Jon Butt was last on the show in episode 73, when he came on to talk about his multi-million pound B2B eCommerce business Fire Protection Online. The business Jon’s here to talk about today couldn’t be more different. It’s B2C, a much lower AOV, it’s a food product, and it’s a subscription business!
In 2017 Jon and his son Harvey launched Blue Coffee Box, a ground coffee discovery box. As we record they’re just starting month 4, and are on the cusp of their 100th subscriber.
I’m really pleased to have a “traditional ecommerce” veteran on to discuss why subscription. I know a lot of you out there are thinking of adding it into the mix – so I just had to include it in this January Growth Series.
About the business
- eCommerce Business Structure – Online Only
- Product Range Scale – niche
- On a Cratejoy
- Based in the UK, and selling to the UK
Listen to learn why Blue Coffee Box allows for customization and dispatches throughout the month depending on the customer’s subscription date instead of on the same day each month, and how that makes it easier on suppliers.
Jon’s Previous Experience
Jon started as a door-to-door salesman selling fire extinguishers. In 2007, he started a fire protection company online, which is doing well and is the biggest online fire safety business in the UK. It brings in a few million quid every year, and is expected to do about 2.5 million this year as well.
During a trip to America, Jon read an article about someone on Shark Tank doing a subscription company and found it interesting. He mentioned it to his teenage son, Harvey, who also loves coffee. When, earlier this year, Jon and Harvey were looking at Harvey’s upcoming university expenses, Harvey decided he wanted to start a coffee subscription to help him pay for his university.
The in-house team is just Jon and Harvey, with Harvey packing the coffee and Jon taking care of the business side. They outsource what they can, including bookkeeping and accounting, and make use of Fiverr to outsource other tasks.
Listen to learn how Fiverr has helped them with programming macros and getting labels and note cards for each coffee.
Surprises Along the Way
Jon has never dealt with consumers before. When someone buys fire safety stuff, they’re buying it because they’re forced to, not because they want to. This makes it difficult to get feedback on fire safety items, and difficult to make social media work for marketing. With Blue Coffee Box, they are dealing with customers who say what they think. Jon and Harvey respond to feedback, and Jon enjoys the conversation.
Tips for Starting a Subscription Business
Subscription businesses sound cool and easy, and entrepreneurs tend to think they are like effortless memberships. However, remember that you have to keep all those members interested. You cannot be complacent.
If you are thinking of making one part of your business into a subscription, just make sure the rest of your business can support it while it builds.
Jon and Harvey’s To-Do List for Growing the Business
Blue Coffee Box is focusing its efforts on getting their products into the hands of influencers. Jon recommends finding influencers who have a real, genuine following, such as journalists and magazine editors. The goal is to get the coffee into their hands so they can publicize it. To get that goal started, Jon and Harvey are studying who they get the best response from to see where their efforts are best used.
eCommerce Book Top Tip
- The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business in Any Industry by John Warrillow
- Hear our interview with John here
eCommerce Traffic Top Tip
- Get other people to recommend your products to their followers
You can hear about all this on the podcast, for free – right now…
Tool Top Tip
Start Up Top Tip
Decide if you’re going to treat this as a business or a hobby. A hobby is fine, but if it’s a business, you’ll need a business plan. You’ll need to know the strengths and weaknesses and have some money invested in the start. Build an online business just like you would build a physical business, and if you’re not sure how, speak to someone at the bank, to your accountant, or to someone who has built a business. Everything you hear online makes it look easy, but none of it is ever easy.
Want even more ideas for growing your business in 2018?
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