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Tea Dreams Do Come True!

By Lyn Leverett

The last pot of piping hot oolong slid down your throat so smoothly, the scone you munched on represented one of the perfect marriages of food and beverage. You started thinking about how to translate your love of tea into something so much more than a hobby. How exactly do you translate this retail dream into a reality? Tea & Coffee Trade Journal gives you some suggestions on how to orchestrate tea time everyday, and for profit.

Knowledge is Power
So you know the difference between Black, Green, White and Oolong tea? What about Assam, Ceylon, and Darjeeling? Can you differentiate a Lapsang Souchong from a Sencha? If not, you’ve got some research and tasting to do. Fortunately, there are many outlets to educate yourself about tea. Visiting established tea retail outlets to taste the different tea types is one of the first steps to becoming an educated retail operator. If they are not available for tastings, you should visit them anyway to see how they operate their tea salon/bar/room. Industry trade shows are a one-stop resource for anyone looking to learn more about tea or running a tearoom. For example, Take Me 2 Tea Expo is exclusively about tea, they don’t even offer coffee on the trade show floor. You can attend seminars and learn about this ancient beverage from seed to cup. After the lectures, you walk the floor to peruse wholesalers and accessories distributors to meet contacts for future business endeavors. In fact, a lot of the information contained in this article was acquired at the premiere Take Me 2 Tea Expo.

Join trade associations, they’re there to help. By joining the Specialty Tea Institute, affiliated with the venerable Tea Association of the United States of America, you become a member of an organization devoted to specialty tea. Your membership will provide you access to a preferred list of suppliers, tea consumers’ demographic information and a chance to attend STI’s annual conference. This conference has industry leaders discussing everything from origin to exporting to retail design ideas. Check out www.teausa.org for more information.

Tradeshows, magazines, books, site visits to other tea salons/tea rooms/tea bars; all increase the chances for success. Subscribe to magazines, they keep you on top of the latest trends and industry news Tea a Magazine, Tea Room Guide & Digest, and, of course, Tea & Coffee Trade Journal are some of the available publications.

Unlike Tea, Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Once you’ve learned about tea and are still interested in opening a retail operation, now it’s time to start with the practical considerations like financing. Before you even begin planning the image and design, you have to find a way to finance your dream. There are many sources of borrowed revenue; they range from Banks and Credit Unions to Credit Cards to Equity Financing to Family and Friends. Each of these options has pros and cons. You must weigh your options before making a final decision. One thing for sure is each one of the above lenders will want a highly developed business plan.

The your business plan should answer questions like how much money do you need and what are you going to do with the money and when and how will you pay the money back. You should also provide credit reports, financial statements, organizational chart, etc.

Knowing your start up costs is vital. Tea is relatively cheap…leases, teapots, strainers, cups, spoons, desert trays, display containers, scoops, food service, labor and training cost money.

Customers Are Always Right
Where are you going to have your retail operation? In a strip mall, a historic home, a store front on the Lower East Side of Manhattan? Are you going to have a traditional Victorian tea room or a casual tea bar targeted towards a college crowd or an exotic Asian ambiance to take people to a different place and time. You have a vision, stick to it. However, research your customer to see if they are receptive to your style. You will need to be aware of their preferences. Are they ladies who enjoy high tea or men who take yoga classes in the morning? Do they want a subtle white tea or would they prefer a flavored teasan? Are they going to become experts or do they simply like a tea that appears pink in the cup? Are you going to offer food, if so becoming a full service food operation is a lot more labor and cost intensive than people realize. Maybe you should pick a distributor to sell you pastries and finger food (less health requirements and work). If your location does not have a lot of foot traffic e.g. strip mall, business district, then your tea salon will need to attract customers in other ways besides simply being convenient. You will need to spend extra time and resources on promotion.

Tastings, give aways, coupons, all of these tools will attract the consumer to your place of business. Start local, bring samples to local businesses, offer a tasting every month, give away a new type of tea with a first purchase, any of customers are more receptive to free products as an incentive. Also, an educated consumer is the best customer. Another source of promotion is to cater special events, bridal parties, baby showers, high end business meetings, back to school luncheons, the list is only limited by your imagination. Put coupons in the local paper or make them available at the point of purchase. Maybe you can have punch cards that you punch every time a customer makes a purchase. Reward them with free tea when they’ve bought 10 items. Always make your menus informative, user friendly and distinctive. Customers will be turned off if they have to try to hard to enjoy a cup of tea. Another source of promotion is including a children’s menu (impresses the soccer moms), add peanut butter & jelly to the menu with a nice lemon teasan. The parents will appreciate the effort and you will start converting kids from the dark side…soda.

Who’s your Wholesaler
You’ve decided to open your tea retail operation, you’ve picked the types of teas you want to carry, now who do you buy them from. There are many wholesalers ready, willing and able to meet your retail needs; you just have to do your homework and find them. What are you looking for in a wholesaler? Simple, not quite, you need to be aware of the wholesaler’s certification, quality control, knowledge of tea, can they handle your volume, how flexible are they with orders, their stability, how competitive are their prices. Most importantly, sample the tea! Finally, you need to trust your final decision. Hopefully, this relationship will be long lasting; if not, at least you’ve learned lessons for next time.

Many tea bar owners learn quickly to increase their bottom line by offering the tea experience as a complete package. Unlike coffee drinkers, industry members aside, tea consumers love the tradition of tea. Whether it be the teapot or the strainer the leaves are nestled in or the cup the holds the amber liquid, customers want to recreate the magic in their home. The main attraction will always be the loose tea. It is as if they entered the realm of the unknown, tea teases all of the senses, not just the palate. Customers want to smell the tea, rub it, as well as taste it. Involve your customers, they will always come back for more or to try something new and exciting. Display teas are a great way to get consumers’ interest piqued. Put some Jasmine Pearl and Green Tea Anemone out for the customers, some varieties appear even more beautiful steeping in water.

In-store musts include scales, teapots, teakettles, cups, spoons, timers, cozies, caddies, infusers, trays, and tea sets.

There are many factors to open and run a successful tea room/salon/bar. The driving force should be passion, not for money, not for prestige, but for tea, the world’s oldest beverage that is steeped in tradition. Retailers are continually finding innovate ways to recruit new people to the tea drinking community and increased consumption is always a good thing, for everyone.

Tea & Coffee - March/April, 2004

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