Jenny Sleath, founder of Lifebox, reveals the wisdom she has gained along her journey in creating healthy subscription boxes, the challenges and advantages of this business model, and her key strategy for marketing her business online.
Can you introduce us to Lifebox – who are you, when did you launch, what makes you special and how do you choose the products that go into your boxes?
Lifebox began when I was being forced to rest and recuperate after back surgery in 2014. I finally found myself with the time I had been craving during my usual hectic daily life to assimilate my never-ending thoughts and ideas and put them into action. I had been on a long personal journey with food, fitness and health, and had finally discovered my “happy” place – where it was not about constant deprivation and calorie counting, but instead simply the quality and nutritional value of the food that I was consuming. I saw and felt how my body had changed from the foods I was eating and the time I was putting in at the gym, and was desperate to share this with others in an exciting and innovative way.
With Lifebox, I wanted to provide a convenient and affordable way for people to experience, and most importantly of all, enjoy, a constant variety of nourishing whole foods to facilitate their own discovery to finding what works for their own body and enabling them to feel at their best. I have been heavily inspired along the way by a lot of literature and people already prominent in the food industry, such as Natasha Corrett from Honestly Healthy and Ella Woodward from Deliciously Ella, as well as more recently Sarah Britton of My New Roots, and Calgary Avansino. They have done fabulous things to get the message across regarding the importance of the food we consume and how to make it ridiculously tasty and exciting for people. The wellness revolution can only continue getting bigger and bigger (and hopefully with Lifebox helping out along the way!)
As a young company and running it by myself for the first year, I can safely say that the subscription model is not an easy one to implement and sustain (for a one-man team anyway!).
As for choosing our featured products? We’ve done lots of taste-testing and painstaking research (My favourite part!). Our Lifebox crew are constantly scouring the health food world to analyse and select only the highest quality products to go in our boxes to ensure our clients receive the most nourishing and supreme health foods. We only source products from health food brands (big and small) that share our obsession to provide you with wholesome, natural and real food products. These “chosen ones” must adhere to two or more of our specific Lifebox rules. These are to be either: UK-based, refined sugar free, organic, GMO-free, raw, vegan, sustainable, fairtrade, gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, no preservatives or additives. We try and support small and emerging companies like ourselves, some of whom find us, and others whom we find ourselves through recommendations or our own research.
What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of the subscription box business model?
For the customer, it’s all about time and convenience… something you need and want just turning up on your doorstep without having to keep placing an order. We have products in our boxes that you can’t necessarily get easily elsewhere and the boxes are different every time with an element of personalisation and intricate curation; we have a range of lifestyle wellness boxes rather than just a generic “one size fits all”.
From a business perspective, it is a good way to predict volume and demand in advance and purchase the right amount of product and reduce waste. It can potentially look good to investors too as there is an element of predictable cash flow. As a young company and running it by myself for the first year, I can safely say that the subscription model is not an easy one to implement and sustain (for a one-man team anyway!).
Another advantage as a young company is the guaranteed income that pay-monthly subscriptions bring into the business, however, this again also brings with it challenges; an incentive has to be that our clients can cancel at anytime, which is also a constant worry.
Advantages to it are definitely the loyalty and relationships that we are able to form with our customers, although this can also be a disadvantage as it is difficult to monitor and assess the ebb and flow of custom and how best to retain your loyal following. Another advantage as a young company is the guaranteed income that pay-monthly subscriptions bring into the business, however, this again also brings with it challenges; an incentive has to be that our clients can cancel at anytime, which is also a constant worry.
Also, some people prefer to be in control and discover and buy their own things; a subscription business, I suppose, tries to take some of that control away… I also worry sometimes that it produces greater waste ultimately, as sending something to someone every month means there are guaranteed to be times when it is neither wanted or needed by the recipient… it can be difficult to cater for everyone, despite how much we want to!
What have been your greatest challenges along the way and how have you overcome them?
There have been so many – but that is the territory of trying to grow something yourself from scratch! Time management, lack of sleep, constant emails and not enough pairs of hands are all elements that have tried me daily since launching Lifebox.
One of my greatest tools has been the use of the online Passion Planner sheet, which sections out your day into 30-minute time slots from 6am-10.30pm, enabling me to really plan out my working day and fit in personal time too! (I recommend this to anyone with time management issues!). An online business is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that is a huge challenge that I did not necessarily plan for sufficiently when planning the business set-up.
Orders, emails and issues can fly in anytime of the day and it has taken me a very long time to be able to switch off and realise that it can be dealt with (and often a lot more efficiently!) in the morning. Social media and the rise of being contactable 24/7 on your smartphone do not help this at all – however, it is about self-discipline. Leaving your phone at home when you go out for a social occasion or even just switching notifications off or putting on the “do not disturb” setting can do the world of good for your sanity!
Health and superfood subscription boxes are becoming a rapidly growing part of the industry. How do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd?
This is obviously a constant battle and something we are always looking at. However, I have found it best to try not to worry what the competition is doing and focus on making what you are doing as incredible as possible. Making our deliveries personal is one thing that is incredibly important to me and something that I endeavour to ensure is sustained each day with Lifebox – I think this sets us apart quite dramatically.
Time management, lack of sleep, constant emails and not enough pairs of hands are all elements that have tried me daily since launching Lifebox.
Interacting with our clients on social media and sending a personal reply to emails also helps us to be the best that we can be and ensures that our customers feel valued and that they come back for more Lifebox goodness. The quality of the products and our “Lifebox Rules” also set us apart as we guarantee that everything inside your box will meet a certain standard… this is essential for followers of the wellness revolution who are becoming more informed and expectant of certain essentials from the products they buy.
What marketing and publicity tactics have you employed, how effective have they been, and how have you continued to build on these?
As a young business with very little initial investment, I used social media to really try and develop an authentic and personal brand – this has been the essence of my marketing strategy from day one and especially with Instagram, I have found it incredibly useful and it has become an enjoyable task for me. I still do all the social media side myself and revel in taking the photographs and deciding how to promote our new product ranges, collaborations and subscription offerings.