Good food matters.
That’s what Keith Hoelzeman and Jamie Walden thought when they started Treatsie, a monthly subscription box featuring artisan sweets from small-batch vendors around the country. And that’s what they still maintain.
Walden and Hoelzeman, friends for several years before going into business together, stumbled across the idea by chance. One Valentine’s Day, while looking for a gift online for his girlfriend, Hoelzeman found millions of artisan chocolate shops on Google.
“I didn’t know what to purchase at that point,” says Hoelzeman. “There was too much noise.”
But then, he happened to see one of his girlfriend’s monthly subscription boxes for makeup.
“There are a lot of similarities between the way makeup and high-end sweets are sold,” he says. And that was the start of it. He and Walden tested the idea of subscription treats on Kickstarter in January 2013.
“There was obviously some demand from around the country,” says Hoelzeman, so in April, after getting feedback from potential customers, they shipped their first box. This coming April will be their second anniversary.
Treatsie’s model is quite simple. For $144 a year, subscribers receive a box of sweets every month with new treats from three different vendors. The boxes ship after the 15th, and always on a Monday to ensure freshness.
There’s also an e-commerce side, which allows subscribers to come back and order more of any candy they particularly like.
For Treatsie and for the vendors, it’s what Hoelzeman calls a “symbiotic relationship.” Treatsie’s goal is to introduce subscribers to high-end chocolates they would otherwise never find unless they stumbled across the shops. They help people discover new treats every month while helping these smaller vendors extend their reach across the country.
“A lot of them are in touristy towns, so they have a few good months and the rest of the time, they’re trying to figure out how to keep their doors open,” says Walden. Partnering with Treatsie helps stabilize revenue for these vendors, some of which simply don’t have the capacity to handle the logistics of selling nationally on their own.
“A lot of it is a time aspect,” says Walden. Many of the vendors Treatsie partners with play multiple roles in-shop, from being the chef to the manager, bookkeeper and store operator all at once. And many just don’t have the technological expertise to handle wide distribution.
“They don’t have the time to invest in selling to people all over the country, so Keith and I have a background in that,” Walden adds. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we create a new kind of discovery model for these vendors?’”
Walden’s background in technology and web and graphic design helped build the infrastructure for Treatsie to sell online, while Hoelzeman’s background in logistics addressed the challenge of shipping perishable items.
Working with Treatsie just makes sense to Wes Raley of Raley’s Confectionary, which produces rock candy.
“They do their own fulfillment (and do it well), they have a product mix that juxtaposes well with our offerings, they do enough volume to make consistent orders, and their social media presence helps us build our brand,” he says.
And their subscription model gets Raley’s rock candy into the mouths of people who didn’t even know they liked hard candy.
“Believe me,” says Raley. “We’ve had a lot of converts.”
Building long-term relationships with innovative retailers like Treatsie also gives Raley’s Confectionary a chance to grow alongside them.
“Having customers who understand new media marketing and retailing in 2015 gives us the confidence to expand our operations and increase our capacity,” says Raley.
As for partnering with vendors, taste always comes first.
“Not only is this a company that we started, we also use this to gift to friends and family,” says Hoelzeman. “I want to make sure it’s something I’m proud to give them.”
Treatsie’s staff tries the samples potential vendors send in to get a feel for how it would appeal to their customer base. The key is to find a good variety for each month’s box, so it’s not all chocolate bars or all caramels.
They also try to partner with vendors from all over the country, and they’ll sometimes bring back great vendors later for new products.
And although Treatsie does have staff on hand to source chocolates, vendors are also starting to reach out on their own.
“It’s a mix,” says Hoelzeman. “We probably find 65 percent and the other 35 percent comes to us.”
Now, Treatsie has customers in all 50 states and ships several thousand boxes every month.
“We didn’t anticipate how quickly we were going to grow,” says Hoelzeman. But they have their model and execution down, and it’s just a matter of working on scale. “We try not to bite off more than we can chew.”
As the company grows, Walden and Hoelzeman are careful not to sacrifice the quality of what’s in the box. Their goal is always to help people discover amazing sweets from all over the country.
But there are always new changes on the horizon. They’re working toward offering larger boxes and offering more exclusive curated collections. Minor taste customizations are also coming, which will let subscribers indicate their preferences for things like dark and milk chocolate and coffee flavors.
They’re also working with another startup to develop a new gift product: mixing sweets and jewelry. The boxes will ship out not only with Treatsie’s candy, but also with some boutique style jewelry.
“You’ll get the best sweets and style delivered to your door,” says Walden. And who could ask for more?