Thinking Outside the Cannabis Subscription Box

Hemper subscription box
(Tina Ballew for Leafly)

In their last semester at George Washington State University in D.C., Bryan Gerber and two of his college buddies came up with an idea — as clothing and food subscription boxes climbed in popularity, why not apply the same concept to the marijuana industry?

“I was trying to find convenient ways of purchasing rolling papers and lighters and simple accessories offline,” said Gerber, now chief executive officer of the New York-based Hemper Box. “My roommates and friends would come over to hang out and pick up a pack of papers every day… It sounded like an opportunity.”

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In that opportunity, Hemper was born. After a rejection from Amazon and some additional research, Gerber found weed subscription boxes with similar concepts — see products like The Kush Crate and Puffer Box. Gerber, however, wanted to pursue a different approach.

“They just weren’t doing it in the way that I would do it,” Gerber said. “We’re the box who thinks outside of the box, as cliche as that sounds.”

(Tina Ballew for Leafly)

Hemper Box launched in June of 2015 with 30 subscribers. Gerber described the launch as time-consuming and detail oriented.

“I went up to New York and we packed our first 30 boxes. It took us like five hours,” Gerber said. “We were sweating trying to make everything perfect and position every piece. It was our debut.”

Just a couple months after their launch, popular Weedtuber Jane Dro did a Youtube unboxing of their wares, and suddenly Hemper’s online virality experienced incredible growth.

“We catapulted the brand,” Gerber said. The jump increased Hemper’s profit five-fold, giving the company an opportunity to invest in deeper relationships with prominent smoke-friendly celebrities. Just three months after launch in 2015, Hemper was ready make moves toward their concept of celebrity-curated content.

The company would work with an aligned celebrity, and let them choose the items for a monthly box. Gerber believes it feels like a unique opportunity to connect with your favorite celeb-stoners.

“You’re kind of smoking with them on the couch for a month,” Gerber said.

“We started working with larger Youtubers and bigger celebrities. Ty Dolla Signs, Cypress Hill, Flosstradamus, and a bunch of other people.” Now the company boasts about 10,000 monthly subscribers for their standard $30 order — The Glassentials Box. It includes 10 or more items valued at more than $100, including a Hemper piece and accessories like lighters, bangers, bowls, air fresheners, and more.

Glass bong-2 Chainz-Flosstradamus-Cypress Hill
(Tina Ballew for Leafly)

After the growth, however, Gerber and the Hemper team became concerned that development was outpacing the market — and every subscription box’s biggest fear is redundancy. The solution? In late 2016 the company began developing their own products.

For those seeking a more non-committal relationship with their cannabis-related deliveries, Hemper has non-subscription kits priced from $14.99 to $59.99. But to Gerber, the personalization still isn’t at the level they want it to be. Now, Hemper is looking to switch up the weed subscription box market again with more customization options than ever before.

“We’re giving consumers six categories and they get to choose the items based on a highly-curated set of products,” Gerber said. “We’ll have more high-end products, we’re turning this into a lifestyle box. We want to be super flexible with people because everyone’s smoking lifestyle is unique — everyone’s different.”

Cannabis subscription boxes, celebrity curated
(Tina Ballew for Leafly)

With the cannabis industry still in its adolescence, concepts like this are fairly uncharted territory. That lack of precedent means there’s really nothing to refer to for guidance. “This industry is unique and we’re trying to pioneer this new shopping experience,” Gerber said. “We’re testing, iterating, testing, iterating.”

Gerber believes the smoking accessory industry can be broken down into a few niche markets — cleaning, glass, storage, and essentials. Through their distribution with the box, Hemper’s created different sub-brands. Like Hempertech, a cleaning line for dirty pieces, or Aromas, a candle company that Gerber describes as having “pseudo-weed” scents like Maui Wowie, Jack Herer, and Pineapple Express.

Thanks to feedback from the box subscribers, Hemper is now selling products in more than 700 stores.

(Tina Ballew for Leafly)

“It’s a unique model,” Gerber said. “We almost have a test market of our own people. We develop products, send them to thousands of people, and get immediate feedback.” That actionable insight then helps them get products on shelves across the country.

“It’s our way to keep pushing the needle forward,” Gerber said. With 25 new products currently in development, they show no signs of slowing down.

“We want to continue diversifying the product offerings, and to keep showing our subscribers stuff that they didn’t know they needed,” said Gerber. “That’s where I’ve felt we’ve succeeded — introducing people to new stuff, doing the discovery for people.”

(Tina Ballew for Leafly)

While the Hemper Boxes are fun, their future seems to lie in product development of useful things like Snapcap Alcohol Swabs and Cleaning Plugs. Other items still in R&D include a switchblade roach clip, and a travel grinder plus storage container that Gerber anticipates will “take the market by storm.”

“We’re trying to take unique spins on products that are already in the space, but innovate on top of them,” Gerber said. “That’s what we want to be known for — innovation and discovery.”

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