2015 proved to be the year of the subscription box, with people rushing over each other to offer up monthly deliveries suiting every hobby, interest, and lifestyle niche known to man. After a few whirlwind years, that rush has died down, leaving some of the original players intact and stronger than ever.
At the start of this boom, we had the pleasure of working with Kat Rudberg to brand her subscription cocktail company, Crafted Taste. Since launching Crafted Taste’s branding, we’ve watched her grow her customer base and continually refine and improve her service. We recently had a chance to grab a drink with Kat to discuss how Crafted Taste has evolved over the last few years and is thriving in a changing industry landscape.
CODO: Starting out, please introduce Crafted Taste.
Kat: Crafted Taste is a cocktail of the month club and gift boutique, founded in Indianapolis in 2013. We curate luxe cocktail kits stocked with high quality products, while featuring cocktail recipes from top bartenders around the world. Our cocktail kits ship throughout the entire US, direct to your door. You can sign up for a subscription to receive a new cocktail kit every month or you can purchase any of our kits individually, which make great gifts.
CODO: When working through your foundational branding back in 2015, we were in the midst of a subscription box gold rush. Everyone and their mother was putting together a subscription box to suit every single little niche and lifestyle hobby in existence. Has this pace slowed down or maintained over the last few years?
Kat: I’ve definitely seen a decline of new subscription businesses in the past two years. Not only do you need a strong concept, but it’s important to also incorporate traditional eCommerce methods, like we do, to survive in the market. I see more web retailers shifting towards subscribe and save offerings and giving curation back to the customer—you choose the products you want to receive every month. Along those same lines, I see less subscription box businesses offering a monthly box of surprise products. It’s more common now to describe the products in each monthly offering. We started detailing the ingredients in each kit very early on, as well as offering complimentary monthly opt-outs. This helped us grow our customer base, as we made sure each customer received kits tailored to their taste.
CODO: There were a few main competitors when you opened up shop—how has this space evolved over the last few years?
Kat: Yes, we were one of the first cocktail subscription boxes when we launched in 2013. Now it seems like a new competitor pops up every month—although I’ve seen most churn out pretty quickly. Our major competitors right now are three brands that have launched in the past two years, obviously with major investment funding. The challenging part is competing in the marketing space with a brand that has lots of cash to throw around. However, our competitors are focused on inexpensive kits with less liquor (mini-bottles or just mixers), so we’ve got a solid hold on the luxury and gift market. And none of our competitors have been able to touch our level of curation, knowledge, or style.
CODO: You were adamant that shipping entire bottles of liquor was a core differentiator. Has anyone else offered this since, and if so, how have you adapted?
Kat: We’re still the leader in regards to shipping full sized, 750ml bottles of liquor. Our competitors are focused on shipping either 50ml miniature bottles, smaller 375ml bottles, or no alcohol all together—just the mixers. However, 50ml and 375ml bottles are only available by mainstream corporate brands, so those competitors have no ability to feature hard to find and small batch spirits like we do. I also find that our competitors are solely focused on sending you a drink, not the ingredients nor process. We focus not only on the recipes and knowledge but also on curation—we want you to build a bar with the highest quality ingredients.
CODO: How has your messaging evolved since 2015?
Kat: We’ve transitioned away from the “subscription box” label and focused on the product itself: cocktail kits. We’ve also started describing our kits like how we’d see a cocktail presented on a menu – more focus on the flavors and less on the technique/type. Consumers are very knowledgeable about cocktails now and have experience using tasting notes to identify what they’ll enjoy.
CODO: Have the people who buy Crafted Taste changed since opening?
Kat: In general, our customer base has stayed very consistent—people that enjoy great tasting cocktails that want to try new products, start mixing consistently good cocktails on their own, and build their home bar. We’ve certainly seen an influx of customers giving our kits as gifts and the biggest change has been reaching more corporate clients for their gift or promotional projects.
CODO: What’s one thing that surprised you through running Crafted Taste?
Kat: Enjoying the growth process. The amount of constant learning you do as an entrepreneur is daunting, but I never expected to have as much fun as I do when improving the business and our products. Nerd alert, amirite? Honestly though, some of the most fun I’ve had has been when I’ve automated away something really tedious or acted on customer feedback to improve a kit. The continued growth of your product or service is really important. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stay in business long.
CODO: What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened since founding Crafted Taste?
Kat: We’ve had large corporate orders over the years that were really exciting to plan and execute—like 1,000 Kentucky Derby Mint Julep kits for Apartments.com, holiday gifts for Google, or collaboration projects with Facebook. However, the most exciting thing for me personally is still just hearing from a customer that loves the product. We put a lot of thought and care into every kit; having a customer tell me they loved that month’s cocktail or that we helped them give the best gift ever makes it worth it.
CODO: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made along the way?
Kat: I stayed in a damaging relationship with an external fulfillment company for too long. They needed micro-managing, were not tracking our perishable inventory properly, and brought down the quality of our kits. What started out as small annoyances at first, snowballed into major problems as we scaled up. I’ve since brought fulfillment back in-house and implemented backend solutions that have the business running better than ever, but it was a tough climb back. If you find yourself in a similar business relationship, get out fast.
CODO: Any advice (from a branding / marketing angle) for someone planning to create a subscription box company?
Kat: Don’t box yourself in (pun absolutely intended) to subscription of the month box branding and packaging. Leave room for your brand to transition to traditional eCommerce or physical retail spaces in the future.
CODO: What are some books you’d recommend to someone who is considering starting a small business?
Kat: The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It is a classic book that I wish I had read when I first started Crafted Taste. Reading it now, I see that many of the mistakes I’ve made while growing the business are incredibly common and could have been avoided.
For eCommerce entrepreneurs, check out the Shopify blog and Shopify Forums—the blog has great content that’s easy to understand at all levels and the forums are chocked full of small businesses helping each other learn and grown.
When I need a break from strictly business, I listen to the Philosophize This podcast. Learning more about philosophy has helped me become a better problem solver, communicator and negotiator—all highly valuable skills as a business owner.
CODO: It’s cold here in Indiana, what cocktail should we be mixing up at home?
Kat: When we’re in the doldrums of winter and I need a pick me up, I like to “winterize” summer cocktails by using aged spirits in place of light or substituting in a simple syrup infused with mulling spices. My favorite cocktail right now is a Pineapple Daiquiri using Stiggins’ Fancy Plantation Pineapple Dark Rum (featured in our Rum Fancy Cocktail Kit). Using the Pineapple Dark Rum in a simple Daiquiri (2 oz rum, 1 oz fresh lime, 1/2 oz simple syrup) transforms it into something a little more complex yet still reminiscent of sunnier days.