As her oldest child was closing in on high school graduation and choosing a college, Tracy Schactman was feeling more and more anxious about the impending mother-daughter separation.
So she started a business.
It was inspired by 18-year-old Ella Schactman, who last week left her University City nest for George Washington University in D.C.
“I was thinking about how we could stay connected with her,” said Schactman, 49, an architect by trade. “She loves little things that are cheerful and fun.”
She searched online for premade care packages but found that most were little more than repositories for potato chips and Oreos.
“I wanted something that was unexpected and different,” Schactman said. “I wanted people to say, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen that before.’”
She launched her care-package company, SendingSun, in July and focused her advertising budget on Facebook.
In the first month, 50 people signed up for the three-times-a-semester service. Subscribers choose from options for male or female students.
Schactman researched retailers to identify partners that would be popular with undergrads. She prioritized mission-based companies, such as Half United, which provides food for children in need with each accessory purchase. Teas, body scrubs and a yellow “Hello Sunshine!” pennant made her shopping list.
She also wanted feedback from the people who mattered most. She enlisted four “student curators,” including her daughter, to sample products, offer feedback and spread the word on Instagram.
Each semester, Schactman plans to sign on four new curators to keep the ideas fresh. So far, they’ve given their OK to tiny succulents, pocket notebooks and incense sticks, among other dorm-room staples.
“Kids my age love food,” said Ella Schactman. But instead of Cheez-Its or M&M’s, they might get saltwater taffy or cake mix in a mug.
“Then there are really practical things you wouldn’t think you need, but you do, like wipes that you use on your white tennis shoes,” Ella Schactman said.
“I won’t have to go to Walgreens to buy things like that. But actually getting something from my family and knowing she’s thinking of me — I’ll get that little boost every couple of months,” she continued.
According to Forbes, 15% of online shoppers have signed up for at least one recurring subscription, usually through a monthly delivery service. The online subscription market has doubled each year for the past five years.
Among the most popular are beauty-product curators such as Ipsy and Birchbox, Blue Apron meal kits, Stitch Fix clothing and Dollar Shave Club.
Consumers like the convenience and personalization, but cancellation rates are high.
SendingSun is something different, though, because the customer is not the recipient.
And the six to eight snacks, trinkets and decorations included in the boxes aren’t the most important part, said Tracy Schactman. It’s the connection between school and home. Parents can include a personalized message with each delivery.
“The transition from high school to college is very exciting, but for me and many of my friends with college-aged kids, it’s also emotional … it is bittersweet,” she said.
For Kerriann Ashmore of Pittsburgh, it’s a sibling’s departure that has stirred up mixed feelings.
Her youngest brother, Josh, left for Indiana University of Pennsylvania last week, and she still can’t believe it.
“He’s just a little baby,” she said.
Ashmore is a fan of Birchbox and decided to look for something similar for him. She found SendingSun.
She is giving her brother the subscription as a birthday gift and has already planned out her messages for the year.
“Who doesn’t love getting mail anyway? And mail full of goodies is awesome,” said Ashmore, 25.
Subscribers have until Aug. 31 to sign up for SendingSun’s fall semester boxes, which will be delivered in mid-September, October and November.
The company has also partnered with the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition in Brentwood to allow donors to provide a care package for a student in one of the agency’s programs.