, meaning look at their last 5 posts. Look at the comments being left, does that person reply to the comments? Are the comments adding value or showing a conversation and personality? If the answer is yes then that is a great person to represent your brand too. Engagement is often times underrated but its insanely important. Someone can have 10,000 followers but have zero comments and engagement, that is a red flag and they likely bought their followers.
These were a few of The Dapper Dog Boxes first influencers and promoters as we were launching.
13. Creating Your Website
This part may be stressing you out and for good reason, websites can be scary! But don’t worry- Cratejoy, Shopify or Subbly all offer pre designed website templates that you can use as a starting point. Keep things simple for this stage. Use a template, don’t spend time or money doing custom coded work until you have launched your business, are making $$ and you can use data and analytics to determine changes you need to implement. It does not have to be perfect, it has to get done, always remember that. You want it to look impressive but it’s better to launch, then iterate based on analytics and data to increase your conversion.
While you are in your pre launch phase you can work on the website until it’s ready to launch.
14. Launch Your Business
Congrats its launch day! All your months of handwork is finally paying off. It’s time to start taking orders and making $. Its time to ump up the marketing efforts and promote this on all your channels. Let your social media followers and email subscribers know your exciting news and offer a discount to sign up.
Make sure to be crystal clear on when your first box is gong out to your subscribers and update all emails within your platform. Once someone pays for a product they want to know when they will receive it. Also, potential subscribers also want to know when hey will receive their first box. That must be crystal clear on your website. You can easily add this in your copy or have a banner at the to of your home page that lets customers know when the first box ships.
15. Bonus: Secrets on How To Build an Epic Website Home Page That Converts
Spend a few $$ and get a photographer. Get product images, get lifestyle images with smiling and happy humans using your products. Good photos = sales.
I hired a photographer for $250 and got hundreds of gorgeous images, including an epic image for my website banner image.
You should include these three things. This is the first thing that people see when they go to your website, so make it impressive and follow these instructions. They work like a charm.
- A wide banner /hero image that has some white space where you can add text over the image ( see image below of black dog)
- Your Text should include your value statement. WHAT are you offering? Make it crystal clear so your customer knows what you are selling to them the second they land on your page. (see below example with goldendoodle dog)
- A Call To Action Statement, better known as CTA. This needs to be bright and bold and it needs to be before the fold, so customers see the CTA without having to scroll down. Your CTA is what you want the customer to do. You want the CTA’s to be a color that stands out from your website so its easy for customers to see it. According to colors and psychology of colors, reds and oranges have a higher CTA conversion rate than any other colors so if you can add a bold orange or red/pink shade into your color palette (refer to #3 for reference) your already putting your website up for success by this one simple but important step.
A Detailed Section of what will be included in your sub box
Its important this section is clear and detailed. If you are launching a pet subscription box, make sure to include images or descriptions of sample products like treats toys, accessories, leashes, etc. If your selling a running box, make sure to include pics or descriptions of what a customer will see in each box, like protein bars, energy gels, running gear etc.
Include at least one testimonial on your website. Get a quote from anyone who has tried your box- you can ask one of your influencers, a friend, etc. Get a quote and a pic and add that to your website.
Are you interested in starting your own subscription box?
Also, Keep your yes peeled for my new course on how to create and launch your first subscription business where I will be breaking it down step by step on the above topics plus much more. When I launchd my first subscription box, The dapper dog box, I hated how overwhelmed I felt. Now, I want to help you launch your business without the stress and worry I had to go through. With my step by step approach you can launch your first box business in less than 3 months.