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Talking Subscription Box Retail, Autumn fair NEC

Our founder Deb is quizzed on stage about all things Boxcitement.

The Autumn Fair at Birmingham NEC was back in September – after being postponed from last year it provided a welcome opportunity for retailers throughout the UK to gather, discover new and exciting trends in gift, stationery, furniture and fashion, and decide what to sell going into the Christmas season and beyond.

As founder and Creative Director of Boxcitement, I was invited to attend the fair this year as an expert speaker – unsurprisingly the subject I was asked to talk about was subscription retail. Joined by Chris from ScrawlrBox, we sat on the Inspiring Retail stage and chatted about our experiences as subscription box owners. It was fascinating to remember how and why we started our boxes in the first place, the challenges we faced as start ups and the opportunities we are now experiencing as established subscription box businesses. I hope our audience loved it too – I had some lovely messages from attendees who reached out via social media whilst I was on stage! Here are a few of the things we chatted about – they may be of interest if you are curious about how subscription boxes work…

How did you get the idea for Boxcitement?
A chance conversation with a friend living in Singapore, where subscription boxes were already quite well established, in 2015 sparked an idea – I immediately saw their potential as both a successful business model and as a satisfying, creative change in direction after a corporate career. We registered the name Boxcitement in July 2015 and were selling our first box by November – it was a whirlwind few months! I had a full time job when we started – it took a year for me to get the courage to work on Boxcitement as my main job rather than as a side hustle, and it was the best decision.

What have been the main challenges of getting the business established?
Initially, we were so small that we found it hard to be taken seriously – we couldn’t get approved for trade accounts, we didn’t have enough of a following to be able to attract influencers and didn’t have the budget for huge advertising campaigns. And then ironically, when we started to grow that became an issue too – when and how to take on staff, how to make sure our customers stayed with us as we developed, how to source thousands of products instead of 20! It has been an amazing roller coaster and I am still learning every day.

What would you do differently?
I think we would have been a bit more organised with our launch – we literally threw our boxes out there to see where they would land. A Kickstarter campaign or a more robust business plan may have helped us negotiate our growing pains. Having said that, we had lots of fun literally flying by the seat of our pants. When we launched there weren’t as many boxes on the market as there are today so we didn’t have to worry too much about competition, it was more about trying to explain exactly what a subscription box was! And of course the subscription model means renewing revenues, which means we could grow as our subscriber base grew, without needing additional funding sources – that’s an amazing way to build a business.

Where do you source your products?
Since Brexit and the recent changes in customs regulations we have tried to source more and more of our products from within the UK, and that has been satisfying – I love working with talented designer makers, printers, laser cutters, illustrators, soap manufacturers, screen printers – it’s the most creative part of my job. Some of my suppliers are literally within walking distance which helps our eco footprint too!

What advice would you have for someone starting a subscription box?
Don’t just wing it like we did! Start methodically, research competitors, learn your customer avatar intimately, make sure your keyword research is top notch. Price your box to allow for future challenges – who would have thought we would have been dealing with Brexit and a pandemic in the same year? – and above all, make your customers your stars. Look after them and they will look after you.

Talking of which, how do you find customers?
That’s the tricky bit! We have an active presence on creative socials such as Instagram and Pinterest, we are constantly trying to improve our targeting with long tail keywords in Google and we have optimised our website for organic growth – as well as advertising on the usual social channels. It’s hard though – every time we get a new customer we do a little happy dance. Luckily because of our monthly boxes, lots of our customers stay with us for a long time and we get to know them through our emails, crafting newsletters and customer giveaways.

What does the future hold?
After the last 18 months I am loathe to try and predict – the country and the world is in a state of flux and I don’t think any of us really know how 2022 is going to shape up. But we are in the business of trying to make people smile so we shall of course continue trying to do that as much as we can.

I must admit I was nervous being on such a big stage but I really enjoyed chatting about Boxcitement's past, present and future - it made me remember why I started this little box and why I love it so much!
Best wishes for now - Deb

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