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Embarking on the Journey
When I first had the Idea for Pocket Pet Pouch and a Monthly Hedgehog Pet Subscription Box, I was not familiar with the subscription business model whatsoever. I had simply sewed a pouch to bond with my own hedgehog and I wanted to share it with other hedgehog owners. Since hedgehogs were still considered a rare pet, I went the classic way of creating an Etsy shop and selling it from there.
In this post, I will share my own journey of how I built my brand and used the subscription business model to expand it. Take a seat because this is a long read as I will try to include every detail that I can remember.
The Grumpy Hedgehog Bonding Experience
My first hedgehog was given to me as a rescue. Social media portrays hedgies as these cuddly little creatures that love to be held and snuggled. Some can be especially if they come from a reputable breeder who has socialised and handled them properly. Unfortunately for Piggy, this was not the case. Piggy came from a neglected home so he was a huffy, angry little prick that wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. But I loved him from first sight and I was determined to give him his best life after his first. I threw myself into a Google frenzy of "how to get my hedgehog to be friendly". Joined hedgehog Facebook owner groups, and scoured blogs on hedgehog ownership tips. The one thing that I concluded from all of these? The importance of Bonding with my new pet.
Hedgehogs are solitary creatures by nature. The great thing is that the more time you spend with them, getting them quietly used to your home dynamic, the more open they may become and learn to trust you. This is where my experience in sewing came in handy.
As any new excited pet owner, I visited to my local pet store. Only to find a bag of cheap hedgehog food and a few cat toys that had been recommended by my fellow hedgie groups. I asked an employee if they had any more hedgehog products- they had no idea what a hedgehog even was. Disappointed. Like a sneeze waiting to happen, but not actually happening... I left and instead I went to a place I knew very well: the fabric store. Once home, I got to work with my machines.
Taking note of common injuries reported with similar handmade pouches I had seen others share, I made sure to sew one with no exposed threads and anti-pill fleece. I presented it to Piggy, my new grumpy hedgehog, and he climbed right UNDER it and fell asleep. "Not a fan but okay" I thought to myself. In the morning, checked on him and saw he had indeed climbed inside to nestle. There's no better feeling than creating something and your new love appreciating it. Our bonding began, I would take the pouch with him inside, place it on my lap while working, and eventually after he got used to my presence and scent. He started venturing out to explore his new home with me.
As some are aware, hedgehogs poop a lot. He would run on his wheel and proceed right inside for a nap with his poopy boots. So the pouch got soiled quickly. I decided to start a wardrobe of pouches. Making plenty with different patterns and colors. I created an Etsy shop called "GrumpyHogs" and proceeded to list extras I had sewn. I shared it on facebook groups and the orders started coming in. At the time, I didn't even know how to ship an item using their integration. To Youtube and Pinterest I went and started researching e-commerce.
Subscription Box Concept Takes Root
During this time in 2015, subscription boxes were the new hype. I had already been receiving a meal box prep one which taught me to cook and a cosmetics one that introduced new products I could try. My neighbor mentioned she got her new pup a box which contained treats and toys. A little light bulb started burning in my head. What if there was a box for hedgehogs? One that contained hedgehog appropriate items for my hedgie to try out that weren't available at the pet store. Even hedgie themed items for me to show off my love for hedgies. How about a new pouch each month? Washing them was okay but eventually Piggy's quills would rub on the fleece and they got a bit dingy after washes each week.
Sewing up a pile of pouches and listing them on my Etsy store was fun but I quickly realised I would not be able to estimate how much fabric I needed or overestimate. The fees on Etsy and the risk of losing your shop also came up. I had heard of other craft sellers creating a big store and customer base, just to be shut down without notice. Or, even having other sellers copying their brand and trying to pose as them, invalidating their work. Building my own website seemed like a safer option.
I came to the conclusion that it would be much easier, financially smarter, and waste conscious to know exactly how much fabric I would need up front. If I decided to do a box, I could also be able to predict how many products I need from the pre-orders I would receive for the box.
Building the Brand and Overcoming Fears
The wheel slowly started spinning and I came up with the name PocketPetPouch with thoughts that not only could hedgehogs use my products, but other small pets as well. Such as sugar gliders, guinea pigs, or hamsters. I went ahead and started joining subscription box owner mentorships and groups. They suggested building a website with a "launch date". This way I could collect emails of other hedgie owners and let them know when my first box would finally be able to be pre-ordered.
I filed for a DBA with my State of New York and applied for an EIN. Upon receiving my Certificate of Authority, PocketPetPouch was created.
I started exploring wholesale sites for pet products and fabric. I have always loved to come up with gifts and party themes for friends and family so I channeled my creative energy into making a huge list of themes for each month. Finding corresponding products to match. I wanted each box to be a surprise that a customer could open with the excitement of discovering new products. Products they likely would not find at their local pet store. Items they may have not even thought of that could exist for hedgies or used towards their care and environment.
At this point I was well underway rescuing hedgies in general from neglectful homes. Homes where an owner simply got bored with their hedgie, not knowing about dig boxes or bonding. Foraging, diet, even toys that may make their hedgie more fulfilling. Sadly, this can happen.
Preparing for launch. Hedgehogs on my mind, mind on my hedgehogs. I wasn't expecting it to turn into much since hedgies were very rare pets. After all, I only knew other owners through the internet. None in actual real life. All my friends or family had were cats or dogs. Birds. Hamsters that had their own aisles at the pet stores.
But it was a special idea to me and I wanted to try it. Even if I could give one hedgie across the country a cute experience of a fresh pouch and maybe a new treat to try that they may or may not like, that would be special to me knowing it happened.
The way I write it now may seem like it was this bright shiny new exciting thing I imagined for the future but in reality, I was scared. I had no experience in e-commerce and no degree in business. I spent all my days and late nights scouring the web on tips and ways to start a subscription box business. Whenever I would tell anyone about my idea, I was faced with doubtful looks and comments. Eventually I decided to just keep it to myself until I had something to show for it.
In November of 2018. I was not ready.
Unveiling PocketPetPouch to the World
I had spent almost a year and a half making my lists, building my website from scratch using the classic platform of Cratejoy as my base.
I had only about 30 email sign ups.
I had created an Instagram and a Facebook page to introduce the venture, posting pictures of my rescued hedgies. By now Piggy had passed on. My inspiration to the brand. But my other rescues drew the attention towards my mission. I mean really, who can resist a post of a cute hedgie munching on treats?
As mentioned, I was not ready but I stumbled upon some advice, "Get your brand name out there. Just launch. You can tweak as you go."
And it is true. I will always recommend building the basics, and launching as soon as you can. Get your name and Logo out there as soon as you can. From there on, you start learning your audience. What they prefer, what does not work. You can learn from mistakes you make. This will never stop. As your brand becomes more exposed. As it continues to grow. More happens. You start discovering other obstacles that you may have not even thought of during your idea phase.
Experiencing the solving of these obstacles will continue you on your building journey. Launching your brand as soon as possible, also gives a head start on SEO to start building up with Google’s algorithms.
I officially launched my Hedgehog Pet Box on Cratejoy that November. I sent out my launch announcement email. The first Box, the February 2019 Box- I had 2 subscribers. Once they received their box, I didn't even have to ask. They went ahead and shared their unboxing on their hedgehog’s Instagram profiles and the next month I had two more sign up and so on.
In March of 2019, Forbes had published a small list of pet subscription boxes. It seems they simply stumbled upon my box on social media and included it among the others. Suddenly, the orders started flooding in through the next several months. Everyone was sharing their hedgie enjoying their box and by August of 2019, I sold out for the first time. I realised I would need to cap it at a certain amount of subscribers to give me the time to order all the products, fabric, and have time for the manufacturing and packing of each shipment. I did not prepare for it to scale so quickly. Friends and Family were called to help. My home turned into a chaos of crinkle paper and miniature hedgehog hats.
Now I not only offer the monthly box, but also a monthly pouch. If you already have a Shopify or e-commerce site. You should set up certain products that your customers can receive on schedule. This is great for household necessities that run out, snacks or treats, and other products that are likely to be re-ordered.
Tips from the Subscription Box Journey
Here are some tips that I will share with you as far as what I learned along the way of my Subscription Box Journey:
- Start sharing on all your accounts and channels. Make a YouTube channel or share on Pinterest. Instagram and Facebook are still a primary. Tiktok is quickly up there as well. Do not hesitate to spread your brand throughout different platforms. Do not be like me and resist with the excuse of “ I don’t know how to use this platform”... LEARN or hire a social media manager. Using the excuse of not having interest in new technology trends will only hold you back now in our year of 2024.
- Don’t forget that organic reach still has its power. Don’t be afraid to spread the word by mouth. Even if your own friends or family have no need for your product, someone may see or hear them talking about yours and develop a need for it.
- Networking is very important. Reach out to companies that offer products that you could use. You will likely need a resellers certificate for this. Ask companies if you can feature their product by purchasing from them for a wholesale price. Subject line “ Wholesale inquiry for your product”. Do not expect free products or handouts. Promising exposure won’t help your reputation while you are trying to grow. You must be willing to work with the other brand from a business perspective.
- Make sure to keep all receipts and proof of purchases. You must keep a record of all your spending, income, profits, come tax season. Make sure your sales tax and all legals are in order.
- If you choose to use influencers, make sure to vet them thoroughly. My first influencer ended up launching her own hedgehog subscription box in the UK. Although I didn’t particularly mind, the hard work and time I put into coming up with ideas were often copied and caused confusion among our niche audience.
- You want to make sure your influencer is communicating with audience. Engaging with questions and comments. Not just someone looking for a free box. Ask them to share as both a post and a story since stories only last 24 hours. Content creators are a great tool for marketing.
After using the platform Cratejoy, I ended up recently switching to Shopify. Launching a store that not only offered the subscription, but also one-time purchases. I wish I had done this sooner but I was limited financially while facing some personal life events.
Through Shopify, I use the app Appstle Subscriptions. I find their feature much more compatible for my own business. Also all their analytics/reports fit my needs and give me great insight on running PocketPetPouch LLC. You can use my affiliate link with Appstle to start your own subscription service or box.
Appstle Offers Many Features:
- Create subscription offers that convert in just a few clicks. Build-a-box, one product, bundling offers, upsells, tiered discounts, and more.
- Reduce customer churn with flexible subscriptions, free product offers, discounts, and seamless integration into your Shopify store.
- Maximize profit and achieve efficiency with Inventory management controls, customizable billing options, and bulk automations.
If you've been contemplating diving into the world of entrepreneurship, starting your own subscription box can be a rewarding venture.
One of the most significant benefits of a subscription box business is the establishment of a steady and predictable revenue stream. Unlike traditional retail models that rely on sporadic purchases, subscription box services provide a reliable monthly income, allowing for better financial planning and stability.
Other Key Points to take note of when Starting a Subscription Box Business or Service
- Subscription boxes foster a sense of loyalty among customers. When individuals sign up for a subscription, they commit to receiving your products regularly, creating a long-term relationship. This loyalty often translates into higher customer retention rates, reducing the need for constant marketing efforts to attract new customers.
- Subscription boxes generate ongoing excitement and anticipation. As customers eagerly await their next package, the buzz around your brand increases. Social media platforms become powerful tools for showcasing unboxing experiences, user-generated content, and positive reviews. This word-of-mouth marketing can significantly boost brand exposure and attract new subscribers.
- Convenience. Whether it's a subscription box or just a monthly item, your customer doesn't have to deal with the hassle of re-ordering consistently.
- Last but not least. Value your customers. Make sure to pay attention to what they actually want and what works for them best. Do not make cancelling or quality mishaps a hassle for them. There are so many subscription services that have ruined the reputation of good old customer service. This doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover but making a subscriber jump through hoops while they are dealing with their own life will not keep them. Give them a clear path to pause or cancel. This will establish trust in your brand as a subscription. As much as you may love your own product, it may simply not be a good fit and it's okay to let them go.
Visit Appstle, my top recommended platform to kickstart your journey into the subscription business realm.
If you have any questions at all or want to pick my brain. I read every single email that comes through. Even if it seems small, I am happy to indulge your curiosity.