Though there’s no proof they exist, people still love — and believe in — The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and other creatures known as cryptids. So much so that these urban legends have become cottage industries. But now you don’t have to travel to Scotland or the Canadian woods or even New Jersey just to buy a t-shirt of Nessie, Sasquatch, or The Jersey Devil; you can just subscribe to the Cryptid Crate, a new subscription box from Box Mountain. In the following email interview, Box Mountain CEO Matt Gorton and COO Mike Oreszczyn explain what you get each month in your Cryptid Crate, and how it works.
Matt Gordon, Mike Oreszczyn
For someone unfamiliar with subscription boxes, what are they, how do they work?
Matt: A subscription box is a periodic shipment filled with different items based around some theme. It can be anything from collectibles to everyday use items like soap to food. Usually there is some benefit to being subscribed, such as exclusive items, discounts, or just having an “expert” in the field picking a gift out for you every month. I think that a lot of people treat it as a little monthly gift to themselves.
And then what is the Cryptid Crate, and what kinds of things are included?
Matt: For Cryptid Crate, the theme of the box is “cryptozoology and paranormal.” Cryptozoology is basically the study of creatures where the scientific evidence is limited. The creatures are referred to as Cryptids. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are two really well-known examples. Dogman, Mothman, Grafton Monster, Flatwoods Monster, Fresno Nightcrawler, Skinwalker, Hopkinsville Goblins, Dover Demon, Jersey Devil, etc., are others. There is some community disagreement around what exactly defines a cryptid, so we tack that “and paranormal” on there so we can be pretty broad about the kinds of creatures included.
The content in the crate will vary based on what we find for a given cryptid that can fit within our budget, but usually includes t-shirt and a media item (DVD or book), and then other things like hats, patches, pins, water bottles, mugs, stickers, masks, games, pennants, food items etc.
Besides the theme, of course, what makes the Cryptid Crate different from other geeky subscription boxes like Loot Crate?
Matt: The theme is the big one. As far as I know, there is no other cryptid themed subscription box.
Another is that we try to include a good representation from small makers in addition to commercially available items.
Then last, but certainly not least, is the curation. Cryptid Crate was originally started by Derek Hayes, host of Monsters Among Us podcast and regular featured guest on Paranormal Caught on Camera. Derek sold the business to Box Mountain in early 2020, but remains on as a curator. So, we basically have a cryptozoology celebrity curator every month.
There are people who take the study of cryptids very seriously, and there are people who don’t take them seriously. What approach does the Cryptid Crate take, and why did you feel this was the best approach for this collection?
Matt: I think our audience reflects that range. One of the fun challenges of a subscription box is that you’re trying to balance the interests of diverse audiences even within a niche. We try to feature rounds of different objects that appeal to all. I’m sure some months are less interesting to the more hardcore cryptos and some months are perhaps a bit too intense for the person who just thinks that Mothman is cute. I think we’ve done a good job of walking that line.
In finding things for the Cryptid Crate, have you ever come across something that was just too silly?
Matt: Nope! We have featured some extremely silly items. We’ve featured a number of items from Archie McPhee and they are all about silly. The Emergency Bigfoot Noise Maker is about tops for silliness in my opinion.
We also featured a “Bigfoot toilet bowl elixir” called Sasquat from Turdcules in the December box.
It probably sounds obvious, but not insulting your audience is key. So, it’s important to stay on the side of having fun with a concept rather than making fun of someone about that concept. Sometimes if I feel like something could be on the edge, I will survey our Facebook community to check myself. An example of this was when we partnered with Weekly World News to help promote their Kickstarter launch. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed their stories, but it’s easy to see how a more hardcore person could take them as insulting. Fortunately, our community pretty unanimously agreed with me and we were able to do it.
What about something too racy? Because the Fleshlight people make a dildo they call The Bigfoot.
Matt: Ha! Yeah, there’s definitely some adult oriented cryptid fetish material out there. No shame on anyone who is into that kind of thing! It’s not hurting anybody. It’s a tough world and we all get happiness however we can.
Our box attempts to be PG, or perhaps bumping up into PG-13 due to terror elements to some of the creatures, but in general we know we have a lot of families who open these boxes together so we try to respect that.
Now, my understanding is that while most of the Cryptid Crates will include things previously available or available elsewhere, your January, April, July, and October boxes will instead have things made specific for Cryptid Crate, including books from eSpec Books [the first of which you can read about here].
Matt: We often feature custom items, but this will be the first time where we are featuring regularly recurring boxes with entirely custom items. In addition to the book, there will be a sticker based on art from the book, custom designed resin figurine, and custom designed t-shirt. We ran out of time for the January 2020 box so there will be one Etsy creator item in there. After that, the January, April, July, and October boxes will be 100% custom.
Mike: I feel Matt’s use of the word “custom” doesn’t do the items justice. (No offense, Matt.) Yes, they are custom made but a lot of the time they are exclusive to Cryptid Crate.
And just so we’re clear, these special quarterly boxes are not in addition to the monthly boxes for January, April, etc. They are the box that month.
Matt: That’s correct. Every subscriber will receive the custom crate for those months.
So why did you decide to do the special Cryptid Crates on a quarterly basis as opposed to every month or, conversely, just once a year?
Matt: Part of what Cryptid Crate aims to do is to introduce people to other cryptid content creators. I’ve run other businesses before where I’m just competing with others doing the same thing and it’s left a bad taste in my mouth. So, the aspect of promoting others in the community is important to me. If we did 100% original content, it would interfere with that goal. So, monthly is ruled out.
On the other hand… While there are tons of cryptids out there, 90% of the merchandise / media tends to be Bigfoot centric, with Mothman being a close second. This series will provide us with enough merchandise for some of the lesser known cryptids to theme a box around. So, yearly is not frequent enough.
Quarterly was a good way to manage both goals.
As we mentioned, one of things you’re including in those quarterly boxes are books from eSpec Books. How did you hook up with them?
Mike: I was familiar with the company and the people in it. But they tend to have a lot of urban fantasy. So I reached out and asked if they had any Cryptid themed works. They replied, “No,” but then sent a follow up email saying they would love to start a partnership and create books specifically for us. Which is actually better than us buying an existing book.
How involved are you in those books? Like, do tell the author what cryptid to write about, do you help chose who the writer will be…what?
Matt: Danielle at eSpec has been the driving force. I’ve provided her with some boundaries with input from Derek. From there, she’s worked with the authors to plan it all out.
It’s my understanding that the book and the other items in that box will all be connected, whereas the items in the normal boxes will be more random.
Matt: That’s not entirely true. We always try to have a theme. Sometimes that theme will be a creature and sometimes it maybe seasonal (e.g. Holiday box). However, it’s not usually possible to theme around a lesser known cryptid. The boxes with the eSpec Books will facilitate having a fully themed box around a lesser known creature. People definitely prefer themed boxes, so going that way with the custom boxes was a no brainer.
As you mentioned earlier, you didn’t create Cryptid Crate; you bought it from Derek Hayes, the host of the podcast Monsters Among Us. How were the original boxes different from what you’re doing now, and why did you decide to make those changes?
Matt: If you look through the Cryptid Crate’s Instagram, and see some of the boxes from before we purchased them, they were fantastic. I hope that we are continuing to produce boxes with content that is just as good. We’ve started throwing in custom designed 3D printed objects many months (cookie cutters, ornaments, figurines, etc.).
Other than that, the changes we’ve made have been mostly logistical to make the packing and shipping process more efficient.
Matt: Maker Box is for 3D Printing enthusiasts. We offer an “explorer plan” where we provide samples of a wide range of different types of thermoplastics. Going from fun fillers like glitter or UV reactive up to serious engineering filaments like Fluorinar and Kevlar fiber filled Nylon. Then we also offer an “easy plan” that is just samples of different colors of PLA. This is our largest product, but Cryptid Crate has been catching up.
What I really love is the intersection of the three. We made a set of 4 dice with Cryptids on them and people went nuts over it. We called them Piptids Series 1 and should have Piptids Series 2 in a crate soon. Then in the 3D Printing world, I love seeing other cryptid content creators using 3D Printing to produce wares. I see Mystic Novelty Co. making a 3D Printed Pasagoula Alien and Nightcrawlers, Cryptid Comforts working on a 3D Printed cryptids chess set, and Conjuredust Designs with an awesome Grafton Monster.
And Pips Mountain?
Mike: Matt knew I was into games and dice. I had a previous business that started out as a game company that evolved into a custom dice company. Matt kept pushing the idea of a Dice Box, but there are already some out there, and I couldn’t see a way of breaking into the market doing the same thing everyone else was doing. A dice group I belong to had a member that made a Dice Advent Calendar for Christmas one year. I talked to him about his idea and he told me he lost money doing it but he did it for the fun of it. I took that concept and worked out a way to produce a monthly Dice Calendar that wouldn’t lose money. It wasn’t easy, but Matt and I did a good job producing a product that breaks the mold and, based on reviews and customer feedback, people find fun and engaging.
And are you thinking you might do other kinds of boxes in the future?
Matt: We do have some ideas in queue. However, Pips is only about 15 months old, and Cryptid Crate has been with us for less than a year. So, my preference will be to continue optimizing those products for a bit longer before we jump into anything new.
Finally, who is your favorite cryptid and why?
Matt: The Fresno Nightcrawlers are probably my favorite. I just really like the aesthetic of a pair of walking pants. In my opinion, the footage was either staged hoax or CGI, but it’s still cool.
Maybe a second is the Grafton Monster / Mothman connection. The Grafton Monster has a grand total of one sighting, so it’s surprising that it stays in conversation. Rob Morphy on Cryptonauts podcasts floated a hypothesis that the Grafton Monsterwas like a larval form of Mothman. Similar sort of structure aside from the wings. I’m not sure that I’m a believer of any of it, but it is a lot of fun to think about.
Mike: For me, they are all so much fun, I have a hard time choosing. I guess right now, I like Nessie the most. Just because of all the great merchandise. Who can resist a plesiosaurs plushie?