This chapter in our lives seems to be coming to an abrupt end. But in truth it was a long time coming.
There were many factors to our decision to end Nerdy Post as a subscription box. Subscription fatigue, both from customers and as owners; Creative limitations on many fronts; An imbalance of work and home life with two small children; The need for a change that every business faces as it grows. As we enter this new year and our new business model, I want to go into depth on each of these factors and how they informed our decision to move forward in a new direction for 2020 and beyond.
When I started this business 3 1/2 years ago, I had only a 1 year old. My husband had a steady job that meant Nerdy Post was there to help out a little bit with bills, but was mostly just for some extra spending cash for me. I had recently quit my own steady job to spend more time with Madeline while she was young. Ironically, the box took off so fast, that she was back in daycare after just a couple months because I couldn’t keep up with it while she was at home with me. Once she was in daycare, I was able to catch up, but that was all. Our budget was so small, I couldn’t ask other artists for help, so it was always on me to get the designs completed. By the time I did that, it was time to plan the next box. This trend continued for the next 3 years. I was designing month by month, trying to plan ahead but never successfully getting ahead. It meant that my schedule that first year was: one week to put the box together, two weeks to design, and then a recovery week. By the start of 2017, we had grown considerably. To the point that my husband quit his job to help me run this business full time. We took on my best friend Michelle at customer service, freeing me up from handling customer emails (and we are all happier for it, as I’m sure those of you who tried to contact us in the early months remember). It was too much to handle alone, and I was immensely grateful for their help. However, with more customers came my need to make each box better than the last. I started upping the amount of total items, searching for new and ultimately more expensive items, which upped the amount of designs, the turnaround time for production, etc. (It also hindered our budgets but I’ll get into that in bit). This meant that I took longer to design, and added to the stress of trying to get ahead. It’s like I was running a marathon, and every time I got to a checkpoint, I’d add an ankle weight. I’d managed to get to the next checkpoint in the time I needed, but it was more weight on me to get there. Slowly, the week I took to recharge became half a week, then a day, then nothing at all. By the beginning of 2019, I was designing the start of one box while finishing the other. There was no break. I knew, from the experience of doing bonus boxes in 2018 and essentially designing two boxes in one month, that I was capable of maintaining this workload. But I started to see the cracks in this way of life. When I had Maren in 2018, it was three days until ordering day. So I was designing in the hospital until contractions started, and I designed late into the night with my newborn baby in my arms in the recovery room the next three nights. I think we were only a couple days late getting that month’s boxes out. I felt pretty incredible and really thought I could maintain that level of work. Which I can. But it comes at the cost of the rest of my life. When I’m trying to complete 14-20 designs in the span of two weeks, I’m not a fun person to be around. I completely ignore the housework, leaving cooking for our family and cleaning up after two small tornado monsters completely up to my husband. I also force him to take the brunt of the girls’ transportation, which is an hour commute each morning and another each afternoon- as their school is 30 minutes from our house. I also ignore my own health. (I gained almost 10lbs in 6 months because I stopped giving myself the time to work out just two times a week, and I eat to trick my tired mind into staying awake, even though I’m not hungry, in order to pull ridiculous work hours to get things done. It hasn’t been pretty). I’m impatient with my children and angry when they disrupt my work time with common children things that shouldn’t affect me (like an up-all-night teething baby, or a 4year old who just wants to play make believe with her mom for an hour). I use their grandparents more than I should to take them when they’re home on the weekends or weeknights, so I can work even more. I don’t like myself during those weeks and I don’t think my family does either. Then I spend what precious time I have before I start all over again trying to make up lost time and there just isn’t enough of it. It’s lost forever. Between adding a second child and all the chaos that entails, and the workload becoming what it is, I barely remember what Madeline being 3 was like and I won’t get that back. I don’t want to miss any more. But if we couldn’t make a change and had to go on, I would have. Because I love being an entrepreneur and owning my own business. And being able to pay bills helps too.
And that brings me to Creative Limitations. Because paying our bills is important for this business to do. That means budget considerations and the ever important Theme Choices. The subscription box in its current form has become a hindrance to my creativity on several fronts. We have to pick twelve themes a year that have enough weight in the fandom to draw sufficient excitement from customers to actually buy that month’s box, while also being fresh enough that we don’t become the people who only do the same five themes over and over because those are the ones that pay. We aren’t like other boxes out there. We don’t have a new book to draw you in, with extra goodies on the side that you may or may not like (and that’s fine because you have a new book). We are the goodies on the side and you have to enjoy what we put in the boxes or you won’t buy it. I am a part of so many fandoms and I want to share them with everyone. So I become obsessed with… let’s say Red Rising. I desperately want to do a Red Rising box, but I know that I never can. The subset of the fandom that is also into bookish goodies is small. It’s a massive risk to take up one of our 12 spots- one of our monthly paychecks, essentially- with a “small” fandom. Small for us means a third of the paying customers to our “big” themes. Big themes pay our bills. Small ones do not. We simply can’t afford to take risks with smaller fandoms. So all my excitement and creativity that surround the smaller themes gets stuffed in a box in my head with a little label that says “maybe in a mash-up box you can pull one idea out” or “someday, when you have enough time to do another bonus box”. I’ve got a lot of those little boxes in my mind. Meanwhile, we know for example that the Sarah J Maas fandom has a large subset of bookish-goodies loving customers. So we do more than one box with that theme. By the second box, I had grown bitter about her series. I’d burned out any creative excitement I originally had for those series. And it becomes so repetitive, you just dread having to do it for the sake of the paycheck. But then I think, well, what if we did this super cool item in the box that actually sounds exciting and different to me, and helps stave off the burnout? Well, then my husband says “Sorry, no, that’s outside our budget, because these are the parameters of the box costs and that can’t ever change.” Or if the cost is right, I hear instead, “Sorry, no, that’s outside our weight limit, because we can’t go over this many ounces or we will eat every bit of profit trying to ship these.” And if by some miracle, an item fits both those categories, I usually then hear, “Sorry, no, the production time is way outside of our shipment. If you had thought of this a month earlier, not that you have the time to get ahead, then we could do it.” This happens every single month. What remains is a sense of apathy. “Well,” I say, as we sit down to decide what goes in our next month’s box, “same old stuff, then?” And we both nod and sigh. Our hearts can’t be in it when there’s so little creativity left available to us. If I had a team of people to help me, I have no doubt a lot of this would change. But I don’t. We don’t have the budget for that. We live off our profits. We can’t inject that back into our business. Not as it stands right now. Not unless our subscriber count multiplied significantly.
And that brings me to Subscription Fatigue. As I explained above, we as owners are feeling the fatigue due to the theme limitations and the creative stagnation. The last thing I want is for our customers to be able to feel, just by opening a box from us, that lack of joy we have in putting it together. You aren’t going to buy art from an artist who half-asses her work. I don’t want to put work like that out in the world. But I’m tired of our current situation and that means it has to change in order to give you all the best work I have. I’m also tired, as a customer—as are many of you, I know—of getting the same things in subscription boxes all the time. I personally subscribe to about four boxes and a couple smaller subs. I have boxes of candles, boxes of bags, boxes of stickers and patches and bookmarks and art and notebooks and jewelry, and more fandom card decks than I’ll ever need in a lifetime littering my office floor. I love all the things when I get them and then I stand there wondering what the heck am I going to do with it all? I’m a collector of things. I’m an artist, and by and large they tend to live in a state of organized chaos. I love my decoratively cluttered fandom shelves where I display my favorites books and all the trinkets I’ve amassed to go with them. But even I am overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff I have and can’t use. And I feel as a sub box owner that I am massively contributing to the same thing in other people’s homes. I don’t like the feeling that gives me. I want to put out artwork and products that people can actually use and appreciate and not stuff in a box. That’s why the Harry Potter ReCovered collection was such a breath of fresh air for me. It was an insane amount of work, because I pretty much announced it a couple days after we thought it up and nailed down the specifics. But it contained none of the little things that I felt didn’t matter. You can display the covers on the books because they’re already out. If, like me, you have quite the collection of Harry Potter props, the boxes are useful and decorative. I’m putting my wands in the tube, and the box with the lapel pins—which get worn— will be added to help vary my funko display. And that’s it. No “let’s add a keychain because this box needs one more item.” I want to do more of that. I want the excitement of creating without the limits of budget or box size or weight. I don’t want to be hindered by production time, or theme choice. I want to give you things that you are freaking out over when you open it. None of that can be accomplished with a box that can’t hold more than 8 or 16 ounces, or within a budget created 3 1/2 years ago for a box that contained much less, all having to be completed within a single month every month in perpetuity. It’s exhausting and unfulfilling. We have outgrown this model for our business.
And that leads to the final factor: Inevitable Growth and Change of A Business. After six months of Nerdy Post, we did an initial sale of past boxes. It was a one time thing and then we let inventory build up again. As time went on, we realized that we had enough inventory to actually start a store. So we changed. We added a store. We also added t-shirts as an option. That particular side of things has grown steadily every month. As it grew we expanded our shirt options and our colors. The next year, we saw the need to expand our original box limitations and we introduced our ultimate box. I had been feeling all those same things I mentioned in the previous paragraph, and this option gave me some breathing room. As we see now, it wasn’t quite enough. We have come to another pivot point. A chance to expand again. This time is decidedly more drastic. But so much more potential to be rewarding for both myself/my family and for you, the customer.
With that said, it’s time for me to explain what we have in store for the future:
Subscriptions are ending. (You don’t have to cancel... it will automatically expire). Our business has changed its name to reflect this shift, as I mentioned on IG on Monday. We are going to focus less on sending you a big box of quantity and more on giving you options of quality.
Firstly, we are not getting rid of T-shirts, so don’t panic. In fact, you’ll be seeing a lot more. No longer hindered by a monthly subscription or particular theme, we will be releasing new designs much more often and for a much larger range of fandoms (and in some cases, no fandom at all, just cool designs or sayings). You’ll be getting an email with more in-depth information on the shirts and changes being made there (like size options, which are expanding). Along with increasing the frequency of brand new designs, we are also bringing past designs (originally on other types of items) onto shirts for the first time. We are really excited about this. We will have pre-order windows, which will allow you to buy your shirts at a discounted price from when they hit the store later on. But we will be stocking more shirts in the store and re-ordering if the design is popular enough, so if you miss out on the shorter pre-order window, you’ll still have a chance to get a shirt. This is especially good for those of you who find our site after seeing everyone posting about their pre-order shirts!
We still plan to do more Favorites ReCovered boxes (I am brimming with ideas) but we will actually give me time to complete the designs before we even announce them. Which means better teasers and much quicker shipping times once pre-orders end. When we do boxes like this, we want them to be as amazing as our initial HP ReCovered box and we want to make sure we have the adequate time needed to create the best box possible.
We also plan to do more sets and small collections of things, like pins or stickers or bookmarks. We’ll be bringing in brand new products we haven’t been able to do before, and the plans for these particular items are EPIC. And occasionally, when the inspiration strikes, we will do full boxes just like we’ve done in the past.
As for the store as you have known it, the only big change will be that we are offering more individual items, to give you more flexibility in what you’re buying.