Road Warrior

For all things and all seasons, a subscription box

Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC
WATCH LIVE offers a monthly subscription box filled with a surprise sampling of travel-size products.

Want a regular supply of clothes, candy, food or even medicinal weed? As it turns out, there's a box for that.

There's a boom underway in curated subscription boxes for just about everyone, from foodies and fishers to pet owners (cats, dogs, rats and other small animals), candy lovers, horror fans, doomsayers and medical marijuana users. A recent study by Hitwise states that visits to subscription box sites have skyrocketed by nearly 3,000 percent to 21.4 million over the last few years.

Experts peg the start of the subscription box movement to Birchbox, a monthly beauty and grooming sample subscription service that began back in 2010 and has raised tens of millions of dollars in venture capital.

Liz Cadman, founder of My Subscription Addiction, a website that reviews subscriptions boxes, told CNBC that "back in 2012, there were about 200 subscription box services." Today, she has more than 2,000 services in her directory.

"Virtually any consumer product can be sold via a subscription model," said Brian Runnals, founder of Postfly Box, a subscription box service for the $1 billion-dollar fly-fishing industry. He ties the rise in the popularity of subscription boxes to the habits of millennial consumers.

"Young, tech-savvy customers want to make very easy, very quick purchasing decisions," said Runnals. "Also, I would like to thank Amazon for getting America hooked on Prime," he joked, speaking of the retail giant's subscription delivery service.

While the market for subscription boxes seems unending, there are challenges. Gene Hoffman, CEO of Vindicia, a company that provides the billing platform for large subscription service providers, said the single price model "may be leaving money on the table from your potential best customers."

Hoffman told CNBC that "there's a lot of room for box subscriptions to innovate around how to add premium offerings and add on products to their base subscriptions."

For the convenience of a customer getting what they want when they want it, subscription box deliveries can cost as little as $11.99, or as much as $300 for high-end clothes from something like Trunk Club, a men's retail site.

Some new offerings are focused on the needs of travelers and those who wish to travel.

"For business travelers, subscription services can be a great way to ensure that you're always ready for the next trip at a moment's notice," said Jonathan Beekman, CEO and Founder of Man Crates, a company that delivers crates filled with everything from snacks and gadgets to gear and video games but hasn't yet ventured into the subscription box service, "And for those with a serious case of wanderlust, subscriptions can be a great way to start to explore a culture through their food, handicrafts, arts and more."

Launched in January 2016 and devoted exclusively to germ-fighting products, Squix offers QBox, a monthly subscription service ($14.98) that includes three full-size products and a couple of free gifts.

"You can customize two of the products to your preferences," said Cadman. "And they have a whole category of items dedicated to travel. Think toothbrush sanitizers, fruit and veggie wipes and hand sanitizers."

Launched in 2013, Try the World ($29 to $39 a month) is a gourmet subscription box company with more than 50,000 U.S. subscribers. Subscribers get a box of artisan foods from a different country every month. Each box is curated by a celebrity chef and comes with a product card describing each item, recipes and even a music playlist.

For those who don't want to cook, Try the World also recently launched Snack Box ($15 per box), a monthly box delivery containing five artisanal treats from five different countries.

"Navigating the regulations for importing food products in each country can be a challenge," said David Foult, Try the World co-founder. Many producers the company works with have never exported outside of their country, and some artisans can't produce the volume needed for 50,000 subscribers. Therefore, "sometimes there can be variations of products in our destination boxes, depending on the amount we can source of each product," said Foult.

The Guatemala Kit featured is a subscription box from Rad and Hungry that contains globally sourced office supplies and other items.
Source: Rad and Hungry

Snacking is also the theme of Graze ($11.99 a box), a customizable health-snack subscription box that delivers eight single-serving snacks per box, and come with low-sugar, gluten-free and dairy-free options.

Founded in 2010, Rad and Hungry sells "lo-fi goods from low-down travel." The Something Mighty (STMT) Collection is offered as a subscription ($180 per year, $120 per semester) of monthly boxes filled with limited-edition office supplies and travel items.

Company founder Hen Chung told CNBC that subscribers get more than just run-of-the-mill pen and paper. "Sometimes we're able to score vintage goods, and more and more we connect with local craftsmen who create unique office supplies for us," she said., a site that sells over 2,500 travel and sample-size products, has just joined the subscription box market as well.

In addition to boxes for hikers, college students and those tied to their desks, is offering a monthly subscription box of travel-size items that includes "surprise selections and things you never knew existed in travel sizes," said president Paul Shrater.

"The e-commerce technology for subscription-based products has finally evolved to where it is simple to do without thousands of dollars in custom programming," he added.

— Harriet Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You" and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas. Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.