Today on the Modern Direct Seller Podcast, we were joined by Julie Ball of Subscription Box Basics, and she made it clear that when it comes to direct sales, subscriptions are here to stay. She came armed with suggestions from the basics of boxes to getting consumers to say “yes” to subscribing, from designing and packaging the finished product to bringing additional value to subscribers, and so whether you’re formulating this idea for the first time, selling a subscription through your company, or simply seeking something new to upgrade what you’re offering, Julie is here to help you think outside the box!
Connect with Julie on Facebook and Instagram, or learn more about what she offers her clients at SubscriptionBoxBasics.com/Launch. And don’t forget to check out her podcast, “Subscription Box Basics”!
Time based notes:
- 1:15 Julie Ball introduction
- 3:29 Why people like subscription boxes
- 6:05 Resources for design and shipping
- 9:57 Sales and marketing for subscribers
- 14:09 How to go “beyond the box”
- 18:10 Julie’s favorite office supply
Thinking Outside the Box with Julie Ball
Recently on the Modern Direct Seller Podcast, we were joined by Julie Ball of Subscription Box Basics, and she made it clear that subscriptions are here to stay. She came armed with advice about the basics of boxes, getting consumers to say “yes” to subscribing, designing and packaging the finished product, and bringing additional value to subscribers, so direct sellers at any stage of subscription can start thinking outside the box.
Okay, Julie. Tell us a little bit about your background, what you love, and who you serve.
So, long story short, I am originally from the Pittsburgh area, but I’ve lived in Asheville, North Carolina, since 2016. And, that’s when I started my subscription box. My first business was actually in 2011. I’m a corporate dropout. I left corporate America when I had my daughter and took the leap into entrepreneurship, which, you know, was scary. It was risky. And, I didn’t know if it was going to last 30 days, 3 months, 3 years, whatever. But, here I am now.
And, in 2016, I launched my subscription box called Sparkle, Hustle, Grow; I scaled it; and then, in 2022, I sold the box business for multiple six figures. So, there’s a new owner. We found our dream buyers. And, it was so exciting to pass the baton to the next owners. But, now I coach new and aspiring subscription box business owners through my program called Subscription Box Boot Camp. And, I’m here to help your listeners figure out, you know, how subscription boxes fit in their life and in their business.
And, one of the things about subscription boxes are that they’re just so much fun. Like, it’s happy mail. It is recurring revenue. Like, there’s just so much good stuff about it.
I love this so much on so many levels. One, that you stepped into entrepreneurship, and you created an amazing product that was so successful. But, you’ve also seen it through an actual sale—something that I know is a crossroads for many entrepreneurs—and stepping in to this new space is so exciting.
And, I think it’s particularly exciting for our audience, just because so many direct sales companies are now offering subscription boxes—because, obviously, they’re amazing. And, it makes sense. And financially, you have that beautiful recurring revenue. But, beyond that, if their company isn’t offering a box, many of our direct sellers are even curating their own.
And, I thought this was, like, a fad a couple years ago, but I feel like subscription boxes are really here to stay. So, tell us why subscription boxes are so hot.
They are. Statistics show that it’s just growing and growing, and more and more companies are adding it to their model, because it makes sense. You don’t have to chase that one-time buyer over and over and over again. So often, you get someone in there and they’ll stick with you for months on end. When I ran Sparkle, Hustle, Grow, if I got a customer, I knew they were going to stick around for an average of 8 to 9 months. Can you imagine not having to chase a new customer like that, and just being able to serve that same person? That’s why, as a business owner, it makes sense to add boxes to a business.
Now, why consumers like it? I think there’s two big reasons. And, I’m going to explain this in a way that shares two different types of boxes. The first one is replenishment box. That is your typical “subscribe and save.” You’re going to get the same product month after month after month. So, think of something like toothpaste. You know how often you’re going to need toothpaste. So, if you can subscribe to what you want, when you need it, and it shows up at your door without any further action. I mean, come on! That’s just so convenient. So, that replenishment model is meant to make life easier, to be convenient, and just set something on repeat.
The second type of subscription box that I wanted to talk about is the surprise box. And, that’s when they don’t know what they’re going to get in advance. Now, maybe you’ve spoiled a product, or shared a sneak peek or something, but for the most part, they don’t know what they’re going to get. And so, consumers love that, because the surprise, the delight of getting a gift, almost feels like it’s your birthday, or it’s Christmas morning. Consumers really like it, too, because there’s a lot of product and brand discovery in that type of box. So, maybe there’s an exclusive product or a new brand included. Or, say you represent a brand, but maybe there’s a non-competing but complementary product that you could put in there that helps them use your product better. So, that surprise and delight is what’s going to keep people coming back for more.
So, I know we could probably spend a whole conversation on logistics, but what are your best resources and tips for the designing, the packaging, and the shipping of the subscription box? Because, I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve learned from the best. I’ve learned from you! But, there’s a lot involved, and a lot more than direct sellers might anticipate, especially if they’re used to their company fulfilling orders for them.
I’m going to keep it simple, and I’m going to tell you some great vendors that could help get you started.
First, when you’re going to fulfill a subscription box from home, you’re going to buy postage. So, you’re not going to go to the post office and buy stamps; you are going to buy that on PirateShip.com, which is a discount commercial shipping provider. Basically, they don’t do the shipping for you, but you can buy discounted—like really, really discounted—postage. It makes a huge difference versus just taking a bunch of boxes to the counter at the post office, otherwise shipping is going to kill your profit margin. PirateShip.com is the best place to go. They ship USPS, and they ship UPS at this time; they may add more. And, they do all the transactional emails, too, like sending tracking emails. It’s really great. It’s super easy. And, their customer service talks like pirates. So, it’s super fun.
Okay, now let’s talk about what you are actually going to ship in; you can ship in boxes, or you can ship in mailers. Mailers would be like a poly mailer or bubble mailer. So, if you are testing this out, you don’t want to invest in custom-printed boxes. You can just go to Amazon, or you can go to a provider like Uline.com, and you can buy cardboard mailer boxes in bulk. And, a mailer box has almost that pizza-box-opening, and it has the flaps that you push in; you still need to tape them shut when you ship them. But, that’s the typical type of box that a subscription box will be shipped in, and there’s dozens of different sizes. Craft boxes are fine, but some of them come in colorful designs. And then, that leads me to poly mailers, which you can get on Amazon, as well. But, if you want something with a little pizzazz, or maybe a non-custom seasonal design, there’s this great company called Magical Mailers at MagicalMailers.com. And, they have the cutest poly mailers. So, that’s one way to stand out against some of the typical craft or white shipping boxes or mailers.
The only the other thing that I would recommend is branding it to your personal brand. I know that Becky talks about personal branding all the time. So, you can create some easy stickers or some custom packing tape using Sticker Mule. They are super fast. They’re easy to use. And, you can customize your packaging in little ways like that.
Okay, so now, we have our box. We have an idea how we’re packaging it and how we’re putting it together. So, the question that everyone is probably asking is: “I have a box. My company has a box. We know this is great. But, how the heck am I going to actually sell it?” What are your best recommendations on sales and marketing to really bring people in and get them to say “yes” to subscribing?
I have a few recommendations that I want to share. But, I’m going to start off by saying that, believe it or not, not everybody knows what a subscription box is. So, you may actually have to teach your customers what it is. And, you can do that by teaching them about how convenient it is, about how much fun it is, and you have to show them and tell them how “a subscription box means you’re going to get a regular shipment without any more effort involved.” So, the first thing would be training your customers on what it is and why they want it.
Now, I’m going to give you three marketing tips that we like to use in our Subscription Box Boot Camp. But also, when we were running the box ourselves, one of the things that we liked to do was create themes. If you create a theme for each month, or each quarter, then you can market around that. So, for a quick example, when I was running Sparkle, Hustle, Grow, maybe there would be a box about confidence in your business. And so, maybe our theme was “I can, and I will,” or “You got this,” or something like that. And, when you know that, you can build imagery and messaging and marketing around your theme, and it gives you something to focus on.
The next tip I want to tell you about is spoilers. So, if this is a surprise box, it’s fun to give subscribers a little sneak peek before they get their box, so they can get excited about what’s coming. And, that can be as simple as sharing a picture of it, or doing a Reel, and it makes it really easy to have a talking point around the subscription box.
That teaser, right? That engages people. And, I remember when I first launched the Modern Direct Seller Box, the teaser was literally just the box. It was like, “Let me just open the front of it and not really show you what’s inside.” And, I remember joking, “Oh, cool! I just sold, like, 100 empty boxes to people. I’ve got to figure out what to put in it now…”
Yeah! And, you don’t have to have it all figured out. You can start with a presale, and test it out, and see how people are going to respond to this. Create a waitlist. Build that excitement.
But yes, the spoilers. We always love that. And, we always used to share a spoiler a day or two before our customers’ auto-renew was going to hit their credit card, so we could get them excited. We’d be like, “Hey, you don’t want to miss out! This is your friendly reminder that your renewal is coming up in two days, but next month’s theme is XYZ, and here’s a sneak peek of something you’re going to get. And, it’s valued at XYZ.” We would just create as much FOMO as we could, right before that credit card renewal was going to hit, so that they wouldn’t turn that month. And, “turn” is a term for the percentage of people who you will lose each month. That’s natural. There’s going to be people who join for just one month, but then there’s going to be people who join and stay on for years. So, create that FOMO.
And, the last one is exclusivity. So maybe, if you are a subscription box subscriber, you get first dibs on a new product that’s coming out, or you get it a week before it’s available in the shop. We always liked to have those exclusive membership perks, whether it was, “You get the first 48 hours to shop the sale,” or “You get an exclusive item.” Any way that you can create exclusivity around being a subscriber can draw them in and keep them.
I love that! And, one of the things that I love that you share in your program is some ideas that are beyond the box, right? Like, when you had Sparkle, Hustle, Grow, there was a community that went along with that. And, I think direct sellers are so good at creating community and creating really mind-blowing, exciting, impactful experiences for their customers, so what are your ideas beyond just what goes into the box to really make your box subscribers feel extra special?
Yes, it’s really important that you never position it as “just a box.” That’s not valuable. You want to create an experience. And so, you could have that community component of it, where it’s for subscribers only. You could have digital components. So, often, we would create playlists that went along with our theme. Like, it’s so easy to create a Spotify playlist, and then you can get a QR code that takes subscribers directly to it.
For experiences, there are some obvious ones that you could create, but they have to have value. For example, I subscribe to a box to get shakes. And, the vanilla flavor is not my favorite. But, I got some great recipes from my rep, who said, “Hey, put this in it, and you can make it taste like apple pie shake!” And I’m like, “What? That’s amazing!” And so, you could send those digitally. You could send those as inserts in the box, like a recipe card. Or, you could do a Live in your community and “Make a shake with me.” And then, you can repurpose that content in other places.
So, how are you going to create an experience, but also encourage subscribers to use the product, so they don’t end up with a bunch of their boxes in the corner of their house, not getting used, just collecting product? We want them to use the product, so they run out, and we can give them more—we can sell them more.
I love that so much. And, I think the excitement of getting the box in the mail is those little extras. And, I think when somebody is putting their credit card in and committing to a monthly payment—which, at any point, you can cancel, of course—you can go above and beyond and really deliver this exciting customer experience for them. There are so many different ways to do that. It’s really all about—literally—thinking outside the box.
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