20 Great Subscription Box Business Ideas You Can Start In 2020

The subscription box economy is booming - there are reportedly 7,000 subscription box companies in the United States.

From wine subscriptions to coffee subscriptions, basically any traditional product or e-commerce product can be turned into a subscription model.

We went through our database of successful subscription box business stories and found a couple dozen great ideas that can inspire your own business.

Here they are:

1. Mystery games ($2M/month)

Ryan Hogan started Hunt A Killer, which sells mystery games.

  • Revenue: $2,000,000/month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 55

Our first Hunt A Killer episode was very much trial and error. We had only two writers (including our Cofounder, Derrick Smith) and a graphic designer. And we were completing the development of episodes a week before they shipped – lead time for sourcing items was extremely limited.

We created partnerships with local printers to ensure we could achieve the authenticity of the documents. For instance, our early Hunt A Killer seasons were based on a Hanibbal Lecter-style character who wrote to our Members from a medical institution. Since he was using a typewriter, we sourced and mass-produced using an antique letterpress so the letters would be slightly indented, as if each letter were individually typed.

Our item selection was at the mercy of traditional sourcing on sites like Amazon. To convey some of the settings in the story, we would send paper pill cups – and it got to the point where we were ordering 10,000 in bulk each month. There was even a time where alligator teeth were a part of the story, and they were actually sourced domestically!

how-we-created-a-2mm-month-subscription-based-mystery-games-business

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Ryan Hogan, on starting Hunt A Killer ($2,000,000 revenue/mo) full story

2. Subscriptions for cannabis accessories ($350K/month)

Michael Berk started Cannabox, which sells subscriptions for cannabis accessories.

  • Revenue: $350,000/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 3

There really wasn’t much of a “prototype” phase, as we just kind of launched that first month and hoped for the best. Our first box theme and products used were very bare minimum compared to our current boxes, but being a pioneer in this industry, people loved the idea of getting their products monthly in a fun way. That first month I went to my local smoke shop and bought the products at a retail price while making the boxes in my own garage, and we barely profited, but this was more of a market test to see if this was even feasible.

Back then we weren’t even designing our own glass and had been buying it from a local blower whom I had been friends with at the time. Our startup costs were around $1,000, including products, the domain, server time, and paying my friends for help.

Over time, our process has evolved into a full-scale multi-warehouse operation with 10-20 people packing boxes during our shipping time. The actual process of how the products are designed and curated has never changed however, it’s just what we feel would fit best according to the time of year, that particular month’s theme, new products being released in the marketplace and products we think everyone needs.

how-i-started-a-350k-month-cannabis-subscription-box

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Michael Berk, on starting Cannabox ($350,000 revenue/mo) full story

3. Seafood delivery ($300K/month)

Cameron Manesh started Cameron's Seafood, which sells seafood delivery.

  • Revenue: $300,000/month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 10

We buy our product from our retail stores, who catch the crabs every morning. Mother nature creates our product in the Chesapeake Bay.

We were lucky to leverage upon an existing 33 year old family-owned seafood business. We have 16 crabbers and a fleet of third parties as the stores go through about 75,000 bushels of crabs per year, which is probably more than all of our combined Maryland competitors. We have access to over 100 SKUs from our store but we received valuable feedback from an indirect competitor to keep our site clean and non-confusing.

Manufacturing

cameron-s-seafood-175k-per-month-selling-maryland-crabs

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Cameron Manesh, on starting Cameron's Seafood ($300,000 revenue/mo) full story

4. Craft spirits membership ($270K/month)

Mack McConnell started Taster’s Club, which sells craft spirits membership.

  • Revenue: $270,000/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 3

Because alcohol is so heavily regulated, we had no choice but to work with third party, licensed warehouse/shippers to work within certain states, which conveniently answered some key questions upfront (dropship or hold inventory?).

We began with select shippers only in select states. We were able to find them simply by figuring out who the leading e-commerce sites were working with.

Launching fast and lean was important because it allowed us to be the first to market (now there’s over 50 alcohol-related subscription services), let us define the category and gave important early lessons.

how-i-grew-my-online-booze-business-to-270k-month

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Mack McConnell, on starting Taster’s Club ($270,000 revenue/mo) full story

5. Hangover supplement ($200K/month)

Eddie Huai started Flyby, which sells hangover supplement.

  • Revenue: $200,000/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 1

Starting Flyby right out of college, I had little exposure to manufacturing, supply chain, and operations in the supplement industry, let alone running my own business. So there was definitely a little bit of a learning curve.

I started off doing due diligence on the regulatory landscape for supplements (via the FDA’s website) and came across what the FDA calls current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations. This requires that manufacturers evaluate their products through testing identity, purity, strength, and composition so consumers know exactly what they’re inside.

flyby-selling-1m-of-hangover-pills-in-10-months

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Eddie Huai, on starting Flyby ($200,000 revenue/mo) full story

6. Southern handmade small-batch gifts ($150K/month)

Samuel Davidson started Batch Nashville, LLC, which sells southern handmade small-batch gifts.

  • Revenue: $150,000/month
  • Founders: 3
  • Employees: 6

We don’t make any of our own products; we buy goods from hundreds of small business owners and makers across the southern US. But, that means we’re constantly looking out for what’s new and fantastic when it comes to what others are making.

As an entrepreneur, the beginning can be really fun and sexy. Working long hours and doing hard work is a joy because you’re bootstrapping and chasing a big dream. But, even in the early days, that time is money and your sweat equity won’t scale long term.

For our first subscription shipment, we hit the pavement, attending local fairs and festivals and meeting makers who were selling at those events. We quickly found out that the maker community is highly networked and they helped us spread the word as well, giving us a bevy of options when it came to what to put in our first subscription shipments.

how-we-validated-and-launched-a-subscription-box-company

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Samuel Davidson, on starting Batch Nashville, LLC ($150,000 revenue/mo) full story

7. Healthy meal plan delivery ($130K/month)

Andrei Calinescu started One Life Meals, which sells healthy meal plan delivery.

  • Revenue: $130,000/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 29

Before One Life, I prepared my own meal plan for many years. From an early age I started being aware of what I put in my body, and developed an appreciation for good food and the positive effect it can have on us. Eating out was never really my thing. Working with my personal training clients also gave me a lot of data on what works and what doesn’t for different individuals with different body types and personalities.

I think that the main things that kept us in the game are our stubbornness and our ability to prioritize. By stubbornness, I mean the refusal to quit. We had plenty of opportunities where it did not make sense on paper to continue, but we kept going.

I knew we had to have meal variety and different meal categories, in order to cater to a larger demographic. We created a breakfast meal category and 3 entree categories: Lifestyle meals, Athlete with carbs and Athlete low carbs. The Lifestyle meals offer move variety and flavor and are recommended for the majority of our clients. The Athlete meals are more for super dedicated and focused clients that do not require significant variety or flavor in their meals.

starting-a-1-5m-healthy-meals-delivery-business

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Andrei Calinescu, on starting One Life Meals ($130,000 revenue/mo) full story

8. Loose leaf tea ($75K/month)

Andy Hayes started Plum Deluxe Tea, which sells loose leaf tea.

  • Revenue: $75,000/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 7

With my mentor in hand, I began the process of learning about tea - and similar with having a food product, it’s all about having your recipe!

In tea, though there is so much to consider - how it looks, the cost of each ingredient (and their proportion to the overall blend), the aroma, and of course, the taste!

Tea makers have to carry hundreds of different types of ingredients to create complex tea blends, so I was lucky to have this resource when I started.

how-andy-hayes-started-a-7-figure-tea-business-online

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Andy Hayes, on starting Plum Deluxe Tea ($75,000 revenue/mo) full story

9. Fun soaps and lotions ($74K/month)

Danielle Vincent started Outlaw Soaps, which sells fun soaps and lotions.

  • Revenue: $74,000/month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 7

These days, Russ heads up all the production. We have a set and predictable development process for new products:

  1. Get the concept from our customers (like I said, they’re very smart, and we’re very democratic).
  2. In January, at our annual meeting, we go over the products that have been submitted to see if they fit with our concept (for example, bath salts aren’t going to do well with our ultra-active crowd).
  3. For the 3 - 5 products that pass muster, we make a small test batch and send to a small test group, which we get from our newsletter list.
  4. If those tests are successful, we send them in our next subscription box, which is a bi-monthly box of Outlaw Soaps products exclusive to the subscription box subscribers.
  5. People often post commentary of their new products in our Outlaw Soaps Labs Facebook Group, and we take that commentary to heart.
  6. We start the product design phase after that, where we evaluate the types of packaging that might be appropriate for the product.
  7. We enlist the designer to design the label/box for the product and go through the rounds of design and revision.
  8. Design proofs come back from the company and we give a go/no-go.
  9. After the “go” is given, we hit refresh on the tracking page about 100 times (you know what I’m talkin’ about).
  10. We send the final products to Products On White Photography for press-ready photos.
  11. I write the descriptions and take some “lifestyle” photos of the products in fun and interesting environments.
  12. We post the new white photos to the website and Amazon.
  13. We send the new products to our wholesale sales rep.

leaving-the-cubicle-to-start-a-23k-month-soap-company

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Danielle Vincent, on starting Outlaw Soaps ($74,000 revenue/mo) full story

10. Baby products subscription box ($60K/month)

Charles Carette started Bambox, which sells baby products subscription box.

  • Revenue: $60,000/month
  • Founders: 3
  • Employees: 7

In the beginning, we knew nothing about ecommerce, digital marketing and design thinking. What we had was energy and good learning capacities. we enrolled in a free entrepreneurship course from a local university and we quickly learned that the only real entrepreneur lesson: execution is everything and you learn by doing.

“Cheap is expensive”. We learned it the hard way, hiring a cheap designer to build our first landing page - it was a total failure.

So we started surveying during the day, benchmarking, learning, design, coding at night.

how-we-grew-our-baby-subscription-box-to-60k-mrr

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Charles Carette, on starting Bambox ($60,000 revenue/mo) full story

11. Malaysian vape juices ($60K/month)

Jeremy Ong started Vape Club, which sells malaysian vape juices.

  • Revenue: $60,000/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 8

Vape Club started off as product curators, so there weren’t any products to design other than our web app and our packaging attached below.

I didn’t have any working capital to buy inventory, so I employed the “sell first, worry later” concept. Not 100% ethical, but I had no choice - what better way to validate the idea other than actually selling it?

I coded the web app from the ground up using what I’ve learned from the coding bootcamp and launched the service on the 22nd of September 2019.

how-i-started-a-60k-month-online-business-from-malaysia

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Jeremy Ong, on starting Vape Club ($60,000 revenue/mo) full story

12. Coffee subscription ($26K/month)

Jon Butt started Blue Coffee Box, which sells coffee subscription.

  • Revenue: $26,000/month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 5

This was pretty much bootstrapped. Huge finance was not needed.

For the web platform, we thought we’d be spending big money to get it custom programmed but then stumbled on Cratejoy who, in the same way that Wordpress is a dedicated blogging platform, is a dedicated subscription box platform. And it’s only $39 a month. A no brainer.

They have a free subscription school site with resources, including designers and coders.

this-father-and-son-created-a-coffee-subscription-business

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Jon Butt, on starting Blue Coffee Box ($26,000 revenue/mo) full story

13. Healthy breakfast foods ($25K/month)

Ashley Drummonds started ABS Protein Pancakes, which sells healthy breakfast foods.

  • Revenue: $25,000/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 1

I started marketing ABS on social media. Every day, I would post on Instagram or Facebook telling my followers to send me a direct message if they wanted to order.

I did everything manually at first. When I received an order, I would send the customer an invoice via PayPal (I didn’t have an online store at the time) and go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients in bulk. I bought a cheap scale to measure out all of the ingredients for one serving and used mylar bags I bought on Amazon to put the mix inside. I also purchased a heat food sealer (used for tight sealing freezer bags for meats and frozen goods), so I could heat seal each bag.

Once the customer made their payment, I went to my local post office, grabbed loads of priority mailers (because these are free and flat rate shipping costs) and would print off a shipping label using Microsoft Word, then go back to the post office to mail out the orders. I did this every day, and during some busy times I was showing up to the post office with a moving box full of priority mailers for orders to go out. I became very familiar with the employees at the post office!

launching-a-healthy-protein-pancake-business

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Ashley Drummonds, on starting ABS Protein Pancakes ($25,000 revenue/mo) full story

14. Fabric and fabric subscriptions ($10K/month)

Alanna Banks started Fridays Off Fabric Shop, which sells fabric and fabric subscriptions.

  • Revenue: $10,000/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 1

I launched Fridays Off Fabric Shop in March 2013 using Shopify, just four months after I came up with the idea. I built the site myself using a free template, took all my own photography and wrote all the web content. I used my blog to announce the new direction of the website and posted the announcement all over my personal Facebook page asking friends and family to broadcast it for me.

I bootstrapped the whole operation, using whatever I had in my bank account to buy my starting inventory of about 20 bolts of fabric. It took three weeks to get my first sale (oh that felt good!) and I ended up with a total of five sales that month.

The first few months I treated Fridays Off more like a side hustle than a business because I wasn’t making any money. I remember my sales being so far a few between that we would ring the bell every time I got a sale. My first few months resulted in only 16 sales and a revenue of just over $700 (sad face). To be fair I had a major full time job in PR and was on my way out on maternity leave with a 2.5 year old in tow. I didn’t really take it too seriously, but I also desperately wanted it to succeed.

bootstrapping-an-online-fabric-shop-and-growing-to-20k-mo

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Alanna Banks, on starting Fridays Off Fabric Shop ($10,000 revenue/mo) full story

15. Cigar subscription service ($20K/month)

Michael Arciola III started Southern Cigar Co, which sells cigar subscription service.

  • Revenue: $20,000/month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 0

This was possibly the easiest part. Since we aren’t doing anything new or novel, there’s processes and companies in place to help us out.

But first, when I got to this phase I realized I wouldn’t be able to manage the day-to-day activities. Not that I couldn’t, but at the time I was a double major in computer science and business, was running my own web design firm, very active in school clubs/activities, and just got accepted to be an intern at Viacom/MTV at their headquarters in NYC.

Due to my overwhelming schedule, I knew bringing on help would be my best help in bringing this vision to life. I ended up asking my roommate and good friend at the time to manage the day to day operations as I knew I could trust him with that.

how-i-started-a-20k-mo-cigar-subscription-business-as-a-college-student

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Michael Arciola III, on starting Southern Cigar Co ($20,000 revenue/mo) full story

16. Gourmet food box ($10K/month)

Nicholas Figoli started EatTiamo, which sells gourmet food box.

  • Revenue: $10,000/month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 5

The first thing we had to do so was to create our first box was to establish a first network of trusted producers.

We started visiting different small and medium artisanal producers across Italy: we are purveyors of fine and artisanal foods and put as much passion into promoting our Food Basket Delivery as our producers put into creating them. Ever since we launched our Food Box Delivery, we have chosen to work with farmers who work respecting animals, the land and its ancient traditions: we bring to the United States only the best of the best of the Italian creations.

how-two-italians-started-a-subscription-food-box-business

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Nicholas Figoli, on starting EatTiamo ($10,000 revenue/mo) full story

17. Tiny books ($10K/month)

David Dewane started Mouse Book Club, which sells tiny books.

  • Revenue: $10,000/month
  • Founders: 4
  • Employees: 0

Within an hour of coming up with the idea, I had got off the bus, ran to my office, and made a prototype. I showed it to the guy sitting next to me and he loved it. I immediately knew it was going to be a company and that morning I made a couple of calls to key people in my network I knew I wanted as co-founders.

This all happened around Thanksgiving and I decided to test the idea by making a hundred copies of Herman Melville’s Bartleby and sent them around to people for Christmas without telling them I made them. The feedback was genuinely positive. The following spring we built a Kickstarter campaign and got our first 1,000 customers and $50,000.

Mouse Books are not complex objects to make. Like most books today, they are laid out in Adobe InDesign. One of my co-founders was a graphic designer and we’d collaborated on a book publishing project in the past, so we knew the basic conventions of laying out a book. Still, there was a ton of trial and error as we experimented with type size, paper weight, paper color, cover design, etc. We use staples to bind, which is crucial because it limits the page count and keeps the spine flexible. Anyone can make a Mouse Book if they have a laptop, printer, and stapler.

how-we-launched-a-book-subscription-service-and-sold-40k-books

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David Dewane, on starting Mouse Book Club ($10,000 revenue/mo) full story

18. Hot sauce ($6.5K/month)

Theo Lee started KPOP Foods, which sells hot sauce.

  • Revenue: $6,500/month
  • Founders: 2
  • Employees: 5

Getting the ingredients right

The reason we started with KPOP Sauce was because one of the key ingredients, gochujang (Korean chili paste), is a staple ingredient in Korean cuisine.

Additionally, my grandma used to send me bottles of her gochujang sauce and my friends absolutely loved it, putting it on their eggs, grilled chicken, burgers, hot dogs, noodles, rice, and more.

how-two-students-made-100k-bringing-korean-hot-sauce-to-america

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Theo Lee, on starting KPOP Foods ($6,500 revenue/mo) full story

19. Candy surprise boxes ($6.5K/month)

Bemmu Sepponen started Candy Japan, which sells candy surprise boxes.

  • Revenue: $6,500/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 0

When I started in 2011, the term “subscription box” was not in popular use, and it wasn’t even clear that people would want to subscribe to anything besides BirchBox makeup samples.

So before spending too much time on the project, I wanted to make sure I could actually find paying subscribers. I did this by emailing past customers of the online store I had been running before during my exchange study, asking them if they would be interested in random Japanese candy. Three people agreed to subscribe, and I started shipping candy to them even before putting up a website.

starting-a-japanese-candy-subscription-service

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Bemmu Sepponen, on starting Candy Japan ($6,500 revenue/mo) full story

20. Gourmet kettle corn ($4.5K/month)

Katie Young started Klondike Kettle Corn, which sells gourmet kettle corn.

  • Revenue: $4,500/month
  • Founders: 1
  • Employees: 1

The first product I sold at our local grocery store was our original Sweet and Salty Kettle Corn. This is the same product I was making at the farmer’s market and I simply added a label to the packaging and started stocking shelves. It was a recognizable product to my customers and I think the familiarity of the product helped sell it outside of the market setting.

We have a shop on our property and I had the kettle up in there for production during our first year of supplying the grocery store. Kettle Corn is a product made to be sold at markets, and everything is done outside under your market tent in a large kettle heated with a propane burner. Having the kettle set up in the shop worked fine when the doors were open to allow venting. Buy as soon as it started to get cold (North of 60 cold!) and I couldn’t leave the shop door open, I realized this set up wasn’t going to work year round.

My husband and I brainstormed how we could solve this problem, and we eventually agreed that a lean-to could be built off the back of the shop. This could be a permanent market tent where I could back up and store the popcorn trailer and make kettle corn under shelter. My husband built an extra wide door into the shop so that I could roll my sorting bin in and out. I could still package popcorn in the warmth of the shop where my packaging equipment would work.

how-i-launched-a-gourmet-popcorn-brand-from-the-yukon

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Katie Young, on starting Klondike Kettle Corn ($4,500 revenue/mo) full story
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Starter Story,   Founder of Starter Story

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