Subscription Box Basics with Julie Ball

Behind the Scenes with Katie from Year Cheer

February 21, 2022 Julie Ball Episode 114
Subscription Box Basics with Julie Ball
Behind the Scenes with Katie from Year Cheer
Show Notes Transcript

#114 - In this week's episode of Subscription Box Basics,  you will meet Subscription Box Bootcamper Katie Richardson from Year Cheer. She is the Chief Magic Maker in her house and through her subscription box, helps other moms create memories around different holidays of the year. You may relate to her story of side hustling while working in corporate America, but now Katie is all in on the box gig and has created a life where she can be present for her 4 kids instead of going to the office or spending so much time away from the family on work trips. Congrats to Katie and the Year Cheer team for recently shipping their 10,000th box! AMAZING!


  • Get to know Katie (1:34)
  • What you can get from Year Cheer Box (5:22)
  • How she manages the boxes every holiday (7:07)
  • Year Cheer Launch Story (10:43)
  • Challenges at Launch (15:12)
  • Katie’s favorite thing about the Subscription Box Industry (20:56)
  • Piece of advice from Katie to aspiring Subscription box owners (22:20)


Julie (00:01):

So you wanna launch a subscription box and don't know where to start. Girl, you are in the right place. I'm Julie Ball, a subscription box coach, and your host here at subscription box basics, a podcast for new and aspiring subscription box entrepreneurs that want to avoid overwhelm. So grab a coffee, some pen and paper, and let's have some fun. Hey everybody. Welcome back to subscription box basics. We're having a party today because my guest is from year cheer. I would like to welcome Katie, the founder and creator of year cheer. She is the chief magic maker in her household, and I cannot wait for you Katie to share your story. So welcome to the Podcast.

Katie (00:43):

Great. Thanks so much for having me Julie, so excited to be here. Awesome.

Julie (00:48):

Okay. So a lot of people meeting, meeting you for the first time. So yeah. Why don't you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and your background?

Katie (00:55):

Great. So like Julie said, my name is Katie Richardson and I am the founder of year cheer. I have four kids, um, 12 and under at home. And I spent the first 20 years of my career, um, in retail. So I worked in some big corporate retail jobs. I worked at companies like gap, old Navy target, and most recently under armor, really, you know, focusing on merchandising and building and, and running those businesses. But one of the things that I found as a working mom in corporate retail is that as my children were getting to sort of that elementary school age, they would see other moms doing all these really fun things like around the holidays. And I would be busy traveling for work, just trying to keep it all together. And so I had just gotten back from a, a trip, um, a work trip and my daughter am tucking her into bed.

Katie (01:47):

She's like, mom, what are we doing for Valentine's day tomorrow? So, and so's mom has all these cute things up in their house and they're doing this and they're doing that. And I looked around and there was, there was nothing going on in my house. And so luckily my sister, I, I went downstairs and my sister had sent me a, of goodies and aunt Chrissy like saved the day because she'd sent me like some easy Valentine's decorations, a few things to put out. So I was able to like put them out and surprise the kids in the morning. They thought I was a hero and I felt like I'd done a great job. So I was like, how could I take this? And this happened to me, not just Valentine's day, I didn't get my act together for St. Patrick stayed that year or Easter. But like, again, like my sister or my mom had sort of like saved me this just like secret box that they like left at my house being like, we know you're really busy. Like you might need this. And so I was like, how can I take this like sort secret holiday ferry that I was like, lucky enough to have, and my mom and sister, and make this something for other busy moms.

Julie (02:44):

That's so fun. I know that feeling of panic all too well, I have a 10 year old and I'm kind of the chief magic maker in my house. I grew up with a lot of traditions, um, for, for the big holidays. And so I like to continue those holidays, but we've added on a few more and I've definitely had those panic moments. And especially more recently, like with the El on the shelf. Yes. Oh my gosh. How many times, few years back did I wake up? And I'm like, oh, I have to move the El or what's the El gonna do? So I love this little box. Like you said, you had a ferry like coming by and bringing you the tools that you needed. Yeah. So that's kind of how you came up with your idea, right? You, right. This happened to you and you felt so much relief from it. So you're like, how can I box that up and, and, and deliver that to other moms. Right, exactly.

Katie (03:38):

Exactly. And it sort of came to me at a place where I was at a career crossroads in my corporate job. So I just had my fourth child and my job was very, very demanding. I was traveling a ton. It was just really long hours, high stress situation. And I sort of had this just feeling inside of like, there's something else I should be doing. There's something else should be doing. I have this. Yeah. I was like, this is a sign. I need to be doing something else. And so I was sort of in a career crossroads where it was like, oh, you could go after this big job or you could do something else. And long story short, it didn't really work out. And so I was like, let me figure something else. So I actually worked with a coach, um, at the beginning, just to say, like, how do I sort of transition from this corporate world? Or like, what could a job be? And it was through working with her that I sort of got this idea of like, maybe there's something that I could do around this, delivering these magical family memories to

Julie (04:32):

Things. Yes. Okay. So tell us more specifically about your subscription box, like who you serve. We know you serve moms, right. And, but what particular problem do you serve with it and how do you do that? Like what's actually in the box.

Katie (04:43):

Yeah. Great question, Julie. So we focus on moms with kids age three to 10, and what's great about our box. And what makes us unique is that one box works for a family with up to four kids. So there's no need to buy multiple boxes with multiple kids. We have a lot of families with two kids, three kids, sometimes a few with four kids and they only need to buy one box or it allows them to share with their friends. And what's included in the box. We say, is everything you need to decorate, connect and celebrate holidays throughout the year. So in decorate, we often provide things like banners or balloons or little wooden, um, pieces that you could put on mantle or a sit on a table. Um, within connect, we often do things that are like games or activities, where you can spend time with your family, get to know each other better, really build lasting memories, and then celebrate could be everything from a new year's Eve party in a box to, um, making cakes that are, you know, heart shaped pancakes for Valentine's day to playing flag football for, you know, Thanksgiving.

Katie (05:49):

So it really, what I think is unique about our box is it varies so much from holiday to holiday. We really always try to keep it fresh and you can build on it from year to year. So some of our customers will show, oh, here's what I had last year. And now here's what I'm adding to it this year. And we try to make sure it always sort of blends well together and can really build on itself from one month to a next. So it's typically about eight full size items in a box. Our boxes are packed to the brim, um, with lots of fun things. So

Julie (06:19):

You don't send your box every single month. You choose specific holidays. Right. Right. So tell us just a little bit about that and how you, how you're managing that.

Katie (06:28):

Yeah. So I would say that's probably one of the challenges of having a unique business. We send boxes eight of 12 months out of the year. And, but we celebrate 10 different holidays because we Al offer an alternate holiday for both Easter and Christmas. So for people who don't celebrate Easter or Christmas, we have a spring box and right now a Hanukah box that may change in the future, but that's where we are right now. But we ship eight times during the year. And then we're on recharge is who use. And so we have to work with them on the months where we're not shipping to do like bulk date updates.

Julie (07:04):

Oh, that's good information to know. I was gonna ask you about that because you know, having it on monthly is just super easy. It's just like auto renewing happens every single month, but when you don't send every single month and it's, it's sort of, I know some people have quarterly boxes and that might be a little bit easier to manage those dates versus what you do is unique. And I'm so glad that you've figured out a solution because I believe where there's a will there's away. Yes. Um, I, I always like to make things simple, but for your particular business model, that's what makes sense. And it sounds like you've found a fairly simple solution to like work with recharge to bulk move things. Yep.

Katie (07:44):

Exactly. I mean, it's not hard. Just you have to be, you have to be detailed, you know what I mean, to make sure that everything goes right and it's done correctly, but, um, it's working for us. And I believe I do constantly survey my customers to say like, do you want 12 months? Or, or do you want eight? And they're sort of half and half. So until it tips towards more, I think we're gonna, we're gonna keep it that way just to reduce churn, like over the summer, it's sort of nice where give 'em a little lull and then they leave them wanting more so well,

Julie (08:13):

And I'll tell you from past experience that traditionally summertime is when most eCommerce and so subscription box sales are down. So maybe that's a really good thing for you that you can use that time to take some time off. Exactly. And have a little rest.

Katie (08:27):

Yeah, exactly. So I figured if I was gonna build my own business, I was like, I might as well have the summers off. And people are like, you should do every month you, I said, you know what I say? I'm like, Chick-fil-A is not open on Sundays if Chick-fil-A is not open on Sundays. And they're as big of a business as they are, I cannot ship boxes for four months out of the year and still have a successful business. So I like have to like tell myself everyone, you know, get pressure, well, think how much more money you can make or think Chick-fil-A's not open on Sundays. That is their priority. Like my priorities. I wanna try to have some time where I can be more present with my kids when they're around, since they're still pretty little. So we're gonna, we're trying to make it work. So

Julie (09:04):

I love that so much. I'm gonna remind myself that when I am being, um, pulled in one direction or another, I'm like Chick-fil-A takes Sundays off. It's okay. For me to take some time off. Exactly. I really like to, I try to balance that, you know, seasons of hustle and seasons of rest, but it's a challenge. It's, it's like an ongoing challenge, but I, I love that reminder. So thank you for sharing that. Okay. So when did you launch?

Katie (09:28):

So I launched, I decided to like come up with this idea or like, think about doing something else, starting a side in about June of OK. So I sort of ruminated on the idea and then I ended up launching in December of 2019, so, okay. Same

Julie (09:46):

Year. So tell us a little bit about that launch story. Um, I know you went through subscription box bootcamp, but I'm sure there was plenty other parts to your launch story. Um, did you get your, did you get your family involved and I'm sure that they had a lot of fun and played a part in like choosing things, right? Yeah.

Katie (10:03):

So one of the most helpful things that I did as I was launching, and I know that you talk about this in subscription box bootcamp is just doing a beta test. So once I had the idea in June, I like quickly pulled together just a box of St you know, like the, I concept of the idea that I gave to literally like six friends in July of 2019. And so I just said, here's this box of Valentine, you know, a 4th of July stuff. What do you think of it? This, that like gave them surveys. My one friend was like, you might wanna do with like a branded box. I'm like, I know we're lit. It was literally in like a PLA a card, more box that I wrapped wrapping paper because I won that. I feel special, but I was like, it was just six people like bought stuff at retail, put it in a box, got their feedback.

Katie (10:45):

That was so helpful because what I realized is that people didn't necessarily, they wanted like a smaller experience. You know, I was like, oh, it needs to be this super, super premium. So we still offer a premium product, but not nothing. Like it's not as over the top as maybe we had thought at the beginning. So it helped us really define our price point and really like, get insight into like what moms were looking for and what we were really solving for. So she, you know, I love these activities. I didn't have to go plan them. I didn't have to run to the store X, Y, Z. So then we did the same thing on a slightly bigger scale that October and did like a 20 person beta launch. Okay. Again, like did another test and it was a bit of an investment from the beginning.

Katie (11:25):

By that point I'd been through subscription box bootcamp. I had started working on some of the, you know, basic things , but I knew I needed social proof. And so this, these 20 people helped be some of my first reviews and first social proof until their are friends. So then we launched in December of 2019. So, so that was your big launch? Yes. Our big launch. So I think that I enrolled in subscription box bootcamp in probably around August. I wish I had found it earlier, but I remember getting it and being like, oh, oh my gosh, this is exactly what I needed. And what I personally loved about it is although I've been in retail for 20 years, like I know how to make an assortment. I know how to like, drive a business, but what was so different was that Julie really gave like, literally the specifics that I still used to this day, like, here's a spreadsheet that was already made for me.

Katie (12:15):

It wasn't just teaching me how to do it. It also gave me the tools. Here's some examples with literally scripts of emails that when I would get like, AEN, you know, a moment of insecurity, I'd be like, you know what? I could just start with this script, tweak it slightly and know that that is enough. Cuz I think the biggest thing when you're starting out is this like need for profess or it has to be perfect or I don't know what I'm doing, I'm not doing it right. But I found like subscription box bootcamp and especially all of the specific tools that you gave me really gave me the confidence to be like, oh, I'm doing this right. I'm on the right path. Like follow this formula, follow these tools and you'll be headed in the right direction. So I've done a bunch of other internet training.

Katie (12:53):

And I would say that yours is literally the only one that I have finished start to finish and that I continue to reference to this day. I still use the spreadsheets. I still use, you know, so many of the things, but I, and I literally go back and reference it now as I'm like, I, you know, I might need to hire someone. What would Julie say? So I, I just really, I really just found it so, so helpful and just so actionable and easy to understand. You're a great teacher, which really helped along that journey. And I don't think I ever could have launched as quickly, um, especially doing it as a side hustle. Um yeah. As I did without that, that training.

Julie (13:32):

Well, thank you for those awesome words. I'm really glad that um, you've gone through the whole thing and you still reference it. I think that's important to know because you are not on your own after you launch, you know, we have the community as well. Um, I still use the same spreadsheets that I share in bootcamp. I still use those to run sparkle, hustle grow. So if something's working for me, I'm gonna share it with you guys, but okay. So let's, let's go back to your launch. I love that you did so much work up front as far as like figuring out your product assortment because I think that's a common mistake that people think they need to just put so much stuff in the box. Yep. And what we've found through many of our boot campers is that people get overwhelmed with too much stuff. Right. One, they don't end up using all this stuff. And then two they'll cancel earlier because they're like, oh, I already have everything I need or I have too much already. Right. Um, where it becomes burdensome. So I think that was really smart that you did that upfront. What would you say was one of like your biggest challenges at launch?

Katie (14:33):

I would say the, one of the biggest challenges at, I would say the mental game can be really like, and you talk about that a lot in sparkle hustle grow, which I found really helpful of just sort of the ups and downs of like getting yourself ready to launch, getting hyped up and just having the courage, just to do it and put yourself out there because even though I'd run huge businesses in the past, I was always hidden sort of behind a brand and behind a giant brand. Now it was really me and I, you know, I still struggle with this today. Like being like me, I have to be the one out there. I have to show my face more. Um, but I do think that, that, that was one thing that was really helpful in the, the training as well is that you would talk about like, okay, it's long, here's what you're gonna think.

Katie (15:11):

Here's a pep talk., here's a pep talk and, and just like setting your expectations realistically, like I think our first month we sold 50 and then I thought we'll be able to go to a hundred the next month. And like we did not go to, I mean, and this was from Christmas to new year, so I don't know exactly what I was thinking, like how it was gonna double the business that fast. We eventually, you know, well exceeded that and now we've sold. We just passed selling our, um, 10,000 boxes in two years. Congratulations. Yeah. So that's really exciting. So, you know, it definitely has grown over over the seasons and I think it's always that just that mental game of setting expectations and how do you feel like if you, you meet them or you don't meet them and like you're your own boss, you're setting your own expectations. So just think the mental game, um, and a lot of the advice that you gave there, even around launch was, was really helpful. Now

Julie (16:02):

I have a couple questions that weren't on our questions list. Do you, do you fulfill your boxes at home or do you outsource that?

Katie (16:09):

So right now I fulfill at home, um, um, we're, it's getting very crowded  um, in my house, like my kids are like, mom, we now have to walk like sideways in the ground. like, because we've had to, with the shipping delays, we've had to start receiving multiple holidays at once to not have, you know, delays or just to ensure that try to be more proactive there. So we're still fulfilling out of our house. I'm I'm in the process of trying to figure out what's next with that. I have a great team of women who come and literally like we've taken over my basement, helped me fill the boxes there. I have a great relationship with my ups driver. he's given me my goal of what I need to do to fill the whole truck at once. So he's like, come on Katie, you can do it, can do it. Um, and so, I mean, it's great to have like this team of people for us, it's, it's been working because I can be at home, you know, when my kids get home and, and have people here packing. But, um, there, there are pros and cons for

Julie (17:08):

Sure. Yeah. Oh for sure. And I, a couple takeaways from what you just said is like, get to know your postal workers. You're gonna rely a lot on them. So get to know them, treat them well. And then, um, what you said about fulfilling and you have a small group of women that help you. I know a lot of our boot campers do that and have a lot of fun with it. Yeah. It's a way to get connected with friends and community. Maybe you set out a couple bottles of wine and some pizza you're having fun. You're doing it for a greater good you yeah. Helping other moms when you ship those boxes off. So it's just, it just makes me smile. I'm super proud

Katie (17:39):

Of you. Yeah. Oh, thanks. No, it's great. It's great. And that's been working, it's been working well and I think what we get by fulfilling us fulfilling it versus a three PL is like, my team really cares. Like if they see something that's wrong and they come and they say, Katie, this one looks like it's damaged. Should we put it? You know, I'm gonna put it aside. And we I've sort of taught them like what our high standards are and so something isn't there, they definitely take it out. And, and you know, sometimes we we've, haven't been able to fulfill as many boxes because things haven't been right. But we we're so focused on like making it right. Repacking if we need to, you know, making sure that we have that great customer experience that I haven't quite figured out how to, how to expand, how to expand that into other places.

Julie (18:20):

So yeah. Well you are on the right track. So, um, I wanted to ask you the, this was just like a couple weeks ago. I saw a famous person. Oh yes. Sharing about your chair. Jennifer Love fut.

Katie (18:34):

Yes. Alyssa about that. Yeah. So this is actually really fun because, um, it was about last ho holiday of 2020 that I, you know, was just on Instagram. And I got in DMS, this DM that said, hi, you know, my name is Jennifer with a little blue circle. My name is Jennifer Love Hewitt. I like to buy two new year's Eve boxes. And I said, oh great. I wanted to write, is this for a party of five? And I, I, I did not I stopped myself. But, um, but yeah, she literally just reached out via DM and has been like a pay like a real paying customer since then. Amazing. So it's just been so wonderful because you know, she's a million followers, she'll talk about year cheer. She'll do these great stories and like, she loves it. She just really loves it. She loves holidays.

Katie (19:27):

She loves celebrating it so fun to see her, um, the product using the product. You know, she really had a lot of fun with like her leper contract last March and you know, her Halloween stuff and her Christmas stuff. So it was, it was one where I had done a, a small pre like a press opportunity with someone up in Boston who I think is friends with her. And then that's how she reached out to me. I was gonna ask. Yeah. Um, but that was how it happened. And so it was just, it's just really fun and what I feel, what I love so much is that it's like, I'm not, she's not a paid endorsement. I, you know, she really is like a, a genuine unique customer. Oh, how

Julie (20:01):

Fun? Well, congrats on that. That was super fun to see. Yeah. Okay. So you guys all know that I love the subscription box industry. Katie. What's one of your favorite things about working in, in this industry and tell us too, are you still working in corporate or are you all in on the box now?

Katie (20:16):

Yeah, so I went all in on the box in April of 2021. So I spent almost a year and almost two years, you know, doing this as a side side hustle hustle. Yeah. Yep. And then it just got to the point where I was like, this is, this is way too much to do both. So I went all in my favorite thing is just building the relationships with the customer. So we have quite a few customers who have been with us since the very beginning. So have been customers since December, 2019. And so it is like, I literally am like, I've watched your kids grow up from like four year old to six year olds. And they like post every single holiday and like just getting to see them. And, you know, there's, I've just met so many wonderful customers and I think that's the thing that you get from a subscription box where it's, you know, season after season or holiday after holiday versus just a one time transaction.

Julie (21:06):

Oh, I love that. Yeah. That it's crazy. There are. So I launched in, um, October of 2016 and I have people that joined in the end of 2016 that are still sparkle, hustle, grow subscribers. It's crazy. And that's awesome. You know, we're on we're friends, we're, you know, on first name basis and we connect in other ways and like, they're my go-to people when I have like big questions I need to ask. So I love that. That's awesome. Yeah. Okay. So what's one piece of advice that you could share with a new or aspiring subscription box business owner.

Katie (21:41):

I think the piece of advice I would ha say is like, go for it. Like you can do hard things go for, but definitely test, like build your confidence through testing. try it out with a few people. Talk to a few people. I still remember this one, mom who I like showed up at the pool with in the summer of 2019. I didn't really know her that well, she's now a good friend of mine, but I was like, Hey, I know I don't really know you that well, but like, can I just ask you your opinion about this box? And I like am at the pool and I'm whipping out this box of like 4th of July stuff. But like I tell her, I'm like some of the feedback that you gave me there sitting at the pool is things that are still my head, like two years later. So I think not being afraid to be vulnerable and talk about your idea with others and get feedback and react to feedback. Um, it's probably the best advice I would have.

Julie (22:30):

I agree with you on, we can do hard things too. Yeah. Because we are so much more capable of what we might think. You know what I mean? Like we sell ourselves short so often, so yeah. Okay. So where can people follow you and find your cheer online? Yeah,

Katie (22:47):

So we are at year cheer on Instagram, um, or www dot year cheer, Y E A R C H E E

Julie (22:58):

Awesome. You guys go check it out and she can help you be the chief magic maker in your house and make it a heck of a lot easier. Right. exactly.

Katie (23:08):


Julie (23:09):

All. Well, thank you, Katie. It's been so good hearing your story. I'm super proud of you. I love what you're doing. You guys go need to go check them out at and thank you as always for listening. And I'll see you in the next episode.