Every city is unique.
New York is unique.
Toronto is unique.
Melbourne is unique.
The same goes for your city, it’s unique.
No matter where you live, in a city or close to one, you can find products that are prized for belonging to that city.
And there’s a whole market out there that’s emotionally attached to products from that city, just looking to have those products delivered to their doorstep.
Desire, desire, desire… click!
Selling items iconic or unique to your city can be a good business.
Here is how you can make it work:
1. Put up a website showcasing a list of iconic items or products unique to your city.
2. Advertise on Facebook. Target those who want to send local products as gifts to family or friends who have moved away but miss their old city.
3. Buy the items chosen by your website visitors, put everything in a box, and ship it for them as a “care package” that looks like this:
Side note: Haven’t heard about Baltimore? It’s the largest city in Maryland.
By the way, putting together gift care packages is a ton of fun, so buyers are entertained while they shop on your site.
Desire, imagination, and entertainment. That’s every online merchant’s sales dream.
City in a box model in action
This “city in a box” business model will work no matter what city you live in.
Cities in America, the UK, France, Germany, Tokyo, New Delhi, etc.
Because people have an emotional attachment to things that are unique to that city.
When they move away from a city, people are reminded of “HOME” when they get a box like this 😉
Our job as a business is to zero in on those emotions.
Today, I’m going to show you how Ross Nochumowitz from Baltimore came out with this “city in a box” business model and grew it into a successful business.
Baltimoreinabox.com – $375,000 worth of products shipped
Ross launched Baltimoreinabox.com back in 2014.
Since then, he has shipped more than $375,000 worth of products.
Ross’s unique business model triggered my curiosity when I first saw it, so I asked Ross if he would share how he built his business with Growthtext readers.
He said yes.
Let’s meet this man of action: Ross Nochumowitz.
Location: Baltimore, Maryland.
Ross sources local and iconic items in the City of Baltimore and lists them on his website for customers to choose from, then places the orders in one of his branded boxes and ships them all over the world.
What typically goes in the box?
Things that typically go in the box are:
Coasters, stickers, keychains, and packaged food products like Fishers Popcorn, Otterbein cookies, Bmore Nutz, Herr’s Old Bay Chips, tins of Old Bay seasoning, Caramels, and so forth.
According to Ross, he doesn’t personally ship anything that can melt or that is quickly perishable.
Also, he doesn’t ship any alcohol as liquor laws in certain US states prohibits shipping alcohols to anyone below 21 years old.
Ross doesn’t manufacture a single item he put in the boxes.
He personally buys the products people order, assembles the boxes, and ships them.
His profit margin is impressive…
Ross told me his margins vary, depending on items chosen and where the box is being shipped to, but on average, his margins are between 40% – 50% for each box he ships.
That’s 10x what an Amazon affiliate gets when referring a customer to amazon.com
Pretty fat, huhn?
Out of every 100 people who bought the boxes:
80% are Baltimore residents who send them to folks who were originally from Baltimore but have moved away.
20% order the boxes as a gift for themselves. Some are local residents and some are former residents who miss Baltimore.
How Ross got started…
The barrier to entry in this business model is super low.
Ross started his business in his basement. No employees, no outside investors.
He had around $500 of his own money to put into his vision.
Most of that money went toward buying his branded boxes labeled “Baltimore in a box” and the rest was spent on ads to get the word out.
In the beginning, when he was validating his concept, he paid retail for most of the items in his onsite catalog list.
He bought the products as they were ordered.
He even bought some items from the 7-Eleven down the street. (7-Eleven stores stock their shelves to meet local market demands.)
He didn’t have to wait very long to prove that he was on the right track: he sold 171 boxes in his first month in business!
Most of his sales came in through cheap ads on Facebook.
Here is how he did it…
Marketing the business- the first month
In his first month, no one knew about his business. That how it always starts out.
He decided to try his luck with Facebook ads.
He didn’t spend much to test the waters.
He spent $7 a day on Facebook ads and ran the ad for nearly 2 weeks:
If you study the screen capture, you’ll notice his ad targeted people who live in Maryland, and Baltimore in particular.
He targeted low-competition Baltimore-specific interests like:
• Hampden (a neighborhood of unique shops and atmosphere located in Northern Baltimore)
• The Baltimore Ravens (Baltimore’s NFL football team)
• National Bohemian (a beer originally brewed in Baltimore)
• Baltimore’s Federal Hill (an historic neighborhood filled with federal-style homes and good food, among other attractions)
Almost no one wanted to bid on these interests on Facebook, which allowed Ross to pay very little for his ad campaign.
His one ad sent 3,800 visitors to his website; he only paid $0.03 per click.
A great bonus from running his ads on Facebook:
A local Baltimore blogger discovered him through his Facebook ad and did a write-up on Ross’ business.
The article went viral and was shared more than 9,000 times on Facebook.
The ads + the viral blog post gave Ross his first 171 boxes.
• Facebook ad spent: $114
• Viral blog post: free
• Revenue: $6,000
• Product costs: $3,000
• Profit: $2,886
Ross proved to himself his business idea was a winner!
And the rest is history…
To date, he has shipped more than $375,000 worth of product.
Since his first marketing attempt with Facebook ads, Ross had tried many other marketing strategies to grow his business.
Some have worked, some not.
As I drilled Ross down for more information, he shared some of his successful marketing strategies with me.
Here go the goodies…
Run giveaways on Facebook.
Ross runs giveaways regularly on Facebook. Here is one example:
Using a small ad budget to pay for ads on Facebook, he drove the initial surge of traffic to his giveaway post.
Because the giveaway was a really good deal, many of Ross’ fans shared the giveaway offer with their connections throughout the Facebook community.
And those share recipients did the same…
Running a giveaway on Facebook is easy.
Ross posts a picture of one of his product-filled boxes, stating that it will be given away for free.
He states that the winner will be randomly chosen from a list of those who share or like the post.
Next, he spends $10 to boost the post to his followers.
If the response to his giveaway is working well, he spends an additional amount for Facebook to show his post to a wider niche audience.
In the above example, Ross was spending less than 1 cent per post engagement.
In a little over a day it received 741 likes and 151 shares.
The offer was seen by more than 50,000 people on Facebook, most of whom live in and around Baltimore.
The beauty of a giveaway that a lot of folks will like and share the post to win the giveaway prize; the post will go viral very fast.
Go viral – that’s the reaction Ross wants.
Though it’s a giveaway offer, some viewers will buy one of Ross’ boxes without waiting to see if they are the winner of the free one.
A giveaway offer brings in lots of people who will review the offer then head off to see what else you have on the site.
Because a free offer attracts viewers who are in acquisition mode.
Sure, there are those who are only looking for freebies; but the majority already have the mindset of acquiring a product or service, making a scroll through your desire-fulfilling product list a no-brainer.
See… want… consider… want… click!
Ross sends his boxes out to influencers in Baltimore.
They can be bloggers, celebrities, top chefs… Ross even sent a box to Miss Maryland!
The influencers who receive one of his boxes normally share their reaction to the gift with their online followers through blog or social media.
Ross can’t really track the number of sales that are the result of an influencer’s impact, but he can make an educated guess –
Every time an influencer shares the welcome effect his gift box had on them, he sees traffic spike in his Analytics.
When someone like Mia Khalifa, a famous porn star from Maryland with a 900,000-strong Instagram following, shared his enthusiastic reaction to a Baltimore-in-a-Box with his followers, Ross saw a huge spike in his website traffic, and of course, a spike in sales to go with it.
3: Word of mouth
Interesting things happen in peoples’ lives, and they love to share their experiences on social media.
If you are selling something share-worthy, like Ross does, the chances are that your hero customers and recipients will share your product are pretty high.
A lot of the recipients of Ross’ Baltimore-in-a-Boxes showcase what they received on Facebook and Instagram.
At one point, Ross began shipping a ton of boxes to the military thanks largely to a soldier stationed in Afghanistan who shared his Baltimore-in-a-Box on Facebook.
4: Local retail stores
If Ross can sell his boxes online, he can sell them offline too, right?
How about putting the boxes in retail stores?
Especially those stores that have a lot of foot traffic in tourist districts?
Ross set up an agreement to sell his boxes in a local liquor store that specializes in beers.
Since the store already carries a lot of things that go into Ross’ boxes, the deal was that the store supplied what goes into the box and Ross supplied his branded boxes.
Here’s what the box set up looked like in the store:
Putting the boxes in stores adds a passive income stream to Ross.
No more Facebook ads, no more sending free boxes to influencers.
Just cut a deal with the store owner.
In the above example, those babies flew out the door and generated a nice little chunk of revenue for him with zero promotion expense other than the cost of the boxes.
According to Ross, he sold nearly 80 boxes in that one store alone in his first month!
Since his first retail store success, today Ross has expanded to more than 10 retail stores.
Great monthly passive income.
5: Local Restaurants
In every city, there are great restaurants that keep the locals coming back.
Some of those restaurants have become traditional places to eat, loved by those still living in the city, and fondly remembered by those who have moved away.
What better idea than to ship food from these restaurants to friends and relatives who so enjoyed them?
In 2015, Ross approached a couple famous restaurants in Baltimore and its suburbs to partner with him to ship local delicacies using his branded boxes.
One of them is Jimmy’s Famous Seafood on Holabird Avenue in Baltimore.
Opened in 1974 in the suburb of Dundalk (about 20 minutes from Downtown Baltimore), Jimmy’s is best known for its scrumptious crab cakes, a Maryland specialty.
Everybody and cousin knows Jimmy’s. It’s a Baltimore Landmark.
Ross teamed up with Jimmy’s to ship their wonderful seafood in his Baltimore Boxes:
Jimmy’s was already shipping their crabs, crab cakes, and more.
Since the restaurant is set up for shipping perishables, Ross takes orders on his website and passes them on to Jimmy’s.
The orders are packaged in Ross’ Baltimore-in-a-Box brand boxes, and off they go. Easy.
When Ross launched the partnership in June of 2015, he sold 100 boxes within the first 2 days!
6: Sell in bulk
Selling boxes one by one direct to customers via website is one great way to grow the business.
But let’s be honest, it’s slo-o-ow.
This made Ross think… is there any way he could sell the boxes 50, 60, 70, or even 100 boxes at a time?
Ross found several channels that allow him to do that:
1. He works with 4 large apartment buildings, providing them with boxes to give to their tenants when they sign / renew their leases.
2. He also works with hotels in Baltimore who order boxes to give to their out-of-town guests.
3. Wedding boxes! Ross has received at least 10 inquiries from people who are interested in these for their wedding day. Some are requesting over 50 – 100 boxes.
Here is a shot of a 100-box order in action:
Selling bulk to apartments, hotels and wedding events adds another income stream to Ross’ business.
There are lots of possibilities for this city-in-a-box business.
There are so many things that identify a city for those who live there and those who have moved away that all you need is a bit of creativity and free thinking to set yourself up in the same trade as Ross.
7: Advertise on local billboards
Ross told me ever since he started Baltimore-in-a-Box, he has dreamed of having it on a billboard one day.
Ross’ thought totally resonates with me…hey, isn’t it cool when people call you up because they saw your brand on major highways and traffic areas around the city?
Ross just fulfilled that dream!
He recently experimented with advertising on local billboards.
His ad appeared on 7 different digital billboards throughout Baltimore and the ads appeared for 10 seconds every other minute.
Ross paid a total of $4,500 for 8 days and his ads were displayed well over 1,000,000 times.
Ross called Clear Channel to handle his billboard campaign Clear Channel is an International company that has billboards all over the world.
They handle everything for clients and will even do the design if you need them to.
Ross did the design for his billboard in-house to save some cost. His ad ran the week before and through Valentine’s Day, and had a spike in orders throughout his billboard campaign.
Unlike online advertising, it’s difficult to know which customers made purchases as a direct result of seeing the billboard unless you show the URL of a special landing page; for instance, BINAB-1.
By doing that, you can run analytics on the immediate results of campaign.
Ross didn’t do that or run a survey to determine how the spike customers heard about Baltimore-in-a-Box, however, because he knows his income from his daily promotions, he can calculate the difference to make a solid estimate.
Tracking is important. For an e-commerce business, Facebook is the way to go.
Facebook ads can cost less than billboard campaigns and reach your target customers who are already online. The best part is… sales conversions are track able.
Once you’ve grown your business into a sustainable income source that only needs to be scaled for greater income, like Ross has, you may want to build local brand awareness, and billboard ads provide a great way to do just that.
People won’t necessarily see the ad and then go home and order from Ross right away, or immediately have their passenger click over to the landing page, but the ad sticks in the back of their head so that when they do need a unique gift idea, they will think of Baltimore-in- a-Box brand.
Yes, it’s important to keep in mind that billboard campaigns have both instant and long-term effects on your income.
Opened a retail store
As Ross’ business expanded, he found it was harder and harder for him to maintain it at scale out of his home.
He thought it was about time to move out of his house and into a bricks and mortar shop.
At the end of 2015, Ross moved his business out of his basement and opened up his own retail store in Highland town, a Baltimore neighborhood where customers can come in and build their own box of Baltimore.
Apart from outgrowing his basement, Ross wanted to take the business to a physical store to offer a better customer experience.
According to Ross, by having a store he is now able to offer his customers a safer feeling when buying from him (even online).
A store adds a sense of legitimacy to the Baltimore-in-a-Box brand.
A storefront shows current and potential customers that Baltimore-in-a-Box is a company with real people behind the counter whom customers can approach with questions or problems, and where they can look at and touch the items they want for their custom Box.
Now that Ross operates from a physical store, he sees how much people really like the experience of building a box on the spot and taking it with them for a quick and unique gift idea!
At the time I am writing this, Ross works the store a couple of hours a day and has one full-time employee who runs the store.
Replicate this business model to your city
Ross told me he’s been living in Baltimore his whole life.
To him, it’s easy to know and be inspired by shippable items that are unique to the city.
Where are you located?
Can you make a list of 10-15 items in your city that are unique to it?
Things that people are passionate about or know it to be a [whatever your city is] type item?
Ross believes this is a business model that anyone can easily replicate with success.
Think of “New York in a box” or “Toronto in a box” or “[Wherever you live] in a box.
Ross told me he has no intention of keeping his biz plan to himself, nor does he plan on expanding his business to include another city.
You are free to take whatever idea you read here and replicate the business model for your own city.
If you have questions, post away in the comment box below and I’ll get Ross to answer your questions in the comment box right here on this post.
Ask Ross anything you like!