How I Started A Gift Box Business For Non Traditional Brides
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Lindsay Scholz, and I’m the founder of Vowed Box Co. – a line of curated, quirky gift boxes with non-traditional brides in mind.
Vowed came to me as an idea in the shower one morning at the start of 2018 (where all of my best ideas are conjured, apparently!) and once I nailed down the name of the business I knew that I had to run with it and make it a reality.
Vowed currently offers four different products: the ‘Bride With A Plan’ box, the ‘I’m A Chill Bride’ box, the ‘Be My Bridesmaid?’ box and an online option for purchasers to build their own custom gift box for themselves or for brides-to-be that they know.
As of now Vowed is my secondary business – I dedicate 95% of my time running my creative studio, Lindsay Scholz LLC – which has been able to provide a secondary income stream.
Since the brand is still in its infancy and we’re still working through wholesale costs, my monthly income is roughly $600. For being a side business, I look at any profit as a win, but of course, the goal is to see this grow in 2019!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I got married in 2016, and if we’re being honest, the entire process was overwhelming – the wedding industry is saturated with ideas and opinions on “how” you should celebrate your big day, but I quickly realized that getting married is not a one-size-fits-all process.
Honestly, my goal was to sell just one box the first week that the website went live, but I ended up selling five!
Leading up to my wedding, my friends had a difficult time finding bridal gifts that aligned with my interests and taste. I had never really dreamed of a big fancy wedding, and I definitely viewed myself as a non-traditional bride. On the flipside, I also had a hard time finding gifts and keepsakes for my bridesmaids – we were all a little bit quirky, and a lot of the overly feminine and girly gifts in the market just weren’t for us!
At the start of 2018 I set out to make Vowed Box Co. a reality, but wanted to be sure that it was a product that brides-to-be would even be interested in. I created an Instagram account for the brand before a physical product was even a reality to gauge interest...and the response was overwhelming!
Within a few weeks I had built up a pre-launch email waitlist of 250 people and steadily built a brand presence and following on Instagram, which I took as a sign that I needed to make Vowed a reality – and fast.
I built my pre-launch email list by initially unveiling vowedboxco.com as a simple, static landing page intended to capture email addresses to add to a MailChimp email list. Upon signing up new subscribers received a thank-you message, along with an exclusive 10% off bounceback code that they could use on their first Vowed purchase once our site went live. This worked tremendously well for me as I was able to provide new subscribers with an incentive to come back once we launched, before a physical product or full website even existed!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As a serial entrepreneur, I’m always big on making every business idea legitimate from day one. That’s why I added Vowed Box Co. as a secondary DBA (doing business as) under my primary LLC as soon as I launched the idea on social media. It’s worth noting that this is something that is valid in the state of Missouri, but other states may require that you open an entirely separate LLC for each additional business that you launch.
Because finding the perfect box vessel – which ended up being a sturdy cardboard mailer box for us – was so important to the overall success of Vowed Box Co., I knew that finding a box vendor would be of utmost importance. After getting quotes from several vendors, I moved forward with Packlane as my box printer. They made the packaging design process incredibly easy, with quick printing turnaround times and reliable service for a small initial run of boxes.
Once I ordered my boxes, I quickly ran into my first hurdle: ensuring that all items I ordered for the boxes would fit within a small 9” x 6” x 3” mailer box. I had never ordered inventory wholesale (or inventory* at all*, for that matter!) prior to launching Vowed, but knew that I wanted to order quality goods from unique makers for each box.
I sourced wholesale goods with the non-traditional, fun and quirky bride in mind: I looked for greeting cards with snappy sayings on them, items that would be helpful during the wedding planning process like to-do notebooks and vow books, balloons that said “bride” and more. To date, our “I’m 99% Happy For You” engagement greeting card from Chalkscribe still gets a ton of laughs and great feedback!
Thankfully, I stumbled upon Faire in a Google search and quickly learned the ins and outs of wholesale when ordering products from their online marketplace. For anyone exploring wholesale for the first time, I cannot recommend Faire enough!
Regarding wholesale goods and costs, I aimed to keep the total cost amount for each box under $30, so that all boxes retail for $60 or less. This was a little tricky to do since each mailer box vessel itself was over $4 at the time, but with a little number crunching and adjusting minimum order amounts from my vendors, I made it work! Prior to ordering goods for my boxes, I shared a comprehensive consumer feedback survey with several business Facebook groups I’m in to get a general idea of what my target audience (millennial brides-to-be and their bridesmaids) would want to see in each box and would be willing to pay for each box. I was pleasantly surprised with the results, which gave me the confidence to price the boxes into the “premium gift” category.
Describe the process of launching the business.
With my marketing and graphic design background, I was able to build a solid brand presence for Vowed with little to no overhead – I designed the logo, website and packaging all on my own and managed the brand’s social media presence as well. With Vowed as my secondary business, I was able to finance the startup costs in full out of my business’ savings without relying on crowdfunding, opening a line of credit or outside investors.
In total, my initial launch costs were $2,000 to launch Vowed’s website, design custom packaging, order wholesale goods and fulfill a small initial run of 30 boxes.
Prior to launching I invested time into researching and reaching out to key social media influencers to help support the Vowed brand prior to launching through user-generated content and product reviews.
Several key influencers who I worked with were fashion and lifestyle bloggers who were engaged themselves, and were the perfect no-brainer choice to work with to share about Vowed across their social platforms. Several bloggers approached Vowed via Instagram direct messages and emails to express their interest in collaborating, which I kept a “wish list” spreadsheet of influencers who I would pitch from time to time via email to see if a collaboration was feasible. The majority of influencers who I worked with offered social media promotion in exchange for product, which was a huge cost savings at the start of the business. Others charged a content creation fee, which I was able to work into my launch marketing budget.
For businesses that are just starting out and may not have a huge marketing budget, influencer marketing can be a viable option to get your product into the hands of relevant consumers who will help your product reach your ideal customers from day one.
On launch day we had a product launch announcement email send to all interested customers who signed up for the waitlist and went live with organic and paid social media campaigns to help drive ecommerce sales. Honestly, my goal was to sell just one box the first week that the website went live, but I ended up selling five! This still may not seem like for some, but for someone like me who had never ventured into developing a physical product before, I was elated.
Since launching, some of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned have had to do with shipping costs and fulfilling inventory. As a creative, I love the product creation and visual marketing side of Vowed Box Co., but operations tasks like keeping shipping costs manageable and knowing how to balance inventory needs? Not so much. I’m still tweaking these areas of the business as I learn and grow, and look forward to streamlining them in the future.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
99% of Vowed Box Co.’s success is all thanks to social media, email marketing and SEO – I couldn’t have launched this brand and business without it!
As a brand that targets millennial women and brides-to-be, we know that our ideal customer is spending her time scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest on any given day.
The number one tactic that helped me quickly grow an engaged following on Instagram was by searching the location tags of popular bridal boutiques across the U.S. and engaging with brides-to-be there. For any product-based company, I would recommend making a list of 3-4 places where you think that your ideal customers would be found, and then seek out those location tags on Instagram. Begin liking, commenting and following people who have posted from those locations and build the relationship from there. I promise, it works! On Pinterest, consistently posting content is key. Prior to launching, I designed custom branded pins that included high-resolution photography and “Shop Now” or “Learn More” calls-to-action on each pin. This helped drive traffic to the site and continues to to this day.
Because of that, we spend the majority of our efforts marketing Vowed boxes on these channels. Vowed’s voice on social media also sets the brand apart from other bridal boxes on the market – we’re offbeat, quirky and not afraid to speak our minds.
With email marketing, we’re able to reach our customer on a more personal level in her inbox – and without social media algorithms coming into play. We currently aim to send at least one monthly email campaign through MailChimp to subscribers to share new product launch and sales.
MailChimp is also a powerful tool for sending product retargeting and abandoned cart notification emails to potential customers, which is a way to get them back on our site and engaged with the Vowed Box Co. brand.
Lastly, SEO has been an important means of getting Vowed on the map with potential customers who may not already be engaging with the brand on social or email.
When building and writing copy for Vowed’s website, I made a point to research popular keywords that were relevant in the gifting and bridal space to integrate within the site’s copy and headings.
You definitely don’t have to be an SEO expert to do this, too!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As of today Vowed Box Co. is profitable most months and continues to grow its brand presence online. I’m pleased with how the brand has evolved in the last year, and am spending time focusing on how I can continue to successfully grow this second business while also scaling services within my creative studio. Needless to say, I have a lot on my plate!
The current monthly costs to keep Vowed up and running are as follows:
- Monthly website hosting: $46
- Monthly email address hosting fee: $5
- Monthly shipping costs: $100 (estimate)
- Monthly wholesale costs: $150 (estimate, as inventory does not need to be reordered each month)
- Monthly box printing costs: $120 (estimate, as boxes do not need to be reordered each month)
I currently play all roles in the business: owner, operations, order fulfillment, marketing, product design and more. As the business and revenue grows, I hope to hand off these tasks to team members down the road, as I knew that I cannot sustainably manage all facets of the business and be good at them!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I believe that I’m lucky that I entered the bridal gift box market as a disruptor – if you look at the competitors, Vowed stands out as its own brand amongst many that look similar. However, running a product-based business still poses a few challenges!
Here are three big lessons that I live by:
Restock inventory before you feel like you need to
I’ve been caught in a backordered product situation more than once now, and it’s not a great feeling. Although I’m lucky that customers have understood, not everyone will be this understanding and it’s best to be fully stocked (or overstocked) on the inventory you need rather than left high and dry during a surge of sales.
Send a test mail of your product before fulfilling orders
This is an important one. Before launching Vowed Box Co., I mailed several test orders of boxes to friends and family to see what kind of condition each box would arrive in. Luckily, most were unscathed!
But for boxes like the “I’m A Chill Bride” box that contains a porcelain mug, I learned to be extra careful to bubble wrap these items before shipping to negate the risk of broken goods in gift box orders.
Set up a marketing and/or sale calendar
Successful marketing doesn’t happen on the fly; it requires a lot of planning and strategy. I would recommend using a free tool like Trello to plan out your sales and marketing efforts in advance of each month so that you can execute upon them with a clear objective in place.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
There are so many helpful tools that have been invaluable to launching and running Vowed, and most have to do with the ecommerce platform itself and social media. In case you’re interested, these are all of the tools that I use to run the business day in and day out!
- Squarespace – website and ecommerce platform
- Shipstation – shipping provide
- Faire – wholesale vendor
- Packlane – box printer
- G Suite – custom email domain
- MailChimp – email marketing provider
- Buffer – social media scheduling tool
- Planoly – Instagram feed planning tool
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’ve recently become a huge fan of podcasts since I can have those playing in the background while I work in my office. For business owners taking the product-based route in their businesses I cannot recommend the Proof to Product podcast enough – it’s a great resource full of knowledge from entrepreneurs who have launched their own successful product-based brands in the past!
Aside from podcasts, I love to wind down with a great book at the end of each day. I’m a huge fan of “You Are A Badass” by Jen Sincero, which I find myself returning to time and time again when I’m in need of a confidence boost or reality check.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
It’s the perfect time to share my favorite saying ever: “just Google it.” Vowed Box Co. was a business built from hundreds of Google searches while figuring out where and how to buy wholesale, how to determine shipping costs, how to manage inventory and more. I fully believe that we’re all so much more capable than we believe, especially when we have Google on our side!
Other than that, trying ideas, seeing if they work and tweaking them as-needed is key. After launching Vowed’s initial offering of our “Bride With A Plan” and “I’m A Chill Bride” boxes, I immediately received feedback that we needed to add a bridesmaid-focused box and/or a build-your-own box functionality on the website.
Within 6 months, both of these items were a reality and sales increased because of it. Knowing how to listen to your consumers and pivot to accommodate their needs will always help you in business. I often see business believe that they know best – rather than the consumer – and this is often their downfall. Because without consumers and sales, it’s very hard to have a sustainable business!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m not looking to hire any full-time help right now, but am also keeping an eye out for marketing assistance. I’m currently considering bringing on a marketing intern this summer!
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: http://www.vowedboxco.com
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/vowedboxco
- Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/vowedboxco
- Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/vowedboxco
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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