Julie Ball runs a full-time web agency from home, and while she loves her business, she felt like something was missing. Read on to find out how Julie started her very own monthly subscription box business, called Sparkle Hustle Grow that revolves around female entrepreneurs.
How did you come up with the idea for your monthly subscription box business?
I’m a consumer of subscription boxes. I've used Stitch Fix and Yogi Surprise; I just love the feeling of receiving a surprise in the mail. But let me back up, I’ve been running my own business, Grow Web Marketing, which is a full-time web agency, for six years now. Everything I've done for my work has been digital, and I started to crave physicality.
It just dawned on me that other female entrepreneurs might feel the same way and that they may enjoy some of the products that I like to use in my business as well. I started to research what it would take to start a subscription business, and as they say, the rest is history.
I came up with the name, Sparkle Hustle Grow because I wanted to share my perspective that hustling can be happy. In fact, whenever I started incorporating happiness into my hustle, I saw things change dramatically. Things like, practicing gratitude and working with other female entrepreneurs on collaborations, instead of competing; I saw a positive shift in my own business, and I wanted to incorporate that into my box.
Where did you learn the ins and outs of creating a monthly subscription box business?
I used the software platform, called Cratejoy. Not only do they have fantastic support, but they also have a thing called Subscription School and a private Facebook Group for subscription box owners. On the Subscription School website, they have calculators that can help you make projections as well as information about the ins and outs of shipping. The private Facebook Group has proved to be invaluable, as you can ask questions, get feedback, and learn about trends within the field.
How do you find and select the products that go into your boxes?
There are a couple of ways. First, I use a lot of these products already, so I figured that other female entrepreneurs would like them too. Whenever I go to boutiques or stores, I always take pictures of things that I feel might make a good fit. Then I'll do a little research on the company, reach out to them, talk to them about my program, and see if they would be interested in working together.
Now that I'm in my fifth and sixth month of business with the subscription box, people are reaching out to me to have their product included in the box. Then at that point, I talk to them about pricing and quantity, and they usually send me a sample so I can make sure it’s a good fit for the box. Obviously, there's a price aspect that goes into the equation, as well as a size element, because the boxes are 6 x 9 x 3 – so it has to be able to fit into those dimensions.
Where do you find your customers?
With my Grow Web Marketing business, I already had an audience of female entrepreneurs, and I've been interacting with them for years. I have this built-in audience, but I genuinely am a part of really great Facebook groups. I love the Boss Mom Group, and they have been an incredible support system for me. They not only support my product but also help me make decisions and answer questions that I have. Then a lot of them turn around and subscribe because they love what I'm doing. I'm a big fan of Facebook groups. I love to go to events, so I will go to those a couple of times a year. I've set up at a couple already, and it seems to go over really well.
How many subscribers do you currently have?
As of February 2017, I currently have about 265 subscribers. It's just snowballed since I started, and it's getting even more popular. I've recently implemented a referral program where if you refer a new customer, you get a reward and your new customer, your friend that you mentioned, also gets a discount.
We've got some great projections over the next few months, that I can't share quite yet, but I will say at this point, we are at the 200 subscriber mark and growing quickly. We will be adding more slots every single month so that we can continue to grow.
What are your subscription box goals for the future?
Right now, I do the monthly subscription box business as a side hustle. I do web marketing full-time, so by the end of the year, my goal is to have that flip-flopped. Web marketing still drives me, and it's still a passion of mine, but my goal is to do the subscription box business full-time.
Another goal for this business is that I would love to host a retreat or another type of event either in 2017 or early 2018 because I thrive in community and I know a lot of my subscribers do as well. There's just so much value to that face-to-face time we get working on our businesses together and learning, and so I'd love to be a part of that.
What are some of the challenges you face as a monthly subscription box seller?
Some of the challenges are that some people just don't know how subscription boxes work yet. How this one specifically works is the cutoff of the month is the 15th, so you have to order your box by the 15th. If you order after the 16th, you're ordering for the following month's box. I have to have a cutoff, kind of that line I draw in the sand that says, “Okay, everyone that orders by this date gets this month's box.” All of the boxes ship on or near the 18th of each month.
One of the challenges that I often have is that someone will order it, say they order it on the first, and their box doesn't get shipped until the 18th. They might reach out to me and say, “Hey, I haven't received my box yet,” so I frequently have to explain the subscription box business model and let them know that they all go out on the 18th.
Another challenge that I have specifically with my box is that I include a book and online training in each box because this is about professional development and personal growth after all. As busy entrepreneurs, a lot of us are moms, and a lot of us are wives or are just involved a lot in the community, so our time is very limited.
One of the challenges that I have is helping the subscribers find the time to read the books and do the online training. I am working on some projects to help with that–some guides and a workbook. We will be launching that in April.
What advice would you give to a new or aspiring subscription box curator and business owner?
The biggest piece of advice I guess would be, be in it for the long haul, because this is not a get rich quick scheme. This is a business model that is profitable when you scale it.
For example, say you have 50 subscribers one month, and you have to pay for the boxes. Whether you get plain boxes and sticker them, or you get custom boxes with print work on them when you hit 100 boxes, your price per box is going to go down. When you hit 250 or other markers, your price is going to keep going down. When you get more subscribers, the cost of goods are going to go down (most of the time), and that's where you can make a profit.
It's good to get a handle on what you're going to spend on goods and what you're going to spend on shipping. You need to be very clear because you obviously need to ship the boxes, you don't want to lose money on it. In this industry if you say, “Free Shipping,” or if you build shipping into the price of the box, the customer is going to look at everything in the box, think about the price they paid, and use that to determine the value.
For instance, we charge a $5 flat rate shipping fee. It is not included in the price of the box. That way, it's very clear to our customers that they pay a certain amount for the box and they pay a certain fee for the shipping. I know that's specific, but it is something that there's a lot of conversation about in Subscription School and in the private Facebook Group.
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