Black-Owned Subscription Box Service Aims to Support Their Community

For a business to be successful, you just have to find your niche.

So that’s exactly what Denise Gilmore-McPherson and Kala Garner did.

Friends since they were sorority sisters at San Diego State University, this dynamic duo began talking about their subscription model –v – back in 2016.

“What we produce on a quarterly basis is a curated self-care kit,” Gilmore-McPherson said. “Each box has a book in it, and we run a book club over the course of 3 months with each season.”

And it’s not just a box. What you receive with the subscription is a true community – primarily geared toward Black women.

“We’re super passionate about this,” Garner said. “Not only do we deliver this literal box at the doorstep of our subscribers, but we’ve actually curated programming around them.”

Each BetternessBox includes a book. And every 3rd Sunday of the month, the women host a book club.

“We do a sister circle, which is like a therapy group session,” Garner said, noting that it’s even led by a licensed therapist. “And it’s very revolutionary. When you think about Black women and women of color in general, we just don’t have safe spaces to talk through stuff sometimes. And so to be able to create that, I usually cry at the end of every sister circle, on camera, because it’s just so surreal to hear the women talk about how safe of a space they’re in.

Each box also revolves around a theme and a season.

“Just an example of some of those themes that we’ve introduced: Right now, we’re in the ‘Let Us Transcend’ season, and what that is is transcending into a place where you are honoring your feminine energy and regaining the power in that energy,” Gilmore-McPherson said. “We’ve also done a ‘Let Us Breathe’ season, where we were introducing concepts around yoga, meditation and breathing.”

Inside the BetternessBox Subscription Box

The boxes have included items like:

●      Mini magazines

●      Books

●      Candles

●      Tea

●      Planners

●      Workout equipment

●      Affirmation cards

“It’s one of those things where it’s a passion, but also one of those things where we really are looking to get the word out about this product, this service, this community,” Garner said. “We want to get to the right people, so they can also partake in this amazing thing that we’ve never seen before. I think we’re the only ones doing it. And if we’re not, we’re doing it way better than anybody.”

Gilmore-McPherson believes in the “intangible value” they’re bringing to their audience, and Garner agrees.

“We’re definitely focused on Black women and the things that are particular to our demographic,” Garner said. “It’s for professional women, who are really just grinding every day, taking care of their families. And it’s for single women, who are working on their careers and just don’t have the time or haven’t made the time or don’t have the time to prioritize their self-care. That’s our target audience – that’s who we speak to.”

“We hear that each BetternessBox gets better and better,” Gilmore-McPherson said. “They have that anticipation. … Once they subscribe and click that button, they’ve at least solidified a self-care program. Even if you think of it as a gift to myself, it’s going to show up on my doorstep every three months.”

“We like to say, ‘We’re helping you take yourself off the back burner’,” Garner said. “We say, ‘What would it look like to put you first?’ I think that’s the key to saying ‘I don’t want to forget about me’ – especially as Black mothers or Black professionals, it’s so easy to allow that to happen.”

It’s why they put so much thought into the theme of each package.

“We will determine what the theme is going to be based off seasonal trends and the mindset and lifestyle that is happening at that point,” Gilmore-McPherson said. “It’s very interesting, because sometimes we’ll curate a box, and we’ll keep hearing people talking about it. We’re really curating to lived experience.”

And it’s not just the theme of the BetternessBox that matters, but each item that goes in the box, as well.

“Once we determine what the theme is, we start trying to find vendors that are also small businesses: women owned, black owned, POC owned, veteran owned,” Gilmore-McPherson said. “This is so we can support them with wholesale bulk orders and furthering the economic development that we’re able to have among small businesses. We look at that as part of the betterness: introducing our audience and our community to these businesses that they can be supporting with their dollar.”

The BetternessBox and BoxUp Relationship

Garner and Gilmore-McPherson have been with BoxUp since they launched BetternessBox.

“I don’t remember ordering a sample from any other company, but we did order a sample from BoxUp,” Garner said. “Then we got our sample: ‘This is so exciting! It looks good!’ It’s really sturdy, because we knew it needed to be a mailer box, where we could stick a sticker on it, close it up and it could stand against delivery.”

The pair chose a generic box to prove concept. The original box was 9x4x4, a little smaller than what they use today. And there were some challenges getting things in the box.

But they learned from there. They logged in, designed a custom box and tweaked it – all with the BoxUp 3D design tool.

“It’s super easy,” Garner said. “I’ve never designed a box. And it looks crazy when the box is flat. But then when it gives you that 3D view, I was so excited. We’re able to use our colors, we can use our logo. It’s so easy.”

The process has continued to be just as simple for the team since then.

“To reorder takes about 5 minutes,” Garner said. “I literally go to the website, make sure I look for a discount code, enter and click.”

They’ve learned what box style and size they really need – 9x4x6 – for each season’s items, as well as how to pack them.

“We’ll start by packing books or flat things on the bottom,” Garner said. “And we’ll place everything else on top. We’ve sent (deflated) medicine balls, jump ropes, resistance bands, ankle weights – we’ve sent some crazy things.”

Knowing what they are going to get with each custom box order has made it easy for them to stick with BoxUp for their packaging solution.

“The quality has not changed at all,” Garner said. “From the first box to those we’re getting 3 years later, it has been consistent. That’s huge – especially for companies going through a pandemic – because we’re trying to create this experience for these people and if they get different box qualities, that’s going to hurt our brand.”

What They’ve Learned About Packaging

Gilmore-McPherson and Garner have learned a few things along the way.

“Have systems in place,” Gilmore-McPherson said. “Learn about the systems you’re going to need for things like fulfillment or vendor procurement. Sometimes you do things, and you realize you don’t have a system in place.

“But you are going to make mistakes,” she said. “It can be a learning opportunity in your business – learning how to pivot.”

Garner said it’s crucial to understand the cost of everything.

“Price everything out,” she said. “Really do the hard work of saying how much does one piece of tissue paper cost? How many am I going to need? What is going to be the estimated cost of shipping? Those layered costs add up.”

She suggests actually creating a box, and then pricing everything out that will go in the box based on how many you think you can buy: Because if you only buy 100, your cost is going to be different than if you buy 1,000.

And one more lesson? Find the right partner.

“Be careful who you partner with,” Garner said. “There’s genuine love, and we work through issues.”

“We have similarities and differences,” Gilmore-McPherson said. “We can hold each other accountable. … You need to lead with grace.”

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