Ararat Box, left, and Hye Box

Armenia in a Box: How Two Startups Became a Gamechanger in the Marketplace

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YEREVAN — During the most challenging time for Armenians all over the world, two families kept the connection between the diaspora and the homeland alive with an interesting idea: two boxes full of delicious snacks and wearable art pieces that kept hundreds of people busy and helped small businesses survive during the war in Artsakh and the Covid-19 pandemic. Hye Box and Ararat Box, with a simple but powerful concept, were able to diminish the miles and hours of difference to deliver homeland-made products to the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.

Elmira Gabrielyan (on the left) and Elen Gabrielyan, founders of Hye Box

Two sisters, twins Elen and Elmira Gabrielyan, founded Hye Box about one and a half years ago as a gift box with Armenian crafts and books for children. “We were thinking that our product will be more useful for children, since many of them never even visited Armenia and knew little about the motherland,” explains Elen. But last year in late October the sisters realized that the same box will be more significant as a family box. The main purpose remained the same: to work with small businesses, entrepreneurs, artisans and artists and give the diaspora the opportunity to keep in touch culturally with Armenia.

Elen is studying computer science at the American University of Armenia.  Elmira is majoring in management at the French University in Armenia. The financial part is Elmira’s responsibility. Content creation and marketing is Elen’s passion. “We complete each other as business partners. We came a long way together. Of course, we are having clashes too. We both have strong personalities and always express our opinions. But it’s very interesting working with your twin sister,” laughs Elen.

The sisters co-founded several endeavors before this last one that became their star project. Hye Box is a preference-based platform that allows choosing the box’s content with a specially designed questionnaire, according to the number of people in the family and the presence of children. But the element of surprise still remains. “This way we keep close interaction with our customers and it is very encouraging, with all the kind words and feedback we have received,” says Elen.

Every month the box has a specific theme. February was about St. Sargis, March is dedicated to Armenian women and April will focus on Easter.

“We will try to support Armenian business owners, entrepreneurs and artists. Also, we will include stories of the women who created the products or are famous with some accomplishment,” explains Elmira. Two boxes (small and big) include 6-9 handmade items and children’s books. “For us, it’s important that the customers can have products that are usable on daily basis like jewelry or beauty products. We are also buying some of the products for ourselves — that’s how much we appreciate the local market,” says Elen, smiling.

Hye Box sample

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The sisters are working with various producers and make the effort to establish 10-15 new contacts every month. The producers are mostly from different regions of Armenia and Artsakh. Elmira and Elen are finding them through social media and other platforms according to the previously established theme of the box for that month.

After choosing the artists remotely, they travel to the cities and villages to see the products and establish relationships.

The biggest issue remains shipping. “We don’t use Hye Post as a shipping company anymore since they raised their prices but never improved the quality. We decided to work with two different companies. At least the quality of the packaging is better,” Elen assures me.

A Hye Box

The other disadvantage is the absence of the payment mechanisms in Armenia like PayPal which makes it difficult for the customers to pay for their purchases from abroad. MoneyGram and Ameria Bank are the financial institutions Hye Box uses for now along with a PayPal account which is registered outside of Armenia. In the future, the sisters think of making boxes representing different nationalities besides Armenian. “Hye Box will be part of the entire project which will increase interest about it,” assures Elmira.

Ararat Box

While Hye Box is presenting the art and culture of Armenia, another initiative, Ararat Box, is catering to the taste buds of the Armenian diaspora with snacks full of the flavors of the motherland. This startup was established by husband-and-wife Narek Safaryan and Mariam Ghazaryan right before the war started in September 2020.

The monthly magazine and sticker collection in Ararat Box

Anna Khurshudyan, the digital marketing specialist of Ararat Box, shared the story and purpose of the concept that up until now is unveiling the nostalgic memories with Armenian made sweets and snacks, saying: “The project was planned to launch on October 1 and we couldn’t even imagine that something like that could happen. In the beginning we were very disappointed and confused, and weren’t sure how to continue our work. But soon we realized that we need to get our act together and go on. That was the best thing we could do at that moment.”

She added enthusiastically: “As all of us have a relative or friend abroad, we noticed that these people still miss the flavors of the motherland. And we decided to create that platform which can unite everyone.”

The main purpose of Ararat Box is to help small business owners and entrepreneurs in Armenia by exporting their products. They represent small, medium, and some large companies. “We even work with a few companies that have just started and are continuing to progress thanks to the involvement with Ararat Box. We ourselves were so amazed to see how many talented people there are. They just need to be discovered,” Anna excitedly exclaimed.

Product from Haleb Store included in Ararat Box

In Ararat Box, the main standard is maintaining quality, and it must meet everyone’s expectations. “We always try every new item with our stuff, prior including it in the box. We all must like it,” says Anna.

She adds, “We didn’t even know that there is granola made in Armenia and it’s actually delicious. No need to buy from somewhere else.” Every box contains up to 20 items from different producers that come as a surprise every month either with membership or a single purchase of a box.

Subscribers should be aware that there may be some problems with shipping to Canada. It takes more than the usual 15-30 days because of the customs of a transit country like Belarus. Anna says that the company is doing everything possible to reduce the wait time but there is not much it can do.

The biggest issue for all startups and entrepreneurs in Armenia is the shipping cost which increased in 2021 despite the hope for economic recovery so vital for postwar Armenia. Anna doesn’t talk about the harm this caused the company but mentions that they heard a lot of complains from the customers. “They were very surprised and frustrated since the shipping prices went up so unexpectedly and they confess that they weren’t prepare to pay that much,” says Anna.

The management of Ararat Box is negotiating with other companies to find more affordable options for its customers. Despites all the obstacles, the team of Ararat Box is adding more options to keep the connection with the diaspora alive. And gratitude is “our daily dose of encouragement,” smiles Anna.

Thanks to their optimism, the founders of Ararat Box and Hye Box have put Armenia on the map for many. Hye Box and Ararat Box have become the most anticipated monthly shipments for a lot of households, and in turn the financial support of the latter allows hundreds of entrepreneurs to live and create in the Armenian homeland.

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