Welcome to the fourth installment of Cratejoy’s new merchant success series, “Unboxed.” Each month, we’ll learn tips, tricks, and subscription box secrets from Cratejoy’s top merchants.
Today, we’re featuring Naomi Farr from Unicorn Crate! (Find them on Facebook and Instagram.)
What is Unicorn Crate, and what inspired you to pursue the idea?
Unicorn Crate is a magical book subscription box. The crate contains a new hardcover release in YA fantasy plus 5-6 bookish items relating to each month’s theme. You’ll always get at least one unicorn-inspired item too! This was not, contrary to what some people assume, a part of the unicorn craze we’ve seen of late.
I’m more about the long-lasting myth and magic of unicorns as a sort of emblem for fairy tales, and I’m actually not so keen on the cartoon-ish unicorn fad.
I grew up reading Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Peter S. Beagle, and was also around horses quite a bit as a teen. I like to think the spirit of Unicorn Crate embodies the unicorns from the 1985 film Legend, not the disproportionate cartoon unicorn that’s farting a rainbow.
One of my greatest passions is YA (young adult) fantasy books and I also have an MFA in Creative Writing. I had started to make videos and posts about books a few months before thinking up Unicorn Crate and fell in love with the #bookstagram and BookTube communities. At the time I started Unicorn Crate, I was in a tough place in life, having just let go of the blog I’d built over the past 4 years, and letting go of a major relationship.
I was burnt out and feeling quite lost but knew it was time to move on. I wasn’t hearing back from any jobs I applied to but my heart has never been in the corporate world anyway.
After researching everything I could about subscription boxes for a few months, the idea for Unicorn Crate popped into my head one early February morning in that half-sleep state. I jumped out of bed and claimed the Instagram handle before I’d even had breakfast! Sometimes great change facilitates great ideas.
Why did you choose Cratejoy?
I only recently created a listing on the Cratejoy Marketplace to add an extra place to reach new subscribers (I’ve spent the first year selling on Shopify). I’m looking forward to the new Cratejoy x Shopify integration that’s rolling out soon.
How did you acquire your first 25 (or so) subscribers?
First I ran a prelaunch (enticing signups with a giveaway), and once I collected about 1,500 emails, I knew the interest was there, so I started taking preorders. I also started creating a community on Instagram right away and that has been a huge asset. I made 50 boxes my first month and sold out pretty fast, so I made 100 for month two, which also sold out fast. I attribute that to Instagram.
It is so important to create an online community, and for me, the #bookstagram community was one I knew I could tap into. They’re “my people.”
I post consistently and love to chat with all the bookish unicorns. It has a definite aesthetic when you look at the @unicorncrate feed as a whole. It’s whimsical, magical, and inspirational. Lots of purple, lavender, pink, and rainbow bookshelves. It’s a place to escape from everyday life and feel enchanted.
How did you go about sourcing products for your box?
Sourcing is still one of the hardest parts. Reaching out to suppliers, vendors, manufacturers, makers or artists can be very difficult. In the beginning, you’re working with them all for the first time and just starting to learn which relationships you can trust for future orders (or not). It can be very stressful and there are so many moving parts.
I source my products from a variety of places, from small shops on Etsy (I love supporting other small businesses!) to manufacturing custom items overseas that I’d otherwise never be able to afford to include in the crates.
This is the most challenging because you have to order much further in advance because of the time it takes to get samples shipped, then to produce and ship the actual order. Lately, I’m starting to run into trouble with things getting stuck in customs.
Last year, when I first started, I ended up making a lot of items myself. I sometimes still contribute a design or product here and there (luckily that is something I’m very comfortable doing as I’ve run several other little handmade side-businesses). For the June crates, for example, my mom helped me mix and bottle up about 500 bottles of bath salts! I then shipped them to my fulfillment center to be packed into the crates.
I love being hands-on, but don’t always have time to do things like that each month anymore with all the other parts of running the business (not to mention reading about 45 advanced manuscripts from publishers each year to select which titles to feature).
What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
That about a third of your job as a sole subscription box owner will be spent on customer service – the first person I hire when I can finally afford to will be someone to help with customer service. Also, you can’t please everyone. (I knew this then, but a reminder is always good!)
People will assume you’re a huge team of people even though you’re just one person working your tail off 70+ hours per week, so focus on all the amazing feedback, not the one or two angry people who are just taking it out on you because they had a bad day.
And when people cancel because they say it isn’t for them, don’t take it personally; keep moving forward and focusing on acquiring/connecting with those customers who ARE your target market.
Take Action: Not sure who your target customer is just yet? Learn how to determine your ideal market with Cratejoy’s guide to segmenting, targeting an audience, and positioning your business.
What mistake(s) do you wish you could have avoided along the way?
Last fall, I included mugs for the first time, and even though I packed them all carefully in packing paper (and even bubble wrap), most of them broke. The slew of emails with attached photos of broken mugs was hard to take and there were certainly some days I felt like giving up. I couldn’t pay myself that month because I had to repurchase and ship so many mugs.
Apparently, the best way to include a mug in a subscription box is to fit it into its own little box inside the box, but my box dimensions don’t quite allow for that… unless I were to do a mini-mug, perhaps, or change the dimensions of my box slightly. This business is always about troubleshooting and brainstorming and learning as you go!
Take Action: Manage the risk of products breaking in your shipments – and create a killer unboxing experience for your customers – with our breakdown of packing materials and custom packaging options.
Anything else you’d like to share about your success story?
Every three months, I run a rep search on Instagram to select a handful of accounts to represent the crates and they get a free crate each month for those three months. In exchange, they take beautiful photos (or unboxings) and give out a coupon code to their followers.
I get many great photos to use for posts, and I am so thankful for all the great reps I’ve had! I’ve also had some great success with reaching out to YouTubers… I need to connect with more YouTubers. There is great power in video.
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