The subscription-box model isn't just for beauty-cream samples and fashion finds anymore. With a nod to the buy local movement, niche subscription-box services that pay homage to a place or specific lifestyle are starting to proliferate.
Between Birchbox and GlossyBox to NatureBox and Stitch Fix, subscription services would seem to have reached their pinnacle with consumers. But some retail experts say this is just the beginning--and that subscription box services are here to stay.
“The key to recognize is that the consumer loves to buy within their lifestyle," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group, a research firm in the Port Washington, N.Y. Purchasing a subscription box is like treating yourself every quarter or each month, he adds. "It’s the only way to buy a gift for yourself without knowing what the gift is going to be."
So how are newer subscription sites making inroads with customers? Like their brick-and-mortar brethren that have long dealt with stiff competition, startup subscription sites are homing in on consumers' ever narrowing interests and the seemingly universal love of all things homemade.
The benefits of subscription boxes are plentiful too. It's a business made for cash-strapped startups. “If I have 1,000 subscribers, I know I need to have 1,000 things to put in the box. You don’t risk excess," says Cohen. " You can do this on a shoestring. And on the local level, this is something you can do in your garage or kitchen if you want to.”
Cohen adds the word-of-mouth buzz you'll get from existing subscribers can also cut back on a company’s marketing needs. “The beauty of subscription is that I don’t have to market to you, I just have to market to get new," he says. "It becomes viral marketing.”
Still, you'll need to spend a long time pre-launch focusing on your brand, says Batch Nashville's Sam Davidson, who alongside pals Rob Williams and Stephen Mosely, launched the service in September. “Given our background having previously launched and run branding agencies, we felt that the Batch brand would need to be something people would be drawn to, enjoy and share,” Davidson says. Playing up Music City's hip factor in its site-specific boxes has served the company. The concept, which costs $90 for a three-month subscription, has sold out every month, with 1,300 boxes shipped to 46 states in the December batch, notes Davidson.
The company also sells one-off boxes with themes--like the booze-y Happy Hour Gift collection or the Breakfast To-Go box with surprise contents. But the one consistent thread is that every product is sourced from and made in the Nashville area. Batch has been such a hit, it launched a second city in Memphis, Tenn., in January.
Here is a sampling of other destination-themed boxes:
Location: Portland, Ore.
What's in it:The Pacific Northwest is brimming with makers and craftsmen. Seizing upon the wealth of resources, Tique Box cultivates unique packages of handmade goods from the Portland area to send to customers around the country. Past boxes have included soy candles, micro-roasted coffee, original photography, all-natural tea and spicy cooking sauces.
Price: $24.95 per box
Art in a Box
Location: Oakland, Calif.
What’s in it: Founded on a similar model to a CSA (community supported agriculture), Art in a Box delivers original artwork from Bay Area-based artists direct to members’ doorstep. The gist is a little bit different, though: Customers enter three adjectives that describe themselves as well as choose what type of media they like, and the company handpicks the artwork from local creatives accordingly.
Price: $50 per month
Cape Code Gift Box
Location: Cape Cod, Mass.
What's in it: Longing for some New England love? Every month, Cape Code Gift Box picks and ships between three and eight mystery treasures per box to keep subscribers satisfied. Themed boxes--such as children’s goods, food classics, nautical lifestyle and even a collection of products from local glassblowers--are also available.
Price: starting at $46.95 per box
What's in it: Selecting four to five products monthly from local, independent artisans, the newly launched Georgia Crafted rounds out our trio of Southern-curated gift boxes. Heavy on gourmet goods like Merrilily Gardens' Honey Kissed Pumpkin Butter and Edibelles Savannah Fare's Southern Praline Snackin’ Mix and balanced by bath products such as Carson Bryce Trading Company Atlanta’s Finest White Peach-Vanilla Soap, Georgia Crafted is a cornucopia of deep South delights.
Price: $89.97 for a six-month subscription