This blog post is part of our Customer Spotlight series. Throughout the series we highlight Chargify merchants and the lessons learned as they grow their subscription-based business.

How did an insurance underwriter, kindergarten teacher, and real estate appraiser create a subscription box company that generated $1M in sales in their first year?

This is the story of SprezzaBox. Sprezza (pronounced \spret-sa\) is Italian slang referring to being dapper or stylish without even trying.

SprezzaBox is a monthly subscription box for men. On average, each box contains a tie, pocket square, socks, an accessory (i.e. tie clip, bracelet, cufflinks, etc.), a lifestyle item (they’ve included everything from sunglasses to cocktail ware), and one grooming product—all of which are hand-selected by an in-house stylist.

Esquire raved, “it’s like manna from the postal service for the aspiring Pitti peacock.” For those who don’t speak the language of fashion, the company is for the dapper man who wants the convenience of fashion delivered to his doorstep at an affordable price.

So, how did three unlikely founders create a company that has become a darling of the subscription box industry with raving fans and extraordinary growth rates?

The birth of SprezzaBox

In 2014 Philip Sblendorio worked by day as an insurance underwriter, but he was well-known to his large Instagram audience for the selfies he shared of his outfits every day. Each photo showed Sblendorio impeccably dressed; he was quickly becoming an Instagram influencer in the menswear space.

Friends Sblendorio and Disi Fei (who spent her day as a kindergarten teacher) found themselves wondering why a subscription box for men’s fashion and accessories didn’t exist. Within days of the idea, they brought in Lenin Batista and the three friends set out to test the validity of turning their idea into a business. They envisioned a men’s subscription box that would replenish fashion basics such as high quality socks and ties on a monthly basis while also introducing subscribers to new brands.

SprezzaBox began in April 2014. The trio credits Instagram as key in their rapid organic growth. The platform was beginning to take off, and Sblendorio began posting about SprezzaBox to the large, fashion-focused audience on his personal Instagram account.

Instagram 2014

Instagram circa 2014

They created a separate Instagram account for the company itself, “and things started growing quickly after that,” remembers Batista.

From the beginning, the company experienced approximately 50% growth every month. By the start of 2015, the three co-founders “took a leap of faith” and quit their day jobs to focus on SprezzaBox full-time.

Growth and lessons learned

The co-founders admit in the early days of SprezzaBox, they were learning as they went along. As with any startup, there were some obstacles to overcome and lessons learned as they grew.

Manual processes don’t scale

While SprezzaBox subscribers never would have guessed it from the high quality subscription boxes they were receiving, initially the company’s co-founders packed every box and then drove them to the post office.

“We had an assembly line in the living room. One person would put the tissue paper in the box, another person would fold the ties, and the third person would put the ties in the box. We were fulfilling quotes for close to 1000 boxes from a living room,” remembers Batista. They used their three person assembly line to manually pack…Every. Single. Box.

This system worked when the business idea was being validated, but a few months after launch they teamed up with a fulfillment center to outsource the day-to-day packing and shipping.

In the early days, the founders weren’t just physically packing and shipping the monthly boxes, they were also manually handling support inquiries, printing shipping labels, tracking subscribers in an Excel spreadsheet, and more.

Weighed down with handling everything manually, “we were just keeping up with making sure the company was running instead of really focusing strategically on the next box and how to grow,” says Sblendorio.

SprezzaBox moved to third party tools for automating business activities that weren’t central to their core business goals, such as utilizing Zendesk for support.

 

Once we started taking those manual tasks off our hands and started delegating those to other companies or hiring employees, that’s when we really found that we were able to start thinking strategically about marketing, sourcing, and ideas to make the box even greater.
Philip Sblendorio, Co-Founder & CEO of SprezzaBox

 

Partner with companies that allow you to customize their solution to your business needs

It wasn’t simply about outsourcing and utilizing third party solutions to automate processes. The founders learned they needed to partner with companies who provided enough flexibility that SprezzaBox could customize the solutions to their specific business needs.

“There are plenty of companies out there that will want your business. Many of them have developed their own business models that work very well for particular scenarios. However, you’ll find that your startup issues will be unique to you, and that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t always going to work for your specific business needs. The ideal partners are flexible enough to customize and adapt to your business strategy,” explains Batista.

 

It is a constant battle to differentiate your business from your competitors and provide unique products or services. If your hands are tied because your strategy is limited by the capabilities of the companies you rely on, then it will be easier for your competition to out-maneuver or copy you. This is the main reason why we selected Chargify to be our backend for our subscription billing. While other recurring billing companies had compelling offers, ultimately we found that they were limited by very strict rules as to what they could or would not do. Chargify offered us the most flexibility; they allowed us to start with a very basic strategy, build upon it as we learned what worked for us, and then scale it to keep up with our growth.
Lenin Batista, Co-Founder & CTO of SprezzaBox

 

He points to being able to tailor a subscriber’s billing cycle and create unique coupon codes as examples of the flexibility Chargify provides them. SprezzaBox uses coupons heavily; they use Chargify to quickly and easily create as many as 50,000 unique coupon codes at one time.

coupon code sprezzabox

Hire early

Soon after the founders transitioned to working on SprezzaBox full-time, they also acquired office space and began hiring employees. They were continuously seeing 50% growth rates month-after-month, and the need to ramp up staff quickly to fulfill current and future orders was clear.

“In the beginning, we were simply hiring to keep up with where the subscriptions were heading in the next 2 to 3 months. By the time we got somebody hired, trained, and running up to speed, it was time to focus on our next hires,” says Batista.

Looking back, they agree they’re glad they started hiring as early as they did.

Since those early days, SprezzaBox outgrew their initial office space and moved into larger office space in New York City. The company’s monthly growth rate continues to be similar to what they experienced in their first year, so staffing appropriately remains a priority.

How SprezzaBox cornered the market

While there have been competitors who have entered the market following SprezzaBox’s launch, many in the industry state SprezzaBox continues to standout from competitors and has scaled so successfully they’ve effectively cornered the market.

How did they do it?

A crystal clear understanding of their audience and where to market to them

SprezzaBox’s ideal customers are younger gentlemen who work in an office setting and want to be stylish but “cannot afford a personal stylist and simply don’t have the time to find great quality brands at the right price,” according to Sblendorio.

Sblendorio had already been engaging with SprezzaBox’s target audience on his personal Instagram account, so they knew where to market to their ideal customer from day one. Instagram was not only a key to SprezzaBox’s rapid organic growth, but also allowed the company to better understand their target demographic and identify additional platforms to engage with them.

Following their early success with Instagram they branched out to targeting SprezzaBox’s audience through fashion influencers such as Instagram fashion models and fashion bloggers.

As their customer base expanded, SprezzaBox created their Brand Ambassador Program, a referral program with a variety of benefits including exclusive giveaways, admission into an invitation-only Ambassadors online community, and bragging rights:

hybrid gentleman joshua price SprezzaBox

Joshua Price secured bragging rights as “the first man in Arkansas selected to be a Brand Ambassador for SprezzaBox.”

Many SprezzaBox Ambassadors have sizeable Instagram followings themselves, allowing the company to continue to market to their target audience on a platform where they’re heavily engaged.

The company spends little on paid marketing and focuses their efforts on social media and influencer marketing, according to Fei.

High quality products

 

We don’t just throw a box together with gimmicky products or cheap brands. We have an in-house stylist (yes, a real one) that designs and curates the boxes each month. We handpick, wear, and test each product beforehand.
Philip Sblendorio, Co-Founder & CEO of SprezzaBo

 

Well-known brands are attracted to the company’s large, targeted audience and sometimes even provide products that are exclusive to SprezzaBox and their subscribers. The company also seeks out new brands to introduce subscribers to.

The cost of each monthly SprezzaBox is less than $30, but they guarantee the total retail value of the products in each box will surpass $100. For example, here is the breakdown of a previous box:

fulton previous sprezzabox

Consistently providing high quality products has helped SprezzaBox grow, amass loyal subscribers, and become a leader in their market.

In addition to monthly subscription boxes, the company has an online store where individual products are available for purchase. They’ve also expanded to creating groomsmen boxes: you provide the wedding colors, they provide the stylist consultation, and the end results are custom boxes with matching accessories for all the groomsmen!

Having cornered their market, what’s next for SprezzaBox?

The future of SprezzaBox

They’ve worked hard to become the market leader and part of their future plans include ensuring they remain best-in-class.

 

I think we have a really good niche. Nobody else is doing it to the extent that we are. We’re very focused on listening to our customers and staying on top of fashion trends to ensure we continue to provide exceptional value in every box. We’re proud of our position as market leader.
Disi Fei, Co-Founder & Creative Director at SprezzaBox

 

While they’re currently focused on marketing via Instagram and Instagram Stories, they’re closely monitoring the rise of new social media platforms to potentially capitalize on in the future. Batista notes that while Snapchat is still relatively new, the platform allows businesses to engage with much younger audiences than businesses have traditionally been able to.

There’s also a special milestone they would like to hit: 100,000 active SprezzaBox subscribers.

Based on their consistent growth rates, attention to detail and quality, and clear market domination we have no doubt SprezzaBox will hit that goal and many others — they’re already on pace to hit $15M in sales this year! For more information about SprezzaBox visit www.sprezzabox.com.