How Independent Music Label SubSubmarine Simplified Cross-Border Shipping with ShipBob [Case Study]

Learn how musician and SubSubmarine founder Lee Nania was able to start his own music label and launch an online store for vinyl, cassettes, and merchandise by partnering with a startup-friendly fulfillment company to simplify cross-border shipping.

 

Customer Profile

Based in Melbourne, Australia, SubSubmarine is a music label and artist collective that promotes independent artists in a variety of genres from all over the world. Founder Lee Nania, a musician himself, is passionate about promoting rare music you can’t find anywhere else and helping artists build their fan base. 

SubSubmarine is a music label and artist collective that promotes and markets independent music. Founded by musician Lee Nania, every artist represented under his label offers a unique alternative sound with elements of electronica, psych, and pop.

Although many independent labels manage artists through sites like Bandcamp, Lee had a vision to take his label to the next level by creating an online store on top of that to offer more value for artists and fans. 

We sat down with Lee to learn more about his launch of SubSubmarine during the COVID-19 pandemic, how geography and physical products play a role in a digital streaming world, and why he chose ShipBob over other 3PLs. 

Launching an independent music label during a global pandemic

As told to ShipBob by Lee Nania, Founder of SubSubmarine.

As a musician based in Australia with a fan base in the US, I worked primarily with American labels. About a year ago, a friend and I decided to start our own label. We were constantly dealing with a lot of frustration in shipping products from Australia to the United States — manually filling out customs forms and dealing with high shipping costs. 

The items we were selling were being made in the US in Florida and had to be sent back to me in Australia to store, and then shipped primarily back to the US when a customer placed an order. At the time, the majority of our catalog was, in fact, our own music. That meant we either had to give 50% of profits away to a US-based label (standard indie deal) to handle the distribution, or we had to ship from Australia with really fine margins to offset the high shipping costs between Australia and the rest of the world.  

After that experience, I decided to start SubSubmarine, which would allow me to control and expand my own catalog of artists. Instead of managing the label through Bandcamp, I created a website using BigCommerce after messing around with their free trial period and seeing how user-friendly it is. I’m not a programmer, but I know basic HTML and haven’t had to do much of that either. I also needed to use a platform that integrates with Printful, which manages all made-to-order apparel items sold on the store.   

Many of the artists represented are based in the US. America has a niche for all types of music whereas Australia’s music scene is more mainstream. Our best-selling items are vinyl and cassettes. 

A lot of people listen to music on Spotify, but many still buy physical albums, either to keep them as collectibles in mint condition and never play them, or to listen to them on their record player at home. Some people even buy two copies: one to keep and one to play. Having something physical to hold and even to display as artwork plays a role in demand for physical media. 

Adjusting to new shipping realities post-COVID-19

When I worked for the old label, I shipped orders myself through the Australian Post. I had to manually fill out customs forms, put together the box, pack every order, and run to the post office myself. It would take me a full week to send out over a hundred orders and I would spend up to two hours at the post office. 

“There is also no tracking for economy postage once it leaves Australia, and orders were getting lost all over the world after they left the country. It was a logistical nightmare when we fulfilled orders ourselves.”

Lee Nania, Founder of SubSubmarine

I was about ready to launch SubSubmarine, and then COVID-19 hit. Shipping methods suddenly became more limited and expensive to the point where it would not be feasible to ship through the Australian Post to fans in America (costing about 20 USD or 28 Australian dollars per package and getting stuck in transit). 

Learning from that experience, I needed to find a viable solution to both of these issues, which is where ShipBob came in. 

“With ShipBob, I’m able to offer competitive shipping rates within the US and move more units than I would shipping from Australia with ridiculous postage prices.”

Lee Nania, Founder of SubSubmarine

Finding a startup-friendly 3PL with flexibility and support needed to run a music label

When I contacted a few 3PLs, I learned that many of them are not conducive to startups. There are minimums just to have an account, with fee after fee — $50 for this, $50 for that. Once it all adds up, it comes out to be $250 a month just for running costs, excluding storage, shipping, and more. 

“ShipBob is the only 3PL that had a startup program that allows me to outsource fulfillment without worrying about monthly order minimums.”

Lee Nania, Founder of SubSubmarine

Running a music label, order volume fluctuates as it is based on certain times when an album drops. Even during down time, I still need an account. We don’t have continuous promotions running, and months can go by before a new physical product is ready to sell. I also couldn’t get order volume discounts if I set up an account with DHL or FedEx on my own, which have steep minimums. 

In the music industry, there are ‘digital seasons’ that make the most sense to release new music. Sometimes, I might not have orders to ship for months. With ShipBob, there are fewer caveats, and I don’t have to worry about exuberant fees on minimums. 

“I found ShipBob’s self-onboarding Growth Plan program to be straightforward and the user interface is really easy. The instructions on how to get started with ShipBob are step-by-step. Whenever I got stuck, I just emailed ShipBob’s support team, and they came back with screenshots or fixed the issue for me.”

Lee Nania, Founder of SubSubmarine

ShipBob’s customer service has been great. I have no trouble placing orders and submitting warehouse receiving orders (WROs). Plus, ShipBob’s integration with BigCommerce was easy to set up, and their technology fits nicely into my existing tech stack. I don’t use every feature in the dashboard, and months can pass before I need to use a certain feature in the ShipBob dashboard, but when I do, there are instructions available to help me through it as a quick refresher. 

Improving the customer experience through better shipping options

With ShipBob, I can keep customers updated in real time. I just hop into my account, have a look at their order, and see where it is. I’m also able to fully manage my business and logistics on the go.

“ShipBob pulls me out of having to deal with the physical labor side of the business, which allows me more time to focus on making and marketing music. It’s an automated flow that lets me spend less time on things that aren’t making money.”

Lee Nania, Founder of SubSubmarine

Working with ShipBob has been great. Being able to take advantage of USPS’s Media Mail shipping rates through ShipBob has helped out a ton.

ShipBob also provides tracking, even for international orders, and helps with overseas customs. Through ShipBob, I can use DHL and other services to help meet customers halfway.

What’s next for SubSubmarine?

We have an upcoming vinyl release for an LA-based artist Aaron Shadrow in December and a couple cassette releases beyond that. I’ve also taken over the dead stock catalog of the old label that I was involved with and will be rolling that out over the coming months.

To learn more about SubSubmarine, check out this playlist on Spotify or get to know some of the artists: Hawaii94 (Australia), David Busch (USA), Slanger (US), and Neoclone (Australia).

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