Anyone that tells you that launching, growing, scaling or creating a subscription box business is easy, is probably lying! It’s grit, and frustration, but I guarantee it will be the best learning experience in your life. I learned more in the 2.5 years I owned The Dapper Dog Box, than ever in my life. The Dapper Dog Box is a pet focused subscription and e-commerce business I started in 2016.
As a true soloprenuer, I did every role for that business, the entire time! I hustled every day, packing boxes, doing the marketing, creating the website, hand picking every single item that went in the boxes, designing the marketing materials, acting as the customer service person and more. When you do all these things, you not only get an incredible understanding of how a business runs and operates but you get to know your customer inside and out, and learn how to serve them.
Today I am sharing 3 secrets that made a huge difference in my business and allowed me to grow to multiple 6 figures of yearly revenue, without the use of ads, funding, staff or support.
Create Your Superfans
Superfans is a term coined by the amazing Pat Flynn. In his book he talks about creating an experience for your customers that is so fantastic, they literally become your ride or die customers. This notion of creating superfans is both part providing amazing customer service and creating an unforgettable customer experience.
I cared about my customers, treated them like gold, to me, they were all part of the “Dapper Dog Box Family”. The Dapper Dog Box had hundreds, probably closer to thousands of reviews over the years. 99% of them were 5 star reviews. Why? Because I cared deeply about my customers and my goal was to make sure they were happy. As cheesy as it was, if they were not happy I wasn’t happy. I modeled this notion of treating customers like family after Amazon and their most esteemed leadership principle, “customer obsession.” Customer obsession is lived and breathed at amazon. They say to be obsessed with your customer, which also means understanding what your customer wants and weaving in how your business can provide that for them.
When I started this company, I vowed to make customers #1 and I did. Take a peek at a few of the thousands of 5 star reviews. In most of the reviews, customers call me out by name, thanking me for their amazing experience and product. The bottom line here, treat your customers like real life humans. It will go so far and they will literally tell every person they know about your business and guess what, you WILL GET BUSINESS from this. People are so used to being treated like robots that when they get treated like an actually human, they get really happy.
These are all reviews from Cratejoy.com, a subscription box host where The Dapper Dog Box website and storefront were hosted.
Customer retention is the new customer acquisition. Because I treated my customers so well, provided impeccable customer service and made them feel like part of my family, I retained them. Instead of churning out month after month, I retained close to 90% of my customers each month. In the subscription box world, this is huge.
Create an Unforgettable Customer Experience
Along with treating your customers like family, creating an unforgettable experience for your customers is right up there. I wanted an out of this world, experiential type experience each month for my customers.
I knew in the pre launch phase, in those very first weeks where I was at the drawing boards, that I wanted a product that stood out amongst the shuffle of other box businesses. I wanted gold star treatment for my customers. I wanted them to open their box each month and be truly wowed!
Let’s get down to it. You want your product to be impressive AF! This starts with your website, your landing pages before you launch, your emails, your social media accounts, your products, your box, the inserts that go inside and everything in between. Don’t be that company that doesnt care how their emails look or who has the sloppy box. BE the company that goes the extra mile, that cares about every single small touch and detail. That is how I felt about every single thing that had the “dapper dog box logo” on it. I cared so much to the point of obsessive compulsive, but thats a different story for a different day.
A few tips:
YOUR BOX DESIGN: You dont need a fancy box that costs $5 to print. A white box with a cool sticker goes a long way. If you are a high end subscription box, I would recommend a digitally printed box to start with. High end= high tough points, major attention to detail in every way.
If you scroll down you can see a few images of the Dapper Dog Box Design! The first image on the left was my first box I created digitally using Packible. The second, third and fourth are boxes that I created a design for, used a box manufacturer that custom printed them for me. They were expensive and worth every penny. The second those boxes got into customers hands, my sales skyrocketed and so did customer referrals… why? Because this was design was CREATED for Instagram. I created this box just so my customers would be thrilled to post pics of the box with their dog every month, and guess what, they did. That inside of the box that is usually left blank for most box businesses, that is prime real estate for photos and to add a call to action. If you have the chance to print your box on both sides, do it. Add something fun on the inside that makes your box stand out.
BOX INSERTS: Put a little effort in these too. Add your special touches to them. Here is a juicy look inside my box inserts. These were pretty gold. I added lots of call to actions to get customers to post photos of the product to social media plenty of #thedapperdogbox hashtags thrown in, in case anyone forgot and a gorgeous photo of our products. Then I had a special insert that I had created each month that featured items in each months box, with any highlighted products I wanted to sell in the shop.
Affiliates, Referrals & Public Relations
If there was one thing I could have done from the beginning, it would have been to join an affiliate program upfront when I launched. I wish someone told me to do that and not to be scared of the upfront investment. Lets be real friends, I was afraid to spend the $100 on my first boxes because I was terrified no-one would buy my adorable dogbox. It took me 1 whole year before I was willing to sign up with shareasale, an affiliate program. How affiliate programs work- A business offers a commission payment to anyone who refers customers. Sally has a pet blog, sally signs up for The Dapper Dog Box Affiliate program and gets aproved to get 10% commission on all referals. Sally starts promoting the dapper dog box in her blogs, she puts up a banner image in her blog header and she sprinkes in the dapper dog box on her best gift guide posts….. This is how an affiliate program works. Its amazing for three big reasons.
- You product gets in front of a huge audience. Everytime someone adds your link to their blog or website or youtube video, you just got some free advertisiging. If sally refers a paying customer, then you pay 10% or whatever the commission is. It works like magic. You start to get lots of bloggers and youtubers writing about you. This gets you backlinks and gets you sales.
- Its amazing for your SEO. SEO is search engine optimization. The quick and dirty explanation of SEO- showing up on google when someone searches for a keyword that relates to your product. Bottomline, you need a lot of backlinks to get higher up on google and affiliate programs will help you with this. A Backlink is a link that is coming from another website that mentions your business and adds your URL. Think of anyone someone writes about your business in a blog, a website, a promotional link, a video link, those are all backlinks and you want those!
- Affiliate programs will bring you more revenue. The first year we had sharesale I made 20,000 in affiliate sales, for doing almost no work.
Referral progams are internal apps or programs inside a platform like Cratejoy and Shopify that allow you to create unique URL’s or coupon codes that your customers can use to referral their friends, family and followers. Referral programs are so effective but customers that refer their friends and fam to a product, have the highest ROI and highest conversion out of any form of marketing. Referral prospects turn into customers between 50% and 70% of the time. This is shocking in terms of how high this conversion is. So you have two choices, you can sign up for one of your platforms referral programs OR there is a DIY version which is what I did.
Instead of paying the $100 a month to use Cratejoy’s referal program ( seriously, why was I so cheap??)
I created coupon codes for EVERYONE, all the time and constantly. I every email template, in every blog post, in every correspondence to customers, I reminded them that we had a customer referral program and for everyone they referred they got a free box. This was also plastered on the actual box and the inserts ( refer to images above) I literally screamed this in their faces, and with the constant reminding it worked. Some may have called me repetitive but I liked to think I was creative in my messaging and reminders.
My DIY approach was more manual but it was also more personal. The constant outreach to customers made a huge difference. You also may be noticing a theme here, I was personal with everything I did in this business and customers noticed.
Ok I am not a PR expert by any means, in fact I find it to be a very fascinating area and I would love to learn more. For now, I can share the tricks I did for DDB!
Sign up with Help a Reporter. It’s a free tool where you sign up and will get notifications that share a slew of journalists and reporters who are looking for sources to write about. Because of this I was able to get DDB featured in websites like Bustle and tons of other local websites!
Reach out to websites/businesses you want to be featured in. I knew I wanted DDB to be featured in the dodo. It was a give but I had no clue how. So I did lots of research, found freelance writers who wrote for the dodo on linkedin and google. Pitched to them all, over and over! Finally I got one person who listened to my story, and after a few months, I had my feature in the dodo. Although it was NOT about DDB, the writer found a really amazing angle to use and was able to give me a backlink back to the dodo and an image. That backlink was my #1 backlink for the dapper dog box and brought in a lot of traffic.
The back story ( and what I pitched to the dodo) was DDB teamed up with a local LA rescue and we coordinated a photoshoot for 10 adoptable dogs that were in the shelter for an extended amount of time. We provided the dogs with colorful bandanas, bowties and toys, and a photographer took pics of them wearing these goodies to make them look friendly and happy in photos, so it could help their chances of being adopted. It was an incredible experience for me, because we were able to do our part of help shelter dogs and we got a feature in the dodo. Here is the link and story, scroll all the way to the bottom to see our pic and these gorgeous babies.
The moral of this story, is that I utilized treating my customers so well, that it highly benefitted my business. Did I mention I did almost ZERO ads for the entire business? I spent around $2000 or less in the entire 2.5 years I owned DDB. Everything I did was organic. I was creative in the ways I acquired customers without upfront spend.
Are you interested in starting your own subscription box?
I want to help you launch your business without the stress and worry I had to go through. With my step by step approach you can launch your first box business in less than 3 months. Click here to learn more about how you can get started.
I loved this article! Thank you so much for being transparent and giving out so much freaking information!
Thank you SO much Meaghan, youre so sweet! I am really glad you found it helpful. I love sharing my story because I was very scrappy and did everything on my own, so I want to show others that its possible for you too!!
Thank you so much Kerrie for so much amazing info! I took notes!! You are not only generous with your customers, but with your readers too! Much love!