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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 27, 2019 3 weeks ago

With alternative to hotel gift basket, entrepreneur grows business

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Shuchi Vyas has created a package of useful items for guests at hotels and other rental properties.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

It has been a busy summer for GuestBox. Founder and CEO Shuchi Vyas has been signing on new customers and adding new product companies to the mix for her growing business.

Vyas has created an alternative to the hotel gift basket, dubbed GuestBox. It’s a package of useful items, such as toiletries, snacks and skincare products, for guests at hotels and other rental properties. “What we’re really doing from a higher level is basically standardizing a welcome basket,” she says. “We’re standardizing the budget for them, providing a high-quality guest welcome experience that’s branded, dynamic and relevant, and we’re providing items that guests would actually use during their stay.”

Courtesy. A GuestBox includes toiletries, snacks and skincare products for people staying at hotels and other rental properties.

Her Tampa-based business has its roots in a classic entrepreneurial scenario — she experienced a need and created something to fulfill it. “I was an Airbnb host in Manhattan, and I always struggled to provide something to my guests other than the basics,” she says.

Vyas wanted her guests to feel welcome, so if she knew someone was bringing a child, for example, she would run out to the store and buy some kid-friendly snacks. But it wasn’t an efficient process. That led to an idea. The subscription box industry was booming, and she realized there was a place in the market for a box catered toward guests.

Since then, she’s built her business through a combination of cold calling, marketing and client referrals. Now Vyas is bracing for rapid growth, with challenges to overcome in the form of access to the right investors and continuing to sign on additional customers.  

Vyas launched the beta version of GuestBox in July 2017, after earning second place in a startup competition. She says the win gave her early validation that the business idea could be viable. 

The company initially focused on selling baskets to multiproperty Airbnb hosts. It still serves clients in that segment today, but about a year ago it shifted toward hotels. That’s where Vyas sees momentum for GuestBox, with opportunities for higher sales volume and to impact a greater number of guests. “The fact that we are really helping solve multiple pain points within the hospitality industry became more clear as we expanded into that space,” she says.

The list of obstacles hotels face when trying to give special guests a nice welcome gift is long. Drink tickets and wine bottles hotels offer often get left behind because travelers have different preferences and face airport security restrictions. Fruit and cheese platters might sit in a room for hours before a guest gets to them and thus lose their freshness by the minute. And elaborate welcome baskets are expensive — both in terms of the items included and the staff time it takes to assemble them.

Vyas’ pitch? GuestBox makes it more efficient and enjoyable, all the way around. “We’re trying to help the industry focus on what they’re good at: core hospitality,” she says. “We’re bringing expertise to the whole process, standardizing it and making it easy.”

“We’re trying to help the industry focus on what they’re good at: core hospitality. We’re bringing expertise to the whole process, standardizing it and making it easy.” — Shuchi Vyas, founder and CEO, GuestBox

To gain more customers, Vyas has leveraged cold calls and marketing along with referrals and in-person sales pitches. “Now we’re big enough to schedule those conversations in advance,” she says. “There would be certain hotels on our target list we’d want to get in front of.”  

Along with solving challenges for the hospitality industry, the boxes also solve a pain point for product-based companies: exposure. GuestBox gets products directly into the hands of potential customers. It uses products from larger companies all the way down to mom-and-pop businesses. Vyas says it has different agreements with each company for compensation.

In the past 12 months, Vyas says GuestBox has shipped out approximately 15,000 boxes.  “And we’re growing that as well pretty rapidly,” she says. To manage the orders, the company uses a professional fulfillment center in Tampa. Prices of boxes range from $5 to $50 a box, depending on quantity, size and order frequency. Vyas declines to disclose revenue figures or how much she's invested in the business, saying only, in an email, "We are generating high revenue, and we are self-funded."

In growing further, one of GuestBox’s biggest challenges is a common one for young companies — access to capital. “We’ve said ‘no’ to a lot of money,” Vyas says, adding that she seeks an investor in the hospitality industry with a startup mindset. “It’s been tough to find the right investors.” The company is now in conversations with strategic investors, she says.

Vyas’ vision for the company involves fostering connections for the multiple groups in the GuestBox cycle. “We’re helping hotels create better experiences for their guests, we’re helping travelers feel more welcomed and cared for, and we’re helping product companies increase their exposure and distribution.”

(Editor's Note: This article was updated to reflect the correct price options for GuestBox.)

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