In 2013, three years after co-founding FabFitFun as an online fashion, fitness and beauty magazine, Katie Echevarria Rosen Kitchens decided the brand needed to start thinking inside the box. As editor in chief of the digital publication, she had earned the trust of tens of thousands of readers through beauty and self-care product reviews. Eager to grow the company and the community, she and her two other co-founders decided to evolve from just featuring products to offering them through an e-commerce subscription box delivered four times a year.
At the time, many subscription boxes, particularly in the beauty and self-care space, delivered sample-size products – they were much more cost-effective on the supply side, and embraced by consumers who came to look at subscription boxes as flights of trial product offerings. FabFitFun, however, decided to offer full-size products, bringing the estimated value of each box to about $200 a piece. End-priced at $49.99 per box, this approach seemed to settle for break-even rather than strive for profit. But for Kitchens, the subscription to FabFitFun was about more than the just the box– it was about gaining access to a lifestyle membership to a highly engaged community. The strategy worked, and over the next few years, FabFitFun would grow to have millions of subscribers, a position that helped them weather the early days of the pandemic.
As part of our Office Hours Q&A series on @AmericanExpressBusiness on Instagram, we asked Kitchens to share her insights on beauty and wellness, influencers, and the future of FabFitFun.
FabFitFun offers a wide variety of beauty, wellness, home, and other products, from tote bags to sleep masks to earbuds and tea towels. How did you decide what to offer before lockdown, and how has that product mix changed as we’ve progressed through the crisis and look to emerge? How have decisions tracked to what you’re seeing in your customer data or in feedback?
We have an amazing team of merchandisers who work closely with our consumer insights team to make sure we’re delivering the latest and greatest. While the pandemic has certainly changed what our members may need and want, the process has remained constant. We listen to our member wants and needs and try to deliver on that through our box products and e-commerce sales. We made some early pivots to our Spring Edit sale when we realized people we’re going to be staying home. We added more at home workout gear, at home office decor, more essentials, masks, sanitizers, the works, but the process of obtaining member feedback and quickly executing on those needs is something that has been core to our business since day one.
We often call our community our fourth co-founder and that has never been truer than now.
Given the number of job losses and cuts to consumer discretionary spending, how do you think subscription services can still attract cash-conscious consumers? How has FabFitFun been approaching this?
Our mission at FabFitFun is to deliver happiness and well-being to everyone, everywhere. We do that not only by delivering great products and services to our members but also by offering a full lifestyle membership at an incredible value. We’re so much more than a box — we have an incredibly engaged community who connect in a members-only social network, something that has been invaluable during this difficult time where many of us are feeling lonely or isolated. We have FabFitFun TV which offers thousands of workout, cooking, how-to, and wellness videos, something we’re all using a bit more of while we’re being safe at home. We’ve never wanted to be just a box of products and our goal throughout this time has been to support our members with the products, services and content they need to offer a more joyous life. And in a time where we all need to focus on our own self-care, we know that the membership does just that. Not to mention, that as the world becomes more budget conscious, we prioritize delivering value to our members. We guarantee that the products in our sales are priced better than they can find anywhere else and the amount that they pay for the membership for the value they receive will hopefully remain a no brainer.
With so many choices, potential buyers often rely on trusted personalities to ultimately help them make a purchase decision. Have you relied on influencers in your marketing? In light of extended lockdowns, are those relationships changing? What role do they play in the future of FabFitFun?
We’ve always relied heavily on our influencer partnerships and continue to do so. Our goal is really to bring joy to everyone, everywhere, and we truly embrace that with all of our partnerships. We look for diversity of thought and background. We want everyone to feel welcome, seen and heard through our partnerships and we’ll continue to evolve our program with partners around the world who embody our values and our mission.
Perhaps the best testaments to the products come from the community itself, which exists mainly on social media and digital platforms. What are the types of conversations you’ve been seeing among your community as they’ve tried to navigate the crisis in their personal lives? How is that shaping decision-making at the company?
On a personal level, I’ve never been prouder of the community we’ve built as a tool for mental health during this crisis. People are connecting with friends through the FabFitFun community, finding new ways to virtually unbox with others, getting invested into our book club, making new friends and sharing ways they are easing anxiety - it’s fun to watch and I love that we can give something to our members to make them feel more seen. In regards to company decision making, we’ve always relied on our members’ feedback to inform our merchandising process. We often call our community our fourth co-founder and that has never been truer than now. Our needs are shifting, we want to hear about it and we want to do something about it - our merch team made early shifts in our sales which have taken place over the past six months to include more essentials that we need while we’re hanging at home and we continue to listen and learn from our members every day to increase the overall value. After all, for us, “Member is Queen!”