For nearly three years, three Michigan guys have been building a business in downtown Royal Oak by shipping boxes to Denney, one of about 10,000 customers in nearly 40 countries.

Wochit

A package dubbed the Gentleman’s Box arrives at Todd Denney’s home in Hampton, Va., each month filled with trendy fashion items that are designed to transform mere men into dignified dudes.

“It’s like Christmas,” said Denney, a 36-year-old cook. “A box is coming today!”

For nearly three years, three Michigan men — Chris George, 33; John Haji, 30; and Paul Chambers, 36 — have been building a business in downtown Royal Oak by shipping boxes to Denney, one of about 10,000 customers in nearly 40 countries.

Their formula: Part fashion, part retail, and part advertising.

It’s also part of a larger national retail trend that is booming — and built on the idea that these kinds of businesses offer customers a little surprise and a lot of convenience.

The service costs $25 a month or $275 a year, including shipping.

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July’s box, which was themed as a package for the gentleman with a sense of humor, came with a purple and teal necktie, a silver tie clip, a white pocket square, colorful striped socks, and a body wash.

“They pick items that most guys don’t go out and buy,” Denney said. “If you’re not fashionable — I’m not going to say I’m not fashionable — but if you’re not fashionable, you get the newest trends. It’s pretty cool.”

Denney and other subscribers said they feel like they’re unwrapping a present when they open the box, which is about the size of a cigar box. Some of them add that they just don’t like shopping for themselves at stores or wouldn’t know what to buy.

“I was pleased,” Denney said, after getting his box. “I used the body wash this morning to shave. It was nice. The wife liked it. That was a plus.”

Denney added he plans to wear the tie to a weekend event he and his wife were to attend.

The boxes also come with a free subscription to a men’s magazine, GQ, and a color pamphlet that highlights the items that are being sent, features subscribers’ photos, and offers fashion tips, mixed-drink recipes, and lessons, such as how to knot a bowtie.

Sometimes, the boxes also include coupons and enticements to buy more products.

Specialty products

The idea that you could pay to join a club to get specialty products — music, fruit, even lingerie — through the mail for a set price every month or so has been around for decades.

Columbia Record Club, for instance, started in the 1950s selling records. In the 1970s, the club became Columbia House, and in the 1990s it sold, as a gimmick, compact discs for a penny. By 2015, online music killed off its sales, and the company filed for bankruptcy protection.

“It’s been going on for quite some time, just not in as sophisticated a way as it is now,” said Meegan Holland, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Retailers Association. “I remember back in the day buying my parents the floral arrangement of the month.”

But in the past few years, the number of things you can buy and the number of companies selling them through the mail on a schedule has exploded.

The association does not track how many Michigan-based retailers offer the service.

“Retail is really transforming, and everyone is talking about a retail apocalypse, and going to e-commerce, and this is one of the ways it’s transforming,” Holland said. “It’s intriguing because you don’t have to be one of the big guys to do this.”

According to Shorr Packaging, an Aurora, Ill.-based distributor of packaging product, the number of visits to subscription box websites went up from 722,000 in 2013 to 21.4 million in 2016, a 3,000% increase. Of the visitors to subscription box websites, the median age was 41, the median income was $78,436, and 58% of them were women, Shorr found.

Nationally, there are more than 2,000 subscription…