Meaghan Rose wanted RocksBox to be a thing so badly that she singlehandedly built a WordPress site for the idea, and stocked it with her own jewelry. She sent out boxes of samples from her own closet so friends who wanted to participate could try on different looks.
Rose and RocksBox have come a long way since the company’s beta launch during Thanksgiving 2012. The originally bootstrapped subscription jewelry box startup has since moved out of Rose’s own jewelry box and into a light-filled office in San Francisco. And it has just closed a seed round of $1.5 million from Matrix Partners, Ellen Levy and Sonja Perkins.
Jewelry is a vertical that has companies trying out a couple of approaches as the industry expands to online. There is straight-up e-commerce like BaubleBar, as well as startups like Chloe + Isabel that attempt to leverage social media in addition to an offline approach.
In the same vein as companies like Le Tote, RocksBox allows you to sign up for a membership for between $15 and $19 a month, which gets you a unique box of jewelry FedExed to you as often as you’d like for 12, six or unlimited months. Rose buys the pieces wholesale from designers.
With RocksBox, you can either buy any of the three or four pieces in the box or wear them until you tire of them and simply return them. The service learns from your feedback and purchasing data and sends an even more uniquely tailored experience with each subsequent box.
Rose wants RocksBox to empower her customers. “Jewelry is a fun category, but it’s filled with fear and intimidation.” She says she decided on the RocksBox model by thinking about jewelry as an actual consumer as opposed to a CEO or consultant (Rose did a brief stint at McKinsey after attending Wharton):
As a consumer, I knew a few things: One, shopping for jewelry the old way was horrible (overwhelming, intimidating and hard to find unique stuff – no one has time for that). Two, we love variety (the very first time you wear something is the most exciting time, and it generally goes down from there). And three, there are a few pieces that you just fall in love with and you can’t let go (but it’s impossible to know which ones will reach that ‘true love’ status when you’re looking at a pile of jewelry on a shelf).
Although she would not reveal actual numbers, Rose asserts that RocksBox was cash-flow positive in December and says she is growing the customer base 30-40 percent month-over-month, over 20x in the past year. She also recently launched her own designer collection and hopes to one day offer a higher-end box, as well as expand the RocksBox brand beyond jewelry, incorporating other accessories like belt loops.
Investor Josh Hannah compares the company to Blue Nile. “I was really pushed to invest by the fact that several people close to me subscribed and could not stop raving about RocksBox. I’ve rarely seen that level of enthusiasm for such a young product,” he says.
Hannah, who also has investments in Gilt Groupe, JustFab and Polyvore, is right; after I was gifted a subscription by my boyfriend, I turned around and invited another six friends.
“I think part of the reason jewelry hasn’t moved online faster is the need to try something on and touch and feel the product,” Hannah explains. Blue Nile got around that by selling to men, so the product was never going to be tried on ahead of time anyway,” he says. “RocksBox solves this in their own way: Your subscription allows you to constantly try and rotate what you wear, but if you find a keeper, it’s easy to buy — a perfect trial model that’s profitable on both subscription and purchase.”
There is an interesting intersection at play here, between the subscription model and the usage of scale to solve a long-running conundrum. Certain segments of the market are simply more suited to offering subscriptions with an option to buy — and fashion is certainly one of the larger ones.
With commodities, the desire to touch and personally experience items has nearly disappeared — people now subscribe to toilet paper on Amazon. But with items that aren’t commodity-based, like jewelry, the key to converting browsers to buyers might actually be the oldest one in the book: get them into the store. Only, with RocksBox’s approach, that store is your living room.
Whether the sometimes problematic subscription commerce model will find its unique fit with jewelry remains to be seen. RocksBox’s funding means we have the first chance at finding out.