Entrepreneur Aaron Kerr was forced to step back from the day-to-day duties of a full-time marketing career when he moved from Montreal to Calgary in 2014. He used the opportunity to create a brand-new business.
“I’m an ideas guy, and the extra time available during the move allowed me to concentrate on transforming an idea into a concrete business model,” says the founder of Project Candy Box, a monthly subscription box service that delivers curated collections of sweet treats from around the world to customers across Canada.
“Our goal is to offer products that are hard to find, or that Canadians may not have tried before,” Kerr says.
Kerr has learned a lot along his path from digital marketing specialist to accomplished confectioner, including valuable lessons about how to best handle a high volume of shipments, and service clients in markets of all sizes.
Starting from zero
Almost three years after sending out his first order of candies, Kerr is now shipping boxes to more than 1,000 customers each month. It’s a sweet success story, but it took a lot of work to get there. His initial obstacles were learning about both the subscription box and candy industries.
“While I love candy, it’s not a market I was familiar with,” Kerr says. “I had never dealt with major companies, never sourced internationally, and the whole supply chain and buying process was completely new to me. On top of all that, I had never owned or run a company. I had to learn a great deal about efficiency, operations, and logistics in a very short time.”
Kerr’s other challenges included raising startup funds and attracting and onboarding his initial subscribers. A crowdfunding campaign enabled Kerr to do test marketing, generate sales leads, and provided the $5,000 he needed to fulfill his first order. With limited funds left over for marketing, Kerr built buzz through social media, and influencer outreach.
He continues to use these methods to increase engagement for existing customers, and attract new prospects.
But the life of a budding entrepreneur wasn’t all bonbons.
“To ensure I had cash to live on while building the business, I worked full-time while wearing all the hats of a business owner — marketing, accounting, buying — the works,” Kerr says. “And it was all done from our home. It was really tough. My girlfriend and I lived in a one-bedroom, 600-square-foot apartment, and the 170 boxes we packed for the first shipment filled the entire space.”
Initially reliant on word-of-mouth marketing and the attention he generated through social media, Kerr’s business hit it big in his second year of operation, when he began using e-commerce subscription platform Cratejoy.
“Cratejoy allowed me to bring in longer-term subscriptions versus a month-to-month offer. The three, six, and 12-month options meant I could lock-in customers and offer them a better rate.” Things picked up so much that Kerr was able to leave his full-time marketing job and focus solely on his burgeoning business.
Shipping costs vary considerably depending on how far a package is going, with package delivery pricing varying by as much as $22 per box.
“I had to come up with a weighted pricing model of $5 to keep things simple and reasonable for my customers,” Kerr says. “This allows me to ship right across Canada without having to exclude those small towns with little to no access to a good candy selection.”
Delivering the goods
Maintaining quality throughout the delivery experience is another critical component of Kerr’s business.
“We are constantly trying to make that experience better and ensure packages arrive in the same condition they left our warehouse,” he says. “In the hot summer months we avoid sending items that may melt, and retool our packaging to ensure product arrives in good shape. You really do have to work with the parameters you’re given to ensure the customer is delighted at the finish line.”
The future looks sweet
Kerr says his recipe for success is achieved by taking things one month at a time, and focussing on the short-term goals that will help him attain his long-term vision. “I’m excited to grow this business,” he says. “My ultimate vision for Project Candy Box is to open a fulfilment warehouse that will provide job opportunities for people with special needs and help me give back to the community. I believe this is part of my responsibility as a business owner.”