Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of having to fight, hunt, and practically beg for each new sale, you could set up a business in such a way that all your customers paid you regularly, time and time again?
Well, you can—that’s the beauty of offering a subscription service.
The subscription business model, once thought only to apply to products like magazines and gym memberships, has grown hugely in popularity in recent years. Covering everything from makeup to meals (and a range of subscription services you’d never have even imagined), it seems like there is a subscription service for just about anything.
To give you an idea about what is out there, here are a few areas where the subscription business model has excelled.
Skincare and beauty
If you want to offer a subscription service in the skincare and beauty sectors, you’ll be in good company. In fact, one of the first subscription services on the scene, Birchbox, helped to popularize the idea of selling small versions of makeup, skincare, and haircare products on a monthly basis.
If you want to start a health and beauty subscription service, however, you’ll have to think outside the (birch) box. After all, while the subscription business model works very well for beauty products, you don’t want to just repeat exactly what has already been done.
Spend some time doing research into untapped markets. How about a subscription service box catering to the makeup needs of women of color (a group that has an especially hard time finding makeup matches)?
A few great skincare and beauty subscription services to spark your inspiration:
- Birchbox Beauty Box—the original subscription beauty box
- Ipsy—five full-sized samples of deluxe beauty products
- Love Goodly—nontoxic, eco-friendly, vegan products that support various causes
- Vegan Cuts Beauty Box—vegan beauty and skincare products
- Lavish Bath Box—cruelty-free bath products
Home and garden
Starting to diverge from the subscription service beaten path, consider starting a subscription service business based around home and garden needs.
A great example of a subscription service that has tapped into this idea is Urban Organic Gardener’s subscription seed box, which sends new seeds each month and tailors each box to the experience level and needs of the customer.
If you’re interested in starting a subscription service based around home and gardening, take some time to assess your own personal habits and needs when it comes to your home. Home and garden products lend themselves well to the subscription business model, as we’re constantly in need of new products (cleaning supplies, for example, will always run out).
Perhaps you buy flowers regularly—enter Bloomsy Box, a monthly floral subscription service. Maybe you love filling your home with gorgeous, luxury scented candles? Wickbox provides a candle subscription service. What do you buy regularly that you could turn into a subscription service?
Here are some more great home and garden subscription services to get you started:
- Our Little Roots—a monthly organic garden including seeds, pots, and stakes
- Nicely Noted—a beautifully curated monthly stationary box
- Squix Box—a monthly subscription service providing germ-fighting products
- Jade Canopy—organic, heirloom, GMO-free seeds monthly
Do you love animals? Consider starting a subscription service for pet owners, that includes toys, food, treats, or even less traditional pet-related products (lint roller, anyone?).
The pet subscription service industry is very popular, with favorites like Barkbox offering monthly subscriptions of treats, toys, and gadgets tailored to the size of the customer’s dog.
If you are interested in taking advantage of the subscription business model and offering products for pets, think creatively about what you (or your friends and family members) use regularly for their pets. Or, consider offering a subscription service built around a more unusual pet, like this “pocket pet” subscription box for guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, and other small pets!
Check out these other great pet subscription service boxes:
- PawPack—all natural treats and chews for dogs
- Surprise My Pet—a mystery box filled with toys and other surprise goodies
- The Dapper Dog Box—all natural treats and toys made by eco-friendly companies
- Meowbox—toys and treats for cats delivered monthly
- Doggy Lawn—a monthly delivery of a small square of grass for your dog to use as a “potty patch” (yes, really)
Babies and children
No one is busier than a new parent, and subscription services targeting families with new little ones can be a fantastic way to take advantage of the subscription business model, while making someone’s life easier.
Not only that, but subscription services targeting children offer endless possibilities, from Tinker Crate, which gives kids an avenue to learn about science and engineering, to Mac & Mia, a kids clothing box that lets you keep only those items you like, and send back the ones you don’t like.
These subscription services should help inspire your creativity:
- Bluum—a subscription box for moms and babies “from pregnancy to preschool”
- IncrediBundles—offering a variety of packages like toys, books, and diapers
- Everyday Happy—natural diapers and baby products
- Doodle Crate—a monthly subscription box for budding artists
- Junior Explorers—themed monthly “explorations” for school-aged children
When you were a child, that lopsided clay duck you made in art class was a perfect gift for grandpa. However, as we grow older, it becomes harder and harder to find ways to do something special for our grandparents and other elderly relatives.
Subscription boxes targeting the elderly have become a way to fill this need, with everything from fun themed offerings like Grandbox (July’s theme was “picnic”—how cute is that?) to Gramsly, which allows customers to include a message and a photo for their grandmother, along with customized items ranging from food to crossword puzzles.
So far, these two are the only ones on the market, meaning this could be a great area for you to start a business with a subscription business model.
The best inspiration here will be drawn from your own family. What would you love to be able to send to your grandparents, aunts and uncles, or family friends on a regular basis, or what service do they need often that could be turned into a subscription service?
Here are the elderly subscription services mentioned above:
- Grandbox—monthly boxes for loved ones over 65, filled with themed treats and fun surprises
- Gramsly—handpicked, personalized boxes specifically for grandmothers
Food and drink
Food and drink subscription services seem so natural; after all, we’re constantly in need of new snacks, healthy dinners, and fun treats. The possibilities here are endless, and there are plenty of food and drink subscription services that you could draw inspiration from.
To get you started, you can begin by assessing your own pain points. Maybe you have trouble knowing what snacks to bring to work with you every day? Graze Box has you covered.
Or, you could think of what niche food or drink product you love, and turn it into a subscription service. Me, for example? I’m a big fan of IPAs (I live in Portland, Oregon, after all), and so the IPA Beer of the Month Club would be a subscription service right up my alley.
It’s worth mentioning that while entering the food and drink subscription service sector means entering a fairly saturated market, there is always the opportunity to improve on an existing service. Do you have a way to improve on a monthly subscription offering? If so, a crowded market shouldn’t dissuade you.
A taste (get it?) of the food and drink subscription services available:
- Freshly—gourmet meals delivered weekly that are gluten free, refined sugar-free, and low carb
- Taste Club—monthly handpicked artisan goodies such as coffee, condiments, and oils
- UrthBox—all natural, GMO-free, organic snacks delivered monthly
- Try the World—gourmet ingredients, snacks, and beverages from around the world
- RawSpiceBar—small batch, freshly ground spices
Hobbies and crafts
Most hobbies involve continually repurchasing materials on a regular basis (I have a friend who knits who orders yarn almost biweekly), so a subscription business model is perfect for hobbies, crafts, and other niche interests.
What are your hobbies, or the hobbies of your friends and family? How could you create a subscription service around these hobbies?
Here are a few great craft and hobby subscription services to give you ideas:
- StitchyBox—themed cross stitch boxes delivered six times a year
- SketchBox—monthly delivery of art supplies
- Darby Smart—a monthly mystery DIY box aimed at tweens
- New Hobby Box—for those who want a new hobby but don’t know where to start
- Maker Monthly—offering notebooks and “creative supplies” monthly
SaaS and app-based offerings
This list wouldn’t be complete without a few software subscription services. The SaaS industry was one of the first to use the subscription business model, as it works especially well for intangible services. You probably already use a few of them—think Slack or Salesforce.
Creating a software product is a challenge set apart from the other examples on this list. If you are interested in starting your own software company, check out our recent article, How to Start a Software Company, which will walk you through the steps.
Now, realistically, I can’t list all of the great SaaS apps that are out there; however, here are a few of the ones I on a regular basis or can recommend highly, just to give you an idea of the great variety that exists.
These great software and app subscription services can inspire you:
- Spotify—the streaming music service that has taken over as one of the most popular ways to listen to music
- Canva—free design program (great for creating logos, social media graphics, and more)
- Slack—great for workplace teams or even personal messaging
- Trello—an excellent project management system
- LivePlan—our own subscription software that helps entrepreneurs start and run their businesses (of course, I couldn’t not include LivePlan!)
What if I want to open a brick-and-mortar store?
Of course, I’ve focused a lot on subscription services that are either sent via a monthly subscription box, or are an internet-based service.
But, don’t limit yourself to thinking that subscription services are only for boxes and SaaS companies! There are plenty of ways to integrate the subscription business model into your business without sending anyone anything.
For example, many hair salons are offering blowout subscriptions, with new company Vive emerging as a way to connect clients with hair salons via a subscription service. What could you bundle together for your customers on a monthly basis, and charge them a flat fee for? With the subscription business model, the possibilities are endless.
Are you a fan of the subscription business trend? What kind of subscription service business would you like to start? Let me know on Twitter, or share this article on Facebook and tell us what you think!