6 Powerful Resources for Subscription Box Procurement

Here are 6 tools and tips that will streamline your subscription box procurement and help you curate amazing experiences every month.

Subscription Box Procurement

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Subscription box procurement is the process of sourcing, purchasing, and shipping and fulfilling products that are featured by your subscription service. For subscription businesses that offer a curated product experience (vs. a white labeled or self-made products), this single operation can have one of the greatest effects on customer experience, retention and growth.

The bottom line: the result of your procurement is the product that hits the doorstep of your customers. It’s the basis of how subscribers judge the value of their subscription.

Depending on your subscription business, you may have slightly different offerings to customers. Perhaps you provide a unique discovery experience through samples, or maybe you offer the most luxurious beauty-care experience with full-size products delivered quarterly. In either case, building out a well thought-out sales funnel, or company buying journey, is the best way to streamline your sourcing process, whether that involves buying products or dispersing product samples for companies.

Here are 6 resources that help make procurement simple(r):

1. An Appropriate CRM

If this is your first month procuring for your subscription box, invest in a good CRM. Just do it.

CRM stands for ‘Customer Relationship Management,’ and you can think of them as an electronic rolodex on steroids. The reality of procurement for a subscription is this: you’re likely including a handful of products each month, and over time, you’ll be contacting dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of merchants to be featured. Month by month, your contact list is going to grow like crazy. A CRM makes managing contacts easy.

There are a number of CRMs to choose from, and we suggest finding the CRM that’s right for you. Generally, Salesforce is considered the top CRM – and it’s with good reason. Salesforce has tons of features that you can leverage, and pricing starts out pretty competitively if you’re using just the basic plan with 1-2 people needing access.

Currently, I employ Solve360‘s CRM. The drawbacks are there – it’s not as device compatible and is better for freelancing or small businesses, than for medium or large size business. But, for the purposes of procurement for a small subscription business, I find that managing contacts by way of using category tags and scheduled emails is a mostly simple, fast process.

2. Evernote for Procurement and Note Taking Support

Sometimes the best products for your box are discovered in the aisle-ways of your grocery store or at a local farmers market. At first, the solution seemed simple – I’d just whip out my phone, snap a photo, and plan to come back to the photo later, to create a new contact in my CRM. This eventually led to hundreds of photos cluttering my phone, and ultimately, a disorganized, hard to sort directory of products.

As a second problem, I often found myself finding cool items online and stumbling across great ideas for themes, but not having a really spectacular way of saving them or (more importantly) including my actual thoughts on what I found. I just hoped I’d return to my bookmark and the same idea would hit me.

Evernote is an awesome solution to both of these problems, and when you organize Evernote efficiently, you leverage your ad hoc procurement/ideation process much more effectively. On it’s face, Evernote is simply a note-taking and archiving utility, but for the curator of a subscription, you can use it to super-power parts of your product and theme searches. Here are some ways to use Evernote like a pro:

  • Web Clipper Extension: Let’s say you’re brainstorming a theme for some distant month, and you’re just poking around online – casual surfing with procurement on your mind. Rather than just bookmarking the pages with interesting items, The Web Clipper Extension allows you to save them with notes in a particular folder. Plus, because this extension integrates with Google, the next time you’re surfing for ideas, you can actually see your notes on the right side of your search from Evernote.
  • Tagging: Tagging, just like in your CRM, can be a powerful resource in Evernote. You can immediately pull up all notes, pictures, and searches with the same tag and take a peek at them. You might be thinking, “Wouldn’t I just use my CRM for something like this?” But the answer is no – not really. Evernote allows you to exhaustively add more subjective information into a database. Passing thoughts, ideas for box presentation, and so on, all can be accessed rather than just contacts for products. If you use the same or similar tags in your CRM, you can then pull up this information side by side and take a look at 1) real search information and your ideas and 2) real product manufacturers and their information. This can help to make sure that you’re not forgetting anything and you’re making the most of every second you think about procurement.
  • A Whole Bunch of Other Features: Evernote also has a ton of other awesome features you might find useful, like a business card search using their optical character recognition, a receipt/login information storage, the ability to invite people to work on the same notebook, and a mobile scanner app for all those PDFs that build up in your meetings with your team.

Here’s an example:

Evernote Notebook Example

3. Procurement Checklist

Once you’ve got a CRM chosen and you’re recording your searches and ideas efficiently, it’s suggested you build out a few docs that help with the procurement process. The first of these is a Procurement Checklist.

The procurement checklist is a basic series of steps that needs to be hit on the journey of purchasing products from a vendor. For me, to reduce repeating steps, this checklist begins after I’ve entered the business into my CRM. I then use Trello to move Cards (businesses/products) through the checklist.

Here are the steps:

  1. Fits with Monthly Theme
  2. Send Business Invitation (explained below)
  3. Confirm Order # Total
  4. Finalize Price Negotiation
  5. Send PO/Contract, Resources + Shipping Information
  6. Products Shipped/Arrived
  7. Payment Sent
  8. Marketing Follow Up

Here’s an example board I built in Trello. Rather than continuously updating vendors in my CRM, I find that its easier to create a single board that I type basic notes into. As I work from left to right, the number of cards is greatly reduced. Eventually, I end up with 6 to 8 cards in the final list, which lets me know I’ve got all my products and it’s time to submit payments and begin my monthly marketing efforts associated with the subscription business. I definitely suggest checking out some of the simple ways you can customize this and begin to use Trello like an expert.
Trello Board

4. Business Invitation

As you notice from the lists in Trello, there are a number of other resources you can use in the procurement process. One of the most powerful is the business invitation.

The business invitation is a short, yet compelling, document that explains what your business does, it’s mission, and your value proposition to vendors. This is your internal marketing material provided to your brand partners. It does the legwork of explaining why they want to be in your box. It should be well-designed, easy to read, and short enough to keep the reader’s attention.

In your business invitation, you should have at least the following few sections.

  • What is your business?
  • Do you buy products or are you asking for them for free?
  • Depending on the above, what are the main benefits for vendors?
  • Customer Demographics – Pull from Facebook Insights and explain your target market
  • The Services You Provide to Vendors (inclusion in the box, on the packing list, other offerings)
  • Past Vendor Partners
  • Your Unique Qualifications/Your Teams Qualifications
  • Final Call to Action and Contact Information

You can customize this as needed, but mainly, try to compress this information into a few short, graphically styled pages. Less is more.

5. Billing and Shipping Information PDF

Usually, this is bundled with the next item in our list, and it comes after you’ve completed negotiating with your vendors regarding the products you’ve procured. It’s not always necessary, but it’s nice to have on hand to eliminate confusion and make sure that shipping information is understood (this is especially important if you outsource your fulfillment).

This PDF is used to quickly cover payment options and where your vendors should direct shipments to (like your fulfillment partner or warehouse). This isn’t the same thing as your purchase order – it’s the precursor to finalizing your contact and can be passed off before products have been shipped. Usually, you can disperse this before an invoice is provided from the vendor, and again, this mainly helps reduce confusion with where shipments should go.

6. Purchase Order

Having a Purchase Order that outlines the product, price, delivery date, and deliverables on your end can be helpful for both parties. Like your shipping PDF, this adds clarity to the transaction and helps ensure that everyone can be held accountable for their part. This is a simple document that can help you keep track of all your purchasing/procurement efforts each month. Some essential parts of the Purchase Order include:

  • Merchant Information: Both yours and your vendors
  • Specific Product information, quantity, price
  • Shipping method, carrier, delivery date
  • Specific instructions, like where to send invoices
  • Signature line

And that’s it! Consider spending a bit of time designing it to match your branding, but otherwise, the Purchase Order is more like a ‘white bread’ type of resource – it real point is to guarantee that your product is set, its price is agreed upon, and you’ll receive it by the time you need to ship.

For more on procurement, check out the Product Development section at Subscription School.

…and don’t forget about boxes! Check out the great options from Cratejoy!

Cratejoy includes all the tools you need run a subscription box business: secure checkout, shipping tools, analytics, marketing, and listings optimized to bring you sales.

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About Jesse Richardson

Jesse Richardson is an author, educator and co-founder of several successful subscription businesses. He focuses on building engaging communities and has been described as "insanely customer centric." Find him in the Subscription School group or at his blog.

20 Responses

  1. Joss

    Hi Jesse – really great article and as always, a super useful reference list for those of us going through the procurement process for the first time – big thumbs up!

    One question – do you have an example of the ‘shipping PDF’ you mentioned and more specifically, do you have any example of this when confirming free samples orders from suppliers?

  2. Suzy

    Thank you Jesse for all of the great information you provide! One quick questions – what is the difference between the ‘Business Invitation’ and the ‘Sales Deck’ referenced in some of your other posts?

  3. Rebecca // 208 Candle Co.

    Hello Jesse!
    This is an excellent article for those on the searching and procurement side…
    What advice do you have for those of us Makers that are eager to have our quality products included in crates?
    Currently, I am reaching out individually to subscriptions that I believe would be a good fit for my products. I hand craft a variety of pure soy, customized travel candles and wine bottle candles – for geeks, literature lovers, health nuts, manly men…etc.
    Is there a Master Listing you might be aware of, that allows ‘Them’ (the procurers) to find ‘Us’ (the makers and manufacturers)?
    I appreciate your time.

  4. Desiree

    Hi Jesse, I just read your post. I too am an entrepeneur wishing to partner with a subscription box company in order to expand our business base. Would I be correct in assuming that most of these types of subscription companies require FREE products from the vendors that partner with them? I would definitely appreciate your help in directing me to posts and or advise in this domain. Thanks, Desiree :>

  5. Jay Kay dee

    Hi Jesse,

    I am looking for software that can help streamline my process each month. I was wondering if you have any suggestions on software that can allow me to see what is due to ship each month and that has all my customers style quiz preferences inputted automatically

  6. Beatrice

    Hello Jesse, thank you for all the wonderful info you have amassed and are sharing with us newbies… I’m in the prelaunch phase and I am a bit confused by the vast variety of online tools, apps and services that are all supposed to help – I just find find navigating the options difficult.
    So – I was looking for ideas on how to manage the growing list of vendors – and I looked at SalesForce but after a brief look see it seems to me they are focused on helping you connect with clients and running an email program to communicate with them rather than a way for me to organize and keep track of suppliers.
    I love Evernote and that’s a given – just not sure how that will integrate with a supplier focused CRM.

    Also – do you use Trello because you need to have a visual way for a whole team to keep track of ongoing projects? at this point there’s just me:-) Do you think Trello would still be valuable?

    Then there’s the selling platform, Carthook, Mailchimp, a launching page, all the social media pages plus apps to help you run them more efficiently – HOW does one keep it all organized and integrated??

    Thank you

    1. Felicity Fromholz

      Beatrice,

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying Jesse’s articles! – and I totally understand how overwhelming it can all be!

      With regard to keeping track of your vendors, when I was with Beauty Box 5 & Lilee, I just used the “Contact” feature in my gmail. You can create groups by product type and add searchable notes. It worked just fine for 1000+ vendors and was FREE!!

      I’m also a big fan of Asana for project management. It’s super easy to use and you can add in teams, upload images, etc. It was great for our team of 6 and I’m sure it could easily handle more. It’s also not very expensive.

      When it comes down to selling platforms, that’s a mixed bag and really relative to your business and how you run it. Email marketing and Facebook ads seem to be the most successful avenues for our top sellers here at Cratejoy.

      I know it can all be hard to keep track of and I’m here to help!

      Best,

      Felicity

  7. Abby

    How do you give value to a company in exchange for free products? I know marketing and general exposure are on the list, but is that enough to establish a partnership?

    1. Felicity Fromholz

      Hey Abby,

      Unless you’ve got some serious influencer relationships and a ton of social engagement, it’s rather hard to get free product from vendors – even Birchbox and Ipsy pay for their samples. I’d recommend putting together a budget for this sort of thing vs. hoping for freebees.

      Best,

      Felicity

  8. Elizabeth

    How would you recommend engaging with a digital download company for their products. It is my vision to have part of my monthly box include a digital download code to different designers. The designers would definitely benefit because I will be giving them a large chunk of guaranteed sales, but they will have to do the work to create me whatever number individual digital download codes that we need that month.

    1. Felicity Fromholz

      Elizabeth,

      I’d recommend reaching out the same way you would with a traditional vendor – the pricing structure here might get tricky though. I’d recommend buying their assets outright with the understanding that you will be sharing them privately with your subscribers. We do have few sellers who offer digital downloads like these and it’s been successful for them.

      Please let me know if you have more questions.

      Best,

      Felicity

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