The ideas presented in this series purposefully contain no social share buttons. I won’t share these ideas outside of this email list and recommend you don’t either. My goal with this series is not to help you learn, but to make sure you earn.
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In this Niche Idea series I’m going to show you how you can use the internet to sell cheap physical products very successfully; products that often come in just one box that your customers will be delighted to receive.
Now, before you start thinking that physical product selling is not for you (maybe due to location or it goes against your “internet dreams”) I will tell you that this idea can be done anywhere. On top of that, the income potential is so large that you can still have the huge rewards you may have heard in other online success stories from affiliate marketers and the like.
While I’ve seen many concepts of what I’m about to tell you over the last few years, the one I want to start with is a business called “Baltimore in a Box“. The concept is simple: One woman put together small items from her city in the USA – Baltimore – and sold them to people around the world as great holiday gifts or for those who may have left Baltimore and are missing home.
Sounds too small and niche? Maybe not when you find out she did over $100,000 in sales (my latest estimation based on her $50K+ income reports) in just a few months.
Once you head on over to her site – www.baltimoreinabox.com (I don’t make links clickable to keep these ideas private) – you’ll see there are three pricing options:
The items are generally things like a copy of the latest city newspaper, an oven mitt with the city name on, certain snacks that are known in that area and so on.
She buys hundreds of each item in advance, lets new customers choose exactly what is placed in the box and then ships them off. Despite what you would think of being a low profit margin business, she actually has a 50% profit margin.
In a few paragraphs I’m going to get into specifics like how she marketed this business but before I do so I just want to say:
This single “[City] in a Box” concept alone has so much potential it is ridiculous. You can literally apply this to anywhere in the world.
Whether you’re from a small Indian city and move to Mumbai for work – I like the name “Memories of Mumbai” – or you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of South African’s who move to Australia and would love a reminder of home, there is just a massive market for this type of product. Not only will sales explode during seasonal holidays but they’re just great gifts at any time of the year.
As you can see from the cut-off diagonal screenshot above that I tried to make look “artistic”, her concept received a lot of local press. That brings me to another reason why I love this concept: It’s much easier to get local press than national, and the local press is what will sell your locally-focused product to hundreds of thousands of people.
After following more of the write-ups on Baltimore in a Box via Reddit, I did manage to glean a few bits of information regarding her marketing strategy that you may find useful.
On Facebook advertising…
“Facebook ads have been key. I know that Facebook ads gets a lot of heat here but I think when you are marketing something hyper-local like this business is, it’s really easy to target customers especially via Facebook. So I obviously targeted people in Baltimore and then cherry-picked certain neighborhoods and interests catered around the city.
Here is an example of one of the Facebook ads I ran. I thought it was very successful (especially for someone with no prior experience in running ads). I set the limit to $7 per day and ran it for 1-2 weeks. I received over 3,800 clicks to the website and only paid $0.03 per click.
On her Instagram Marketing…
“Instagram was another helpful medium for me to market the business. In order to get my name in front of new potential customers, I would spend 5 or so minutes at a time (several times a day) searching Baltimore related #hashtags. I would go through all the photos and just start liking ALL of them. I refer to this as “spam liking.”
On promoting to Influencers…
“Sent boxes out to Baltimore influencers I sent Baltimore boxes to Miss Maryland and a top chef in the area. In addition I sent a couple more free boxes to local bloggers. One just published a blog about us yesterday. Maybe these haven’t translated into actual orders yet but at least it gets the product in front of more eyeballs.”
From another post which comments on Facebook advertising…
“During this time span from 2/14 – 2/20 I sold nearly $2,000 in boxes. Not too shabby for spending a little over $50 for the ads on Facebook.”
As a final note, she comments that shipping is, unsurprisingly, her biggest expense. I really love this City in a box idea and hope it inspires you to possibly try this for your own local area.
If not, then don’t worry, there are still other “Inside the box” ideas which have huge income potential.
Launched with a very clever marketing video which went viral, The Dollar Shave Club promises to send you a new razor every single month for…you guessed it…$1. While that initial outline may not sound like a very profitable business model, the company were on track to make over 60 million dollars in revenue in 2014, triple the $20m they made in 2013.
While profits are thin, they can afford to be and still make a killing on that revenue.
From a review of the company on BizJournal’s.com they shared, “One million people receive the company’s products in the mail monthly or every other month through its subscription service, which has expanded to become a lifestyle brand for men’s grooming.”
The end of that sentence is key. They didn’t just start a company with this one idea and stick with it. They now offer three types of razor ($1, $6 and $9 per month) and have transitioned into offering a large number of other products on their site as well.
In my research for other businesses in a box concept I also came across a competitor in this same field. Wetshaveclub.com offer luxury shaving goods, presented in a very nice way, directly to your door step.
Oh, and they did $350,000 in their first year of business which includes the end of March 2015. While most sites will annoy you with pop-ups to subscribe to their email list theirs is actually useful: $5 off your first Wet Shave Club Box.
Now that’s a sharp deal.
For this example I’m virtually travelling back to my home country in England where I’ve seen dozens of friends talk about this company on Facebook. With the growing popularity of young men wanting to get “ripped” thanks to TV shows like Geordie and Jersey Shore, some smart companies are capitalizing on that growing trend.
Introducing Muscle Meat, a UK-based company that will ship quality meat products, high in protein, to help with your muscle building goals. While Muscle Meat don’t only focus on their “Beef Boxes” it is the area of their website I hear people talking about the most.
Their price points come in at £40 ($59) for a Body Transformation Box, £53 ($79) for a Small Family Box and go up to £151 ($225) for a large family box.
I did try a few search queries to see if their revenue figures were online but unfortunately I was unsuccessful in this mission. However, due to the sheer size of their offerings and how many professional athletes they currently sponsor I have no qualms about saying they are likely running a very successful operation.
As an added bonus, in my search I did stumble across another website – MuscleFood.com – which is also UK-based, that is making over £200,000 per month just two months after their January (2013) launch. More proof than ever that finding the right niche can be crucial to your online success.
Another great example I wanted to feature here – and will also be featuring in another upcoming niche ideas series – is BaconFreak. Launched in 2007, founder Rocco Loosbrock says it took a few months for his first order to arrive.
Once it did, in came another, and then another, and then things really started snowballing from there. In his own words, “Our first product was the Bacon of the Month Club: two different packages of bacon delivered to your door every month. That got us through the first couple of years and we just kept adding more bacon stuff.”
Just like with the Muscle Meat and Muscle Food examples, this is another proof of concept which shows that there will always be opportunities to capitalise on the hot trends of consumers. I’ve seen more variations of cooking with bacon online over the last few years than anything else, and with popular products like “Bacon salt” available to buy, it’s no wonder that the team behind Bacon Freak are having such success.
How are they getting traffic? Well, it helps that they rank number one in Google for “buy bacon” on the back of all of the press their idea has received.
Taking the idea of sending people unique cuts of Bacon every single month is genius when you consider Bacon seems to be the internet’s favourite food right now. If I lived in America you can be sure I would be handing over my credit card details before finishing this sentence.
If you’re interested in anything I’ve discussed in this update and would like to take action, here are my words of “wisdom”…
The worst thing you could do after reading this is go and order a few thousand items to put in your “city in a box” or other “in a box” idea and then try and sell your new product. Now, that’s not saying you shouldn’t take action – you won’t get anywhere without it – but it’s better to have proof of concept before you invest hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Something I do in pretty much every niche I enter is try to sell something I have not yet created. This is often along the lines of video courses, eBooks and so on. Why create a whole product and the sales copy when you can just start with the sales copy?
Don’t worry if you get orders without having anything to ship. Refund the order, apologise for the inconvenience, and tell them once you have the product back in stock you will ship it to them for free with a thank you gift. A thank you gift? They deserve it. They’ve just proven with real dollars that your idea works. It’s the least you can do.
Of course, you aren’t going to be able to get tons of local or national press without having the product being a real thing, but you will be able to test the waters with Adwords, Facebook ads, relevant forums and so on before investing too much of your hard earned money.
One of the things I loved about the girl who shared the Baltimore in a Box idea was that she totally wanted other people to take her concept and run with it in their own cities. While she seemed to be frustrated that a few people copied her idea too closely, she was happy for those who managed to get their own concepts on local news stations and in newspapers.
There are just so many ideas I see with this angle that my brain is honestly overflowing:
You’ll notice that these examples are specific to me. I was born in Newcastle, lived in Africa for five years and have lived in Asia (mostly Thailand) for the last few years. If there’s something here that speaks out to you “Hey I could do this about ‘X'” then please go and do it. While there are thousands of people reading this page I promise there aren’t too many people on my email list to make huge competition in your city or with your personal experiences.
This is just the greatest marketing idea ever.
Do you know how I would feel if you personally shipped me “Newcastle in a Box” after not having lived there for 8 years. I’m going to talk about you to everyone I meet. I’m going to share that Geordie phrasebook with all of my friends who have no idea what kind of crazy words we have just to say “Home”.
Mentioning someone on your blog or Facebook page is nice, but giving them a physical product they can touch and talk about…that’s going to get you the attention you’re looking for. While physical products and shipping certainly isn’t free, if you’re putting a few hundred or thousand of these boxes together, you can certainly afford to give a few away to people who could talk about your creation.
The most obvious choice is people directly associated with your target audience. If you’re doing this locally, send a box to news stations or reporters for that station. If you’re selling food items like Biltong, give it to people who blog about that food or have tweeted about it in the last month and have tens of thousands of followers.
“Hey, I saw you tweeted about loving Biltong last month. I would love to send you a batch of our specialty items we make ourselves. Totally free of course”. It’s so easy.
You can tell the guy behind Bacon Freak just loves Bacon. After all, the name of his site comes from the nickname that friends used to tease him with.
With such a niche-specific website, they haven’t followed the mould of trying to be over-professional like many eCommerce sites tend to do. Just look at the copy directly from their homepage, “Our bacon is respected world-wide for its palate-pleasing perfection of premium pork. Now say that five times fast… It’s okay, we couldn’t either. But it was fun trying wasn’t it? Just as fun as exploring our site and seeing what it has to offer your awesome bacon-loving self.”
The guys at Dollar Shave Club have taken care of every single little detail in their product. Even just the packaging on their extra razor blades says “Have a bloody good shave. Not a bloody shave”. Genius.
If you are going to put any of these things into action you must be willing to go the extra mile to make your product stand out when people have it in their hands. The first example on this page, Baltimore in a Box, did not have to spend extra money to get custom boxes to ship their product in. Their profit margins would have been higher without it. But when you have that product in your hands and see huge writing on each side saying “BALTIMORE IN A BOX” you’re going to spread the word about what you’ve just received.
You’re going to put the photos up on Facebook for all to see and guess what, their brand is right there in everyone’s face.
If you’re interested in doing this but you just kind of want to test the waters and see how much money people will pay for whatever you have to offer, you will more likely fail than not. While I stick to what I said in point one here – sell the product before you have it – you better make sure that product is incredible if you start making it.
P.S. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t have an assistant and read every single email myself. If I feel I can help you with your question I will update this page with my answer – just like I did on the last niche idea – and reply to let you know I have done so.
Thank you for reading and I can’t wait to send you the next niche idea.
With every niche idea sent out you’ll see me go back to it now and again to answer any questions received or update people based on any feedback.
Update #1: Lots of new successful examples of “business in a box” have been sent my way
In no order, they include:
It shows that the opportunities here truly are endless. Thanks to those who sent them in; you know who you are!
Update #2: “I have no idea how to set up the website and ordering, what do I do?”
Generally I would recommend looking into options like Magento, Shopify or WooCommerce (sorry I don’t do clickable links but, again, it’s to keep these ideas more private). Addding .com to the end of 99% of links I recommend should work.
A reader of the series, Ivan, recommends Cratejoy.com which looks like it was developed to help with exactly this type of business.
Update #3: “Kinda bummed that this idea is direct from that super popular Reddit thread”
Sorry you feel kind of “bummed” about that Shawna. I’ll be honest though: I really don’t see the problem.
First of all, the thread is only super popular if you are an active Redditor and even then, /r/Entrepreneur is not a default-sub Reddit so you would have to actively seek it out. I haven’t had one person reply to this niche idea saying ‘I already saw this on Reddit.’
The whole point of this series is to look at successful examples and then look at the niche around those examples. I didn’t just take one concept from Reddit and keep that in my post. I covered at a lot of other examples in this business in a box industry – none of which you’ll find on Reddit – and added my own action plan which I hope people find valuable.
Not to mention that she already mentioned she was fine with other people using her idea and having success with it. So, while I appreciate any and all feedback, I don’t really understand the problem here other than you may have already saw the first example already before my email.
Update #4: “I [feel the ideas] require a huge sum of investment and support of a team. Even the Baltimore model also requires huge investment.”
Thanks for the email, Shekhar.
I do want to make something clear though: The Baltimore model did not require a huge investment. If you want to do some Google-Fu and find the Reddit posts I was referring to you can find all of her investment requirements.
If you’re already looking at the potential downfalls of getting started I would say…don’t do anything. You’re not going to get anything from this without the huge drive to make it a success. You don’t know there is a huge investment involved because you haven’t done anything yet. As I said at the end of the article, sell your idea before you have something to sell!.
The Baltimore in a Box example is from a one woman team with a full-time job who did not have huge capital to get started. Don’t make excuses before you get into it. I hope I don’t sound harsh here because that’s not my intention, but I hate seeing people shoot themselves in the foot before they’ve actually tried something.
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