Welcome Subscription Entrepreneurs. Today’s post is all about how to source products for your subscription box. Let’s dive right in.
Something I see come up in a lot of the Subscription Box groups is that new box owners tend to find it hard sourcing products OR just don’t know where to look to find new suppliers. So I wanted to help you out and show you that it’s actually a lot easier than you think.
When I first started trying to find suppliers, I had this tenancy to over complicate things. I kept thinking that I needed some insider knowledge to find these mythical suppliers who would work with me. Truth is, that’s not the case.
Suppliers are becoming more and more accustomed to handling in sample size volumes, large orders of a single unit and have an understanding of how Subscription Boxes work.
Here’s a basic guide to sourcing the products/suppliers you need to create your monthly subscription box.
1. Before you can source products for your subscription box you need to get your mindset right.
Ok, right now now you must be thinking “wtf does mindset have to do with sourcing products?” Well my subscription superhero in training, a LOT.
Mindset is where a lot of new businesses are going to trip themselves up.
And the reason they do this comes down to one thing: FEAR.
They see themselves internally as some very small, home based operation with little to no customers. Or, something I see a LOT of: they see themselves as needing to justify every action they do with some authority figure, such as a brand, government body or even just a manufacturer.
What I mean by this is that there are no rules ANYWHERE governing how you can position your business to a supplier. You have to overcome this fear so that you can start positioning yourself correctly to suppliers.
Try to think about it like this:
YOU are a marketing tool for anyone with a product or service that would look really friggin cool in your box.
You are going to be advertising their products directly to their perfect customer AND you are going to pay them for the privilege.
If there is another way of a brand interacting with their target market in as cost effective a way – please tell me. So – with that in mind you can now start reaching out to suppliers.
When you speak to them, speak with confidence. Ask them for x number of units and TELL THEM the maximum you are willing to pay to make it a viable deal. Tell them that you have X number of customers who are looking for their product to trial and that you will be doing paid advertising to ensure they see what you are offering.
Be confident – you have got this.
2. Research using Facebook Groups
Browse posts in niche groups you are a part of
The first thing I find works well is to actually find out what your customers want to see. I use the same process to find sales copy as I do for products – Facebook Groups. Because any good marketer will tell you, that the best thing you can sell people is exactly what they want.
Generally I’ll browse niche-specific Facebook groups and checkout what product recommendations or reviews people are posting. I like to use the search tool and find products using queries like “newbie” “beginner” “love this” or even “where can I?”. This generally yields quite a few products (in my case – whisky) that I can then start to search for (in the next step).
I’ve found this actually works well with Instagram too, but more so by browsing my followers accounts.
An idea is to take a look at the likes, comments and shares on these posts to see how well others with similar interests respond to these products, effectively giving you instant access to a free and unbiased focus group.
To help streamline this process, I create a spreadsheet to record all of the product ideas you get browsing Facebook groups and then search for suppliers for all of them in one session.
3. Search for the Products and providers on Google
Yeah well – Google is still your friend when it comes to sourcing suppliers. BUT if you have a pretty good idea of what you are searching for it becomes a much easier process. I don’t think I need to tell you how to google something (surely?).
A couple of notes on this though. Try variations of your query when searching AND use other search engines. This is because different sites will be ranking for different terms, so you may find that by mixing things up you actually get a larger selection of suppliers.
Example searches you can use:
- wholesaler” “[my niche]
- bulk supplier” “[product]
- wholesaler [location]”
- “order [my niche] supplies wholesale”
You will probably find you are trawling through page 4-5-6 on the search results but it will be worth it. So there is no magic bullet on this one – just a little elbow grease. Hey, even the Karate Kid had to wax on/wax off his way to martial arts mastery (even if he was the bad guy).
Bonus Tip: Use incognito mode and sign out of your Google Accounts as you are searching – this gives you a much broader (less personalized) search result. Google has a tendancy to start displaying the most local suppliers to you as you keep searching, this can muddy the waters a bit when it comes to your results. I personally use suppliers all over Australia and the US so it doesn’t matter if they are local or not.
4. Produce Your Own Products
If you want to have greater control over product quality and increase your profit margins, one of the best things you can do is get into making your own products. It’s surprisingly easy to have a product designed or customized for you using services and market places like Alibaba.
Many of the manufacturing facilities will work with smaller entrepreneurs to create their custom products, though you could also keep all of your manufacturing in-house if you have the know how.
When you produce some of your own products, you can still find products from other manufacturers to include in your subscription box. You can also choose to market the products you make on their own as well to increase your sales. Making your own products opens up a huge number of possibilities for subscription entrepreneurs, such as one time sales and wholesaling the items to other online stores.
In my opinion, this is a goal all subscription box providers should have in the long run.
5. Position Yourself for Brands to Come to You
Any social media platform can be a long term asset
This is by far my favorite but it takes a while to get there.
If you’ve been running your subscription box service for a while and have established a good reputation in your niche, it’s likely that you will be able to have brands bring their products to you. To do this, you’ll need a strong marketing presence and a large list of subscribers. However just having a strong social presence is often enough to get by (in fact, it’s worked well for me).
I would suggest picking one of the following platforms and just dominating it with content:
- Blog or website
- Guest blogging on other websites
- Blogging websites, such as Medium.com
The good thing about having a YouTube channel is that you can use the videos to show potential customers products that will sending in your subscription box.
The point of building up this audience is twofold. To start with, you should be doing it anyway to maximize your own business. The second reason, however, is that a large following makes you an attractive marketing opportunity for brands looking for exposure. If being part of your subscription box can help other companies to increase their volume of sales while building brand awareness, you’ll slowly see businesses coming to you as a marketing provider.
6. Reach out to suppliers via their social channels.
This one has actually worked quite well for me. Sometimes I’ll just browse Instagram and keep an eye out for cool products. In fact just by mucking around I was able to find these kick-ass glasses which were being made by a group in Europe.
and tagging helps build rapport with suppliers.
What I do here is share one of their pics and then tag them in the post. Once I’ve done that I’ll send them a PM and ask them about the products. It’s nothing major just “hey, I saw your product xyx on Insta and thought it looked awesome. I’m actually looking for something like this for my subscribers and thought we should chat! Whats your best email?”
I’m trying to take the conversation off Insta / Facebook and move it into email mainly because it’s just easier to manage. Now this process is more an add value not a complete strategy, but I’ve been able to find some pretty sweet things to sell to my customers this way.
Though these are the basics of how to get products for subscription boxes, each entrepreneur will face his or her own challenges. Some suppliers won’t do business with very small sellers no matter how you position it, and some niches are far more competitive than others or need special licences.However, if you’re willing to put in the time to research and build relationships with suppliers you will find that sourcing products becomes a massively simpler task.
Do you think these processes can work for you? Do you do something completely different? Let me know in the comments!