How to Grow a Niche Subscription Business to Thousands of Subscribers in Just a Couple of Years

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How to Grow a Niche Subscription Business to Thousands of Subscribers in Just a Couple of Years

It’s often a huge challenge to figure out what you should deliver to your subscriber members each month for maximum membership retention and renewal. Plus, you want to deliver something that’ll create referrals and social buzz. This challenge is even more difficult when you are a subscription box trying to negotiate with a company to deliver hundreds or thousands of items so you can ship them to your subscribers as part of their monthly subscription box. There must be a constant balance between getting your hands on products and investing the time and relationship capital to obtain the ones that’ll generate a huge impact. This is the same for a SaaS company choosing which new features to develop or a publisher working with editors to create content.

In my recent interview with James Erickson, owner and CEO of Stridebox, a subscription box service for runners, we discussed his solutions to the problems of getting items for Stridebox that drive engagement, how to balance content that members would readily appreciate versus delighting them with new discoveries, as well as how to engage subscribers to create a community.

James came from a background in newsletter publishing and transitioned into subscription boxes. From the outside, it may appear that these are very different, but to James, fulfillment and the need for membership retention were similar. He said, “…if you look at a printed newsletter you have a package, a newsletter, different inserts for the package and a mailing list. It’s really very similar [to subscription boxes.]”

The big difference with newsletters and subscription boxes are the products that ride in the box versus the articles in a newsletter. What does it take to get the hundreds or thousands of products to ship out to your subscription box subscribers? James answered, “I found out very quickly that it wasn’t that difficult. It’s one of those that if you ask, somebody is going to say yes eventually. It’s just a matter of putting your head to the grindstone and doing your research on the products, and figuring out what’s a good fit for your audience.”

But then there’s a big question of which products will improve membership retention. Do you deliver products in your box that customers will recognize as valuable from brands that add to the prestige of your box, or do you focus on delighting your customers by helping them discover products they’ve never experienced before? James answered, “The first year, we tried to align ourselves with as many big companies as possible. We wanted the Power Bars in the box, because everybody knew about Power Bar. We wanted Gu in the box, because everybody knew what an energy gel was in our market. We tried to align ourselves with companies like Mizuno and Nike, and Adidas, and put their advertising or inserts in our boxes, or give discounts to our subscribers. We wanted to play ourselves as ‘We’re that brand with those connections.’ Today a lot of our product choices are based on things you don’t see every day – The mom and pop shop in Idaho that’s cooking gluten-free, vegan cookies that are full of protein – The place out of Washington called ZipFit that not everybody knows about that’s like a powdered drink mix company. We don’t want to give somebody the same thing, the same brand, the same flavors, two or three months in a row, because that doesn’t lead to longevity of the customer. If you wrote the same article for your newsletter three months in a row, people would kind of get tired of it.”

And while including the best products is crucial for success, membership retention always comes down to the power of the community you build. For Stridebox, they put their subscribers into their box. James explains, “we started doing a monthly card photo submission. Each month, we have what’s called the Stride Guide. On the back of the Stride Guide are all of the products that are in the box, as well as a couple of sentences about them, a retail cost if you were to go buy it at your local running store, and then, a website where you can go to find more about it and purchase more. On the other side of that card we used to just put these motivational stock photos of sweaty runner people. At some point, we got tired of that. We thought, “Well, let’s just email the audience and see if we can get them to submit pictures. We’ll give away prizes. They’ll get to see themselves on this card that will go out to thousands and thousands of people. The first one, I believe, was we did medals. Like, take a picture of your favorite race medal that you’ve earned and send it to us. I think we got about 240 responses of medal pictures to page through and look through to pick out 24 that were going to go on the cover of the Stride Guide. That created a lot of work, but, it was a lot of fun. People started sharing that on social media, which was kind of the big, “Aha,” moment.”

From outside the subscription box industry it could look mysterious and challenging. In the end, it’s very similar to any subscription business. It all comes down to creating great deliverables your members eagerly use, delighting your members with something new each month and engaging subscribers into your vibrant tribal community.

Discover more of James’ membership retention secrets in the full interview of Membership and Subscription Growth. Click on the links below to listen to the podcast or download the transcript.

To continue to get updated and useful information as well as advice from some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the subscription economy, subscribe to Robert’s podcast: Membership and Subscription Growth.

How to Grow a Niche Subscription Business to Thousands of Subscribers in Just a Couple of YearsHow to Grow a Niche Subscription Business to Thousands of Subscribers in Just a Couple of Years Google PlayHow to Grow a Niche Subscription Business to Thousands of Subscribers in Just a Couple of Years
How to Grow a Niche Subscription Business to Thousands of Subscribers in Just a Couple of Years

About Robert Skrob

The problem with subscription membership programs is that members quit, I fix that problem. For more than 20-years I have specialized in direct response marketing for member recruitment, retention and ascension in diverse subscription members environments including non-profit associations, for-profit publishers/coaching, subscriptions and SAAS companies. For an evaluation of your current churn rate and how I can improve it, contact me here. I discover there are often two or three quick wins you can implement within a week to lower churn immediately, let’s talk about your quick wins.

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