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Curls in a Box: The Boom of Sampling Programs for Textured Hair

By: Michelle Breyer
Posted: July 22, 2014

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“Sample boxes are a win for both brands and consumers,” says Dennis.

Speaking from Experience

Many of the sampling boxes in the textured hair category were created by women with curls and coils. Dekem Dekem Inc. was the brainchild of Yvonne Terry, a woman who transitioned from relaxers to her natural hair texture 11 years ago. “I spent thousands of dollars trying to find the right products to keep my hair nicely styled and healthy,” Terry recalls. “Over the years, I learned what worked best for my [coils], but I also learned a bit about [curly hair] and the best products for those hair types.”

Friends and family began seeking her out for recommendations about products, and she soon was sending them hair product packages to try. “I loved sending out these care packages, but it became very costly,” Terry says. “Shortly thereafter, Dekem Dekem was born.”

While providing consumers with an easy and fun way to sample products before they buy, Terry says brands are better able to target consumers who may not know about particular product lines. Although Dekem Dekem features well-known national brands, the boxes also showcase many of the smaller niche brands, grassroots brands that have helped shape the category. Terry works with 10 to 12 different brands and doesn’t repeat products within a 12-month period. “Our goal is to match the right product with the right subscriber,” she explains. “In doing so, this presents a win-win for both Dekem Dekem and the brands featured in the Dekem box.”

Different sample box subscription services appeal to different brands and consumers depending on their model. With the Birchbox model, which typically has hundreds of thousands of subscribers, the focus is on larger, mass brands that can afford to supply such large number of samples—which is typically not an option for many smaller brands. Birchbox also provides brands with market research from subscribers. With the Ipsy model, the brand pays a price per sample, accessing the company’s influential vloggers as well as its engaged customer base. Social media accompanies the video to create buzz, and the brand is guaranteed exposure. The PinchMe model lets consumers choose their own products from a wide assortment on the site—everything from nutrition bars to hair care—asking for feedback in return.

And then are the boxes created specifically for curly/coily consumers. They have carved out a unique niche, keeping their subscription base small so they can include the smaller brands many consumers are looking for. They also have the ability to target the social media channels most frequented by women with curly and coily hair textures. For that reason, many brands in the textured hair space prefer to work with these types of subscription boxes.

“The sample boxes for curly hair are very targeted,” says Steve Torch, CEO of Curly Hair Solutions, a Toronto-based curly hair brand that has sampled through Birchbox, CurlBox and CurlKit. “Sampling outside of these curl boxes doesn’t allow you to get a true test as people with straight hair also get your samples.” Before these targeted subscription box companies existed, it was very difficult to sample a mass quantity to the right target market, especially for brands that aren’t in mass retail, Torch says.

Getting the Word Out

For new brands, subscription boxes can be a vital part of the marketing strategy. “Sampling can prove to be a significant financial spend for a brand, and it’s only effective if a brand is able to get that product into the hands of the target market,” says Nancy Twine, creator of Briogeo, a two-year-old curl brand. “Otherwise, samples end up in the trash or stocked away in a drawer, never to be used. Sampling programs that provide a customized approach to distributing samples allow brands to target their sampling efforts toward the customers that matter the most.”

One of the hottest boxes in the textured hair subscription space is CurlKit. Founded in 2012 by husband-and-wife-team Heather and Dino Cummings, the company experienced a 5000% increase in subscribers in its first year alone.