How to Source Product for & Start a Subscription Box

How to Source Product for & Start a Subscription Box

how to source subscription box products

(Please note many of the links below are affiliate links and I’ll earn a commission if you shop through them.  Some are affiliate links and I will not earn commissions like the SmugMug link.  I’m sharing it because that is the only way for you to get a discount on a new account.  Others are a for me to track because I like data.).  

Many of you know I manage the affiliate program for Cratejoy.com.  That means I get to work with awesome content producers from bloggers to YouTubers, and I also get to talk to small business owners who create monthly bits of happiness for their subscribers.

TL:DR (Too Long Don’t Want to Read) – Skip to the bullet list below and go to the section relevant to your niche.  You’ll learn how to source product or get ideas to create your own subscription box and subscription service.

The box owners curate monthly packages with everything from local and international foods to kids crafts, geek and fashion boxes, STEM and educational kits, books with interactive gifts to match the chapters, and even a kitchen sponge of the month subscription.

There are more than 2,000 boxes available for consumers, but what happens if the owner’s city goes into lockdown or sourcing product becomes tricky.  It could be anything from their farmers market closing because of quarantine or a hobby store where you’d normally source crafting supplies shutting down for being non-essential.

Just Because Covid-19 is Here it Does Not Mean You Have to Lose Subscription Box Subscribers!

If this happens, marketing and creative strategy come into play.  That is my specialty and what I help clients with.  As a way for me to give back and encourage small businesses like mine to not give up, here is what I normally get paid for totally free for you to use.  Any shares or likes and comments are greatly appreciated.

If you’re a box owner, you could offer pauses on your boxes to save subscribers, but you can also offer the following strategies as an alternative and work to keep more active users.

If you do not have a current subscription box, use this post for inspiration to launch one.  If you reach out to me through the contact form, I’ll connect you with the Cratejoy marketplace team and get you their instructions on how to launch a subscription box service.

Cratejoy does not know this post is coming, so I hope it is a good surprise for them and is another thing I can do to support my clients as well.

Here are the current niches I have ideas for.  Feel free to skip to the most relevant section if you do not want to read the entire post.  As I come up with more ideas I’ll add them to the list.  Feel free to leave a comment below with your own way to source product or keep a subscription box going in the comments section below.

How to Source Product for Subscription Boxes & Keep Subscribers:

  • Food Boxes
  • Pet Boxes
  • Fitness Boxes
  • Kids Crafts
  • Kids and Young Adults Books
  • Adult Books
  • Photography and Art Boxes
  • Sex Boxes
  • Cocktail and alcohol boxes

One Thing To Know Before We Go Into Sourcing

Before we jump into the options to keep your subscription box subscribers happy, there is one thing I am going to be recommending you do.  Use your phone, camera or computer and stream out to Facebook and YouTube.  By doing this you can engage your users, grow your audience and save the video.

That video can then be optimized for SEO and work to build you new followers and new subscribers.  It is as simple as clicking “go live” so don’t get nervous with the technical terms.

People being quarantined and needing to isolate is increasing viewership and watch times for my video clients which makes sense.  Now is the perfect time to engage your users instead of losing them.  Here is what I would do if I had a subscription box company or was going to start one by niche.

Food Subscription Boxes

Food boxes are fantastic.  They range from locally produced meats and jams to spices, herbs and authentic meals from around the world.  If importing product or going to a farmers market is closed, do not panic.  You have opportunities to keep subscribers so once this passes you can recover.

  • Teach a weekly recipe based on a country or theme.  If it is Italian, Korean or even Tex-Mex, see if you can order the spices that are needed in bulk and ship them out even if the meats, noodles and other items aren’t available.Now take ingredients that are available and combine them with the spices to create an authentic dish.  You could do this live each week or month so your subscribers can follow along and engage directly with you!
  • Interview a local food producers – Start by emailing your subscribers that you are doing a live stream or releasing a video they can follow along with.  You’ll want to include everything they will need (and that can be picked up at most grocery stores) in an email at least a couple of days before hand.Let them know what time they can join in the live stream, and send them a link to where they can find the video afterwards.  Now have your farm to table food guest walk your subscribers through making product so that it is just like the one they would have received.  They have also learned a new skill as a bonus.
  • Take a standard recipe and add some mystery – If you have a cooking or baking subscription box and you cannot source enough ingredients from your own stores to send out, no worries.  Try sourcing a mystery spice, ingredient or surprise flavor.Next send an ingredient list for supplies like flour, salt, etc… and the mystery ingredients labeled with letters or numbers to your subscribers.  Make sure they know when to tune into your stream or where they can download the video after so they can follow along and learn what the surprise recipe is.
  • Become a Supplies Company – Look at what is regularly available across the country and create a shopping list and multiple recipes from it.  People can subscribe for the recipes at a discount since they have to pay for the food items.  You’re still earning money instead of losing a subscriber and they’re getting to cook which is why they signed up in the first place.
  • Create a Home Delivery Meal Kit Service – Call and talk to local restaurants.  They are hurting!  See what they have readily available and if they can sell you boxes of ingredients.  Now you create the recipes from what they have readily available, print the recipe and get it delivered to all of your friends, family and local subscribers.
  • Use Your Farmer Connections – To go one step further upon becoming a supplies and meal kit company, partner with your local farmers and buy their produce and proteins to become a meal kit box (even temporarily).  Farms (and napa vineyards) are deemed essential businesses and they’ll be open.  Even if it is for local delivery in your town or city, it is a way to continue with what you know and support your local economy.

Pet Subscription Boxes

These are some of my favorite.  If you’ve ever met me or heard me speak at a conference, you’ve likely heard about my cat Frost or have seen me share massive amounts of photos.  Here is how you can source and keep your pet subscription boxes to keep furbabies happy, even when sourcing supplies can be tricky.

  • Pet Treat Boxes – if you cannot source pet treats, why not send ingredients to make your own?  People are stuck at home and this will give them something to do and keep them stocked up on pet supplies.Bonus tip – You can also provide education about the ingredients if you are licensed to do so which talks about the benefits to your furbaby.
  • Pet toys – This one gets tricky, but it is not an obstacle.  Pets love scenting their humans and other unique smells.  Use this to your advantage.Teach your subscribers how to make their own pet toys from old tshirts and items that are pet safe lying around in your closet.  Just make sure everything is non-toxic and pet safe.Pillow toys are perfect for cats for example and easy to do.  Focus on scents your cat loves and incorporate them into the middle of the pillow so it keeps them engaged.

    Dog toys could include options that stimulate them like turning a regular ball into a chase toy.  Teach your subscribers how to modify a tennis ball with durable twine and create a new toy.

    Now offer an instructions guide with five or six patterns and ways to play:

    • You could throw and pull back so your dog chases it and then chases it back as it magically returns.
    • Wrap the twine loosely around poles in a yard and start pulling the ball back while your puppy has to figure out how it is happening while chasing it.
    • Try tossing it high in the air and yank it back to give your subscribers dogs some jumping and chasing fun.

Fitness Boxes

  • Set up daily workouts – Go back to previous boxes and create daily workouts using what was in them.  Then all current subscribers get the week’s worth each morning.  You can also create a tiered payment and subscription model.Previous subscribers, cancellations and free subscribers get one or two workouts each week.  For access to all workouts the person needs to pay your subscription fee.  Make sure you have non product based workouts that use body weight so people do not have to find product.  You can do them live via a Facebook and YouTube live stream.Here’s the catch, everyone can follow along with the free workouts, only paying subscribers get to do the paid ones.  Use a firewall system like Patreon to set this up.

    Bonus tip – If you want to try and earn more, let people know what products they will need and use affiliate links to help them source it.  You can join my client ProsourceFit’s program here.  They carry everything from pull up bars to yoga mats, jump boxes and resistance bands.

Kids Craft Boxes

  • Set up a following along – Performing a weekly or Monday, Wednesday and Friday stream where you perform a craft with the kids live.  Parents will likely love this because you are keeping their kids entertained and learning.Start by sending an email with the needed supplies for the week on Sunday or Monday morning.  This way the parents have time to get the supplies.  Try to make sure they are normal household items or things that can be found at the grocery store like ingredients to make paper mache.You could even do a weekly build up so it takes 3 full sessions to complete.
    • Monday you make a paper mache balloon.
    • Wednesday you decorate it like a pinata.
    • Friday you fill the pinata and create a game with the kids while teaching them about Mexican culture.

Kids and Young Adults Book Boxes

  • Create a read long and adventure – If you cannot package and send books, why not host three read alongs three days a week.  The first could be toddlers, the second little kids and the third big kids.  Now pick a theme and then set up the times.Little kids at 11am, toddlers at 2pm and big kids at 4pm.  Parents will be happy because you are entertaining their kids for an hour three days a week, and that alone could be worth the price of the subscription.
  • Add a craft to the story – If you want to take it up a level, add in crafting with everyday objects that match the story’s theme.If the story has a sailor, a plane or other things that are easy to fold, teach the kids how to make paper planes.  Are you reading a princess story, show them how to make crowns.Little kids can fold a hat, big kids can create a larger one with details using scissors, and toddlers will need their parents help.

    Take ten or twenty minutes to let the kids decorate the hats while giving them an overview of the characters, and then read them the matching story.  You could make it interactive by having them show their creations as you mention them.

  • Teach a class based on the books – One thing that can both keep parents subscribing and kids entertained is to develop a class based on the most popular books you sent out.  If it is witches and wizards then teach a spell writing class.  If it was a love story then you can do poetry.Does your audience love stories like Lord of the Flies, then have them write their own decree of society.  Then each student can read theirs allowed.  You could even turn it into a challenge and role playing game.

Adult Book Boxes

  • Create a book club – the downside to this is that the group could start picking books without you.  But for the time being it keeps everyone engaged.  If you cannot ship a book directly to them, send everyone a link to download an ecopy.  Then host a weekly club meetup.  If you belong to a downloadable affiliate program, try using affiliate links and tell your subscribers it is a way to support you until you can start shipping again.
  • Add a drink and food options – Add a drink and food option that matches the theme of the discussion or book.  Send everyone an ingredient list for a cocktail and mocktail, as well as a recipe.  Then on the book club discussion have everyone make it.
    • If you choose Wicked, pick a green drink and green snack.  Grasshoppers (because the story is about Animals) and cucumber sandwiches.
    • If Lord of the Rings, use an lemon slice (the gold ring) as a garnish and circular foods like onion rings or pigs in a blanket because they look like fingers with a ring.

Photography and Art Boxes

  • Teach a weekly technique – If you’re trapped inside and cannot work with clients, why not educate fans and followers.  Switch from monthly photo tours and art classes to sending everyone a print of a shot or art piece and include instructions and camera settings.If you send the print and instructions on a Friday, set up a live Q&A the following Thursday and answer any questions your subscribers have.
  • Send a print each week or month – People need an escape right now, so why not offer a print a week or a print a month they can hang on their wall.  You may not be able to charge as much as you would for your prints normally, but you will be helping people and earning a bit of money.   Once everyone can stop social distancing, you may also have new students ready to take your workshops.Bonus tip – you can create some additional activities to keep people entertained.  Provide quiz questions about the location, geographic coordinates to where you shot the photo, or encourage people to write a fictional tale that occured at the location.  You could turn it into a contest where the winner gets a full print version for their wall.
  • Create puzzles and follow up crafts – My client SmugMug (here’s there affiliate program, here is an affiliate link you can save 15% off a new account if you want to sell puzzles has a platform for photographers and hobbyists that offers unlimited photo storage, photo galleries, and an ecommerce solution with some of their packages.By creating a SmugMug account with ecommerce solutions, you can upload your favorite photos, or most popular ones and let people buy them as puzzles.  You control the price point btw so you can make money on the sale.Bonus tip – Offer customers to buy a mystery box where you don’t say what the photo is.  Your customer gets the box and only knows which photo it is once it is built.  It’s easy to do this and you could do a monthly or a bi-monthly box.

Sex Boxes

Talk about something useful whether you’re quarantined solo or with your significant other!  It is unlikely you’ll run out of options to source product, but if shipping would stop, your subscribers do not have to miss out on any “fun”.  Use this opportunity to help them when they’re trapped inside and may be facing relationship obstacles or looking for new vices.

  • Sex & relationship experts – Invite subject matter experts and relationship/sex coaches to do interviews once a week.  They expert can give a presentation and answer your subscribers questions.This helps build the subject matter expert’s authority and gives the speaker exposure to grow their business while helping your paying subscribers through a time where they could be facing couples problems or intimacy needs and have questions.
  • Create a daily or weekly game or “fun time” plan – although it is not as fun as finding new toys inside the box, you can easily create games and “situations” for your subscription box subscribers.Instead of sending the monthly box, send a daily or weekly email outlining a new way to “enjoy” yourself or your significant other.  Incorporate items like towels, ropes, or even foods.
  • Send a survey – One way to come up with new and unique ideas that are engaging is to survey your subscribers anonymously.  If they want to learn about a specific topic or have questions, this gives you insight into which experts to bring onto your live stream and also what types of situations you should recommend in the upcoming emails.

Cocktail and Alcohol Boxes

Great news, liquor stores have so far been deemed essential in most areas.  This opens a ton of opportunities for you!

  • Do a weekly themed drink and a game – The drink should use a unique ingredient most people wouldn’t think could go in a drink.  Just make sure it can be found at most grocery stores.Now match it with a board game or even a group game you can play with your viewers.  It could be charades, pictionary, trivia, etc…  You’ll keep everyone entertained and have a fun community happy hour.   The social aspect is what many of us are craving.
  • Be a virtual bartender and listen to their pains – Even if you’re not a therapist, it doesn’t mean you cannot listen.  Create a group venting session with a themed drink for it.  Just like you would offer if you were a bartender at your local bar.Subscribers can sign up to join free (limit the sessions to 10 or 15 people) and non-subscribers can pay a $10 join fee to learn to mix a new drink.  If the theme is “When life gives you lemons” make lemon drop shots, a spiked lemonade and a surprise original beverage custom for the group.  Then as everyone drinks their creations, open it up to a vent session so they can get whatever it is off their chest.

Just because we are all making changes to our lives, it does not mean we have to stop our businesses.  We just have to restructure them a bit and be creative.  The above is what I do for my clients, creative marketing strategy and execution.

If you’d like a brainstorming session, contact me through this page and we can set up a 30 minute or 1 hour session.  If you don’t want to hire me but found the information useful, please share it on social media.  It will only take you a second and it puts a smile on my face to see my content getting shared.

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