Katie Fowler Hawkins, of Lavish Bath Box.

A 2015 metropolitan area shopping trip and a desire for easier access to some of the great personal care products not available in Southern Illinois gave Katie Fowler Hawkins an idea.

“As I was shopping and had this store associate showing me around, recommending all of these bath products, I thought it would be great if I could just find a way to get products like these sent to me,” Fowler Hawkins, 32, said.

She says she had been a fan of subscription-based product services such as Birchbox and Dollar Shave Club, and she began looking for a similar service which delivered unique bath and body products by mail.

“I couldn’t find one,” she said. “So I thought there might be a market for a service like that. It was something I would buy and I thought others would be interested also.”

After a little more research on the subscription service business model, Fowler Hawkins started Lavish Bath Box in early 2016. The first month she had just one subscriber.

“It was my mom,” she admitted.

Thanks to what she calls “organic growth,” today Lavish Bath Box is approaching 350 monthly subscribers.

“It’s been fun. We’ve found a little niche and we’ve seen that people like to take pictures of the boxes when they open them and the products and share them online. It’s huge on Instagram in particular,” she said. “We’ve been very, very lucky that we haven’t had to do a lot of specific paid advertising to get subscribers because they’ve been willing to share the experience with other people.”

While growing the subscription-based business has come naturally, Fowler Hawkins says finding the products to be included in the $38.95 per month box has not been as easy.

“At first I reached out to these big bath and body manufacturers to try to get them to sell to me, but what I found was that they were not going to take small wholesale orders. I ended up making contact with a bunch of independent small business owners much like me who make products in their studios, their small stores or their kitchens and including those in the boxes.”

She says the boxes now exclusively feature products from small, independent companies from across North America. Originally, Fowler Hawkins says she had to search out products to include in the boxes, but things have changed.

“Now, I have companies contacting me to get into the box and I am even collaborating with some to create new products specially for the boxes which are not available in their catalog or in any other box,” she said.

Each box typically includes six or seven items: bath and body products as well as an accessory, often all revolving around a particular theme. Box themes and items are announced prior to shipping, creating a bit of a “buzz” on social media. And while the items in the box change each month, Fowler Hawkins says customers who like a particular item are able to continue to order it from the manufacturer.

“We often include discount codes from our vendors,” she said. “It becomes a sort of win-win for everybody. The customer gets a great product and the other businesses get access to new customers.”

When it comes time to prepare and ship each month’s subscription boxes, Fowler Hawkins spend several days hand-packaging the items. Since the company’s inception, everything has been done inside the offices of her family’s business, Fowler Heating and Cooling in Marion. Each month, among the sheet metal, air handlers and furnace filters, a small team can be found wrapping products and labeling boxes. In fact, the heating and cooling company has lost use of its conference room over the last 18 months as Lavish Bath Box has taken over.

That’s about to change as Fowler Hawkins is moving her operation to a stand-alone facility on the square in Marion. The new location will not only serve as a warehouse and packaging location, but will also feature a retail store offering the same sort of products she was seeking on the fateful shopping trip years ago. She says the retail space will open in early 2019.

“You’ll be able to buy the boxes in the store, there’s going to be a build-your-own-box section as well and you’ll be able to get other wonderful products as well,” she said.

For more on Lavish Bath Box, check out its website at www.lavishbathbox.com.

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