The Broccoli Report
Friday, November 20, 2020
Time to read: 7 minutes, 9 seconds. 1431 words.
Where Are The Weed Subscription Boxes?
We’re missing out, monthly.
In 2018, the subscription box industry hit $10 billion in annual sales. Despite the success of established companies like the beauty-oriented BirchBox, dog owners’ Barkbox, and wine-lovers’ Winc, market analysts predicted the saturated space would peak and consolidate in the coming years. Then a global pandemic happened. Receiving a monthly box full of tempting treats, contact-free via mail, suddenly meant a great deal more to consumers, providing a safe way to satisfy that itch for a sense of discovery as we entertain ourselves at home. For the businesses behind these boxes, automatic recurring payments meant a steady income while physical retailers went into the red during shutdowns.
It’s a profitable, popular model with the versatility to fill the needs of every kind of niche community. So, where are the weed boxes? Even The Strategist couldn’t find a cannabis or hemp-related addition for this season’s subscription box gift guide. While there have been a few (and we’ll get into those below), we see a big opportunity for brands to come in and cater to the niche lifestyle interests of the casual cannabis consumer.
First, let’s look at the THC- and CBD-specific boxes.
When it comes to adult-use markets and THC-based cannabis products, it makes sense the subscription trend hasn’t become more of a thing. Age verification requirements, delivery restrictions, and the inability to mail product limit the market for boxes containing THC. These challenges haven’t stopped local boxes like Lucky Box Club and Monthleaf in the Sacramento, East Bay, and West Los Angeles areas, Nugg Club in LA and Orange County, and Green Box in Portland, Oregon. Green Box provides delivery service of individual items and customized orders of any kind to support their curated monthly box business, but any THC-touching monthly box business must adhere to complicated regional laws regarding cannabis distribution and delivery, including ID verification on-site, making contact-less delivery impossible. Simply put: the barriers to entry are high.
CBD is a different story. Hemp boxes do exist—Budzy and Hemp Crates on CrateJoy have monthly subscription box options. Brands like Rosebud offer subscriptions, but only for their own product. But at the end of the day, people probably don’t need eight different CBD products every month—it’s a bit much, even for a daily CBD user. And while CBD is bought and sold like crazy online, merchants still have to deal with the drama of losing payment processors and opting for the high-risk options that take a bigger cut per transaction. Another challenge for the super-frequent CBD boxes is the cost of acquiring products from the brands you love: that shit is not cheap, even at wholesale pricing. Subscription boxes require a lot of pricing gymnastics; many consumers sign up for monthly box services because the format allows them to get a collection of products that intrigue them at a discount. Throw in one $100 CBD face oil, and suddenly that monthly box is a major investment for everyone involved.
So, here’s where we’re at: THC-themed boxes come with intense regulatory challenges. CBD-themed boxes come with their own barriers, but they offer too much of one thing. In my opinion, the key ingredient missing from the options out there is that lifestyle element—the inclusion of products that suit the day-to-day life of someone who enjoys cannabis. In the pages of Broccoli magazine, you’ll find a similar approach. Yes, every issue has several stories directly related to cannabis. But, you’ll also find music recommendations, profiles on fascinating artists, fantasy-based stories to pique your imagination, sensory discussions, and visual delights of all kinds. Cannabis consumers are not one-note people; they have diverse, rich interests, and belong to tons of different communities. As a cat mom who likes to smoke weed and paint her nails, there is absolutely not a subscription box that speaks to me—yet. Brands need to become more familiar with their audience’s worlds beyond weed and offer subscription services that reflect their individuality.
If your entrepreneurial wheels are starting to turn, read on: In this segment of the newsletter—a partnership between Allume and The Broccoli Report—Camille Chacra (Allume’s founder) shares the history of the Chill Box, a subscription of accouterments for a weed-friendly lifestyle. People loved it. But Allume has since shifted gears, and while the Chill Box is no more, it was a key step towards their new chapter. Chacra talks about her experience with the subscription box model and where Allume is headed now:
“It’s funny... I was actually never a fan of subscription boxes! The idea came to me at a social gathering about four years ago. Someone asked me to pass over their shoe box (classic), which contained all their weed accessories, beautifully laid out and organized. Of course, I was high, and had a sudden realization: there were no thoughtfully curated boxes catered to womxn like myself. I knew I could set myself apart by creating an experience in a box to capture the overall “cannabis lifestyle;” the goal was to elevate your rituals, versus just offering basic paraphernalia.
At first, customers were able to opt for a single box (one-time purchase, no subscription), a three-month plan, a six-month plan, and they could buy the items individually. I did that for the first few months before my payment processing system was shut down by Shopify (because my company is "cannabis-related"—an all-too-familiar issue for e-commerce these days). As a result, I couldn't use the subscription service app I needed to function, because the new weed-friendly payment processor I had to use wasn't compatible. I had to find a solution, so I created my own custom calendar to keep track of the subscriptions manually.
As the Chill Box’s popularity grew, the monthly model became too much to keep up with—I’m a one-woman show. When you run a company and finance it solo, it’s often better to ease into things; offering monthly boxes right off the bat was too costly, and extremely time-consuming since I needed to choose the products, create a marketing plan, etc. Switching to a seasonal model with fewer yearly releases was a great move; it gave me more time for all the thoughtful details involved, and ended up being even more successful than the initial model.
Sourcing was by far the best process; an unexpected way to make lasting, genuine connections with creators across the cannabis space. Curating the items also allowed me to learn more about what’s on the market. By trying hundreds of different products, I developed a very strong sense of what works and what doesn’t, and the themed boxes allowed me to decipher customer trends and interests.
Now, I’m moving towards my own product line. I’m super excited; it’s been a long time coming. When I first launched Allume, I created a lighter sleeve and an enamel pin, which did really well. But I always knew I wanted to design a robust collection at some point. In January, I launched a reversible robe and my Warm Hug candle to test the waters: both were a hit, and motivated me to continue developing the new line. I was ready to move on from the box. We all need to evolve and grow!
Now, the collection is almost ready… consider this an exclusive peek at what’s to come: a tarot deck, stash handbag, joint carrier and some wacky rolling papers you haven’t yet seen on the market!
Although I eventually chose to phase out the Chill Box, it contributed to Allume’s development and built an engaged community that I’m so grateful for. It took me a while to get here and really establish where I belong in the saturated ancillary market, but let me tell you, it was worth it! I did everything on my own, from financing to designing and beyond. It was an educational and spiritual awakening of sorts, and releasing my own collection is incredibly fulfilling.”
Allume’s trajectory is not uncommon. Subscription boxes are a great business model, especially if you can source products in a cost-effective way. But they’re maybe even better as a stepping stone, creating a dynamic for companies to get to know their audience and their audience’s needs on a much deeper level, as well as a way to build relationships as you feel out your niche in this industry. And there are so many niches still waiting for their ideal monthly weed adventure to be delivered. Very much looking forward to ordering my first cat mom/nail gal CBD lifestyle box.
See you Monday,