Subscription box suppliers: a brief introduction
So, you want to start a subscription box.
To supply your subscription box, you need to fill it with products. Depending on your subscription business model, your subscription box can have lots of different types of products in it, from beauty products to pre-cooked meals, hobby-related merchandise, and fitness gear, but the first step is always the same: you need to find subscription box suppliers.
It’s worth noting that some subscription box sellers don’t even design their own products.
You can definitely successfully resell pre-made or wholesale products in a subscription box, especially if you create a unique marketing angle that justifies why they’re all sold together at your chosen price point.
You can have any number of items in your subscription box, as long as you remember one thing: when choosing products for your subscription box, you have to consider relevance, cost, size and whether your subscribers will even like it.
It’s an ongoing headache that only subscription box entrepreneurs can relate to.
Obtaining free samples could be as simple as emailing the company directly, but it could also require a bit more work, for example if you’re trying to buy wholesale and have to coordinate with a large manufacturer through a more bureaucratic supply chain process.
If you’re lucky, you could score some free samples, but if you have to pay for a few units, it’s worth it. In any case though, don’t skip this part of the product sourcing process.
A subscription box business can be a very profitable model, but it’s important to make sure you’ve laid the foundations and done the due diligence (i.e. understand all the mechanics of how to start a subscription box business) before you invest additional money.
Now, to make sourcing products a little easier, here are eleven places to look for subscription box suppliers and get some box-filling inspiration.
Etsy is the online home of homemade goods and custom products. The best sellers on Etsy tend to offer personalized or unique items, making it a fruitful hunting ground for anybody looking for inspiration or outlandish fillers for their own subscription box business.
Out of all the subscription box suppliers, Etsy is perhaps the most ‘craft-heavy’ out there, but there’s something hugely personal about handmade custom products that make them perfect for delighting your subscribers.
It’s likely that outside of Etsy and perhaps a local store or two where the sellers are from, you couldn’t find many of these products anywhere else. Some sellers even ship objects in their own custom boxes, perfect for presentation as part of your main subscription box.
You can browse through Etsy categories that spark your interest, or you can check out the Etsy Trending Items page to see what’s hot.
eBay is the original mack daddy of online retail, and has been a household name for almost 3 decades.
Since its launch back in 1995, eBayers have been known to sell everything from socks to private jets — which means you’re bound to find a product or two to fill your subscription box, no matter your niche.
Also, the eBay Terapeak tool is an eBay-powered platform that lets you track product performances to gauge market demand, and study data relating to things like popular keywords and categories.
Amazon is another popular online marketplace that serves up tools to help you study the metrics within, and is a great place to find the names of other potential subscription box suppliers already using it to sell their goods directly.
First up is the Amazon Bestsellers page, a self-explanatory section of Amazon that helps you identify the kind of products that consumers are swooning over.
The Amazon Movers & Shakers page is perhaps a more interesting section to keep tabs on. It refreshes hourly, presenting products (potentially suitable for a subscription box) that are experiencing big sales spikes.
4. Crowdfunding websites
Crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are full of product prototypes that consumers are willing to put money towards – and the companies making these products could very well end up joining the ranks of your chosen subscription box suppliers.
These site’s don’t sell ready-to-go products to buy and put in your subscription box, but you may be inspired by something you see. IndieGoGo‘s detailed categories and the Kickstarter Discovery page make that hunt for inspiration much easier.
With over 1.2 billion users, Instagram is buzzing with activity. Although it may seem like a vacation photo album on steroids, it’s also a great place to spot consumer trends as part of your market research process — particularly if you already know the theme of your subscription box.
The trick is to search Instagram via hashtags relevant to your subscription business niche to find products that fit the bill.
Using that strategy, you’ll likely come across a product curation account related to your box’s theme, which is basically like finding a gold mine of insight that could translate directly to your profit margins.
You could even end up with some additional inspiration for your subscription box packaging and design, helpful if you’d been considering custom printing or branded boxes.
6. Social curation sites
Speaking of product curation, there are a host of sites dotted around the web that exist only to find unique and niche-specific products which could be perfect for your subscription box.
Here’s a couple of top social curation sites to get you started:
- Fashmates: Fashmates allows you to create unique outfits from a vast collection of products – with the best part being each one of your boards can be made shoppable. Once you have the prices, you perhaps even can reach out to the manufacturers directly.
- Fancy: Fancy describes itself as part store, part magazine and part wish list. It curates products from a wide range of categories.
Some consider Pinterest to be nothing more than just another social curation site — but they’re wrong.
Pinterest is a fully-fledged social media platform with over 150 million active users, 85% of which are females.
So if women are your target market for your subscription box business, look no further than this innovative company.
Pinners commonly share fashion, design, interior design and culinary related Pins, many of which make it into Pinterest’s Popular section.
8. Local retail stores, thrift shops, and markets
Sometimes old school is the best school. If the internet is giving you no joy in your hunt for product ideas for your subscription box, head down to a local business and sift through their wares.
Relying on local stores and local businesses to help you fill your subscription boxes an alternate approach to finding a subscription box supplier, but one that could pay off in spades if you get lucky.
Local stores may not be the best place to buy stock for your subscription business (from a supply chain perspective, large orders or repeat orders would almost certainly be out of the question), but you’ll likely be inspired by a stray item or even an entire market stall.
9. Online communities
Online communities like Reddit (which is packed with niche discussion boards called “subreddits”) allow you to tap into what consumers are talking about.
If you already have the theme of your subscription box in mind, you could track down subreddits or specific sites related to your theme. This strategy can work for anyone with their own subscription business, whether looking for a way to sell successful subscription boxes or much-needed subscription services.
Alternatively, the subreddit “Shut Up And Take My Money” is bursting with unique and clever products that people have fallen in love with.
10. Consumer trend publications
Consumer trends are forever evolving. Sure, you can use some of the websites and apps from above to make observations, but sometimes it’s best to rely on the experts.
Consumer trend publications focus on what buyers want — and what they don’t want. To find products worth investing in, here’s a short list of consumer trend publication to keep you in the know:
- Trend Watching: Trend Watching is an independent trend firm that scans the web for promising consumer trends and insights. Their team of trend watchers span the globe, residing in locations such as London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Lagos.
- Trend Hunter: Trend Hunter is the world’s largest trend-watching community. Their global network is made up of over 100,000 members and millions of fans looking for new ideas.
- Springwise: If you want to keep tabs on business ideas, Springwise publishes a daily newsletter that updates readers on new entrepreneurial ventures and trends.
11. Industry influencers
The power of influencer marketing is undeniable, but an influencer can do more than just promote your subscription box and sell products to new markets.
Influencers set trends by recommending products from specific brands, and many also sell their own products, like t-shirts. If the influencer in question relates to your niche, a t-shirt with their face on it could be exactly what your subscribers want in their next box.
On a micro scale, you may be able to suggest a free product model to your influencers, where you pay them in free products (i.e. free subscription boxes) rather than straight cash. If you want the big names, though, you’ll have to do better than just free products, especially if you haven’t been able to build relationships in a way that leads to easier negotiations.
Make sure your branding is on point – most influencers only work with people whose subscription box products match their brand aesthetic.
In summary: choose wisely
Searching through these different websites and apps is a surefire way to get inspired about how to source products for your subscription box.
“My advice would be to determine what your upper limits are. If your model includes sourcing from all mom-and-pop type places (as in specialty foods, etc.), you may find that there’s less wiggle room as far as pricing and mass ordering goes. Choose a product where you see lots of freedom.”
Good luck with finding suppliers and products, and if you want more help, or even if you have more ideas to add about running a subscription box company, feel free to reach out – we would love to hear them.
You can even join our Facebook Community for subscription entrepreneurs, where we share knowledge with one another. And if you haven’t tried Subbly for yourself – the world’s only all-in-one subscription-first platform – your first 2 weeks are on us: click here to get started.