How to Choose Your Subscription Box Idea


I often get asked, “Where do I start if I want to start a subscription box?”

It’s a natural, albeit broad, question.

The thought of starting a business is exciting, lucrative, and downright “cool” these days  (thanks, Silicon Valley), but actually getting started can be tough.

My reply to this question is centered in what kind of box you’d like to start & what makes the compelling.

Before a single box is shipped, you need to understand the foundation of your business. What is your place in the market? What is at the heart of your brand, and how does that compel consumers to subscribe? 

There are two key things to understand here: your niche & your positioning.

Niche (NOUN): A small, specific market for products and services.

Positioning (NOUN): Where your product stands in the market and in the mind of the consumer in relation to other brands.

Step One: Decide on your subscription box niche.

Unfortunately, you (usually) can’t sell to everyone. Too broad of marketing and you can confuse and lose customer interest.

For that reason, narrowing your focus and determining a specific niche can help convert more customers.

A niche should be specialized and specific. It should be highly definable. For example, instead of saying your niche is “food”, tell me what KIND of food your niche involves.

Here’s an example I often use.

Defining a Niche

Here, we can see a breakdown of two very different ideas.

Instead of a “food” subscription, we can land on two unique ideas: vegan desserts or organic office snacks.

Need more help? Think about your target customer.

If drilling into your niche feels difficult, it might be helpful to dig into what your customer looks like.

Here are some questions to get your juices flowing:

  • What type of customer are you appealing to?
    • What do they look like?
    • What are their habits & hobbies?
    • What is their gender, age, income, etc?
    • Where do they live?

It can also be helpful to put together a sample box & drill into what types of products you have in mind:

  • Go to a local box store and get a box about the size you’d want for your subscription
  • Go to local speciality stores or stores that would carry your product, and buy a few examples
  • Alternatively, or in addition to the above, make a short list of all the brands you could see being in your box

With the above, do some research into the types of products that stand to you and exemplify your brand. Look at their social media, website, and marketing — how can their cues help you determine what niche you’re in?

Step Two: Understand Your Positioning

Positioning is a lot like defining your niche, but involves understanding where your product stands in the mind of consumers.

Questions to consider when thinking about positioning:

  • What makes your product unique from others?
  • How is your product similar to others?
  • What makes your subscription box stand out from others?
  • How can you make it stand out from others? Ie. Give away a vacation every month.
  • What problem does your product solve?
  • Will customers want to receive this subscription month after month?

Positioning is useful because it will help you understand your competitive advantage. It will also help you determine is your idea compelling in the mind of consumers.

To further understand where you are in comparison to others, I suggest the following:

  1. Using a spreadsheet or working in a grid, write the following terms across the first row (ie. A1, B1, C1, etc). Bold these once completed.
    1. Competitor
    2. Website URL
    3. # of Products (The number of products included in their box)
    4. Price
    5. Frequency: Monthly? Quarterly?
    6. Unique Value Propositions
  2. Starting A2 and going down the column (ie. A2, A3, A4, etc) list out all the competitors that come to mind immediately. Some figures may require a bit of guesswork.
  3. Fill in the grid
  4. You now have a competitive landscape. Think back to the questions above, and revise as needed. 

If that’s too much work, just download this Competitive Analysis Sheet.

Step Three: Reflect on Your Box

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what your box involves, the products it might contain, and what make it similar and different from others. From here, you can decide if the idea is worth pursuing, and moving on to something like a prelaunch or presales campaign.

More questions about early stage subscription product development? Leave your questions below.