The "of-the-month" subscription model is nothing new, but the beauty industry has taken it to a new level in the last few years, most notably with beauty sample subscription boxes. Now there's a new package vying for room in your mailbox.
The latest in beauty subscriptions is nail polish-only models. With the popularity of nail polish at an absolute high right now, it's kind of amazing that this hasn't happened earlier, but several new services have launched in the past few months.
Click through for the scoop on the new services.
Julep, the cult nail polish brand based in Seattle, was one of the first to launch a nail polish subscription service. Jane Park, a former Starbucks exec, launched Julep as a line of salons in Seattle back in 2007 with her own nail polish brand. She then launched Julep Mavens, a monthly subscription nail polish delivery service, back in 2011. While Park declined to tell us how many subscribers Julep has, an article about her in The Seattle Times back in June of last year pegged the number at around 150,000. (Compare this to Birchbox, which last reported just over 100,000 subscribers.)
The way it's set up now, you pay $19.99 per month (with options to skip months or send your box to a friend) and fill out a style profile. You then get a box every month that includes two full size polishes and a beauty product (like hand lotion), or in the case of the "It Girl" box, three nail polishes, all Julep's brand.
And apparently Park is doing something right, because Julep just received $10 million in funding to grow the brand and expand to other beauty product categories, though the focus will still remain mostly on polish. But the brand will continue to offer its monthly subscription box service and still keep a strong focus on nail polish.
But Julep's getting some competition...
Color Me Monthly:
Other start-up nail polish companies are following Julep's lead, introducing a monthly subscription service and relying solely on social media to get the word out. One of these, Color Me Monthly, went live in fall 2012 and was founded by two sisters with an aim to provide an eco-friendly polish. Their model is relatively simple: Pay $7 and get one polish a month--the colors are a surprise every month--from their eponymous line, complete with a cute haiku card describing the color. The polishes are "3 Free" (a designation meaning they don't contain dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene), and the bottles are laser-etched rather than printed, which is apparently better for the environment. While the founders didn't respond to our requests for an interview, their company has been getting generally positive feedback in the nail polish blogosphere.
Another start-up, Square Hue, just launched this past December with a subscription model as well. For $21, you get three polishes every month from their line, and like Color Me Monthly, the colors are a surprise until you open the box.
George Cuevas is one of six partners (three couples) who launched Square Hue, and their goal is to ultimately raise money for charity. While working on a project with their church, they were inspired to start a business to give back. Right now, about 30% of profits is going to charity, and they hope to increase that. "We asked ourselves, 'How much money can we make in order to give it away?'" Cuevas told us. "We wanted it to be fun."
They fell into nail polish sort of blindly. "We love design. [Nail polish] is such a great item. SO many women use it," Cuevas said. "But you go to a store and their displays stink, there are colors all over the place. I thought we could do something easier." Square Hue currently has over 500 subscribers.
Considering the team has no background in beauty, the product is pretty decent. The packaging is graphic and architectural, and looks fairly high end. And the colors are on-trend without being over-the-top. Each month's box is themed. The March box I trialed had a soft, shimmery gold color, a metallic copper, and green with a sheen that was rich but somehow not tacky.
Love nail art? There's a box for you, too.
Nail art lovers have a box just for them, too. Nail Art Society was started by Tia Valenciano, who previously worked for a company that launched a subscription service "similar to Birchbox" (she declined to name it).
"I’ve always been a fan of Japanese nail art and I did some research in the nail category," Valenciano told us. "I thought, 'Wouldn’t it be fun to create a nail club for women?'”
Nail Art Society has tweaked its pricing structure since launching in January of this year, and for $9.95 a month (they received some backlash when they charged $19.95 for a box) you get polish and some nail art tools. "We’re a curating service. We try to stay ahead of trends in nail art and provide accessories that you can’t necessarily walk into your local drugstore and buy," Valenciano said. "We’re trying to build up your kit for nail art. Every month you’ll get new things to keep building up your collection--like striping tools, polishes, and things like that."
While several good subscription model nail polish companies have popped up in the past few years, there is still a big hole in the market--namely for a service that sends a variety of name brand polishes as opposed to an indie start-up's in-house brand every month.
Lacquerous, the so-called "Netflix of Nails," launched a high-end nail polish rental service last fall, in which they send you three used polishes every month. You get to keep them for 30 days and then you return them. This concept was met with varying degrees of "Eww," but as the founders told the New York Times, it's no different from what happens when you hit your local nail salon. (That little brush touches a lot of different hands.) But so far we haven't found a viable service--well, except for the traditional e-commerce Sephora route--that will send you name brand, in-demand colors every month.
With the market so glutted with different nail polish brands, it has yet to be determined whether the subscription box model will be successful for brands. After all, Julep started first with a brick-and-mortar concept and expanded online.
Would you subscribe to a nail service for a brand you had no experience with?