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Quick Lessons in Retail Tea Marketing:

Working “Outside
the Square"

By Monique Christian

With little more than an acute awareness of market trends and alluring traditions, promotion savvy Monique Christian has turned her personal love for tea and the dream of owning her own retail business into a growing success.

Working closely with my successful restaurant entrepreneur husband, I learned early on the sweaty palms that go with trying to build a profitable foodservice business. The retail business is tough and the food and beverage business… Well, you know the odds of elevating the income well above the expenses.

After a lot of soul searching, a small investment and a nervous stomach, it was my turn at the wheel. As my driving fuel, I would tap into my passion for tea. Before investing our few precious dollars, I did a lot of research into the viability of opening a profitable retail tea business.

A North American market demand analysis didn’t leave me overly optimistic. Giants like Starbucks had long toyed with, and then avoided the idea of creating a strong tea component in retail sales. Forecasts in 2003 pointed to no more than a 4-6% North American market growth. Despite the facts released by the media, within the past few years, about the health benefits of green tea, Americans continue their unstoppable - and growing - love affair with specialty coffee. It wasn’t going to be easy to build a new customer base, but I knew that to build a growing business I had to grow new quality loose-leaf tea lovers. There was little, if any, real serious retail tea competition in my small local market, again leading me to assume a demand had to be created beyond the traditional market.

A Step at a Time
There were various steps that I needed to complete, in order to stabilize and compose my passion for tea into a detailed plan.

Step 1: Craft a mission statement. Our mission is to capitalize on the existing tea market customer base, while attracting a new customer base to a wide variety of carefully selected teas from premier estates and blenders.

Step 2: I found a dream location. Tea Madame is nestled in the heart of a lush Dutch-themed nursery complex called Windmill Gardens in Sumner, Washington, about an hour south from Seattle.

Step 3: Picked the type of teas I wanted to carry, and then created a solid wholesaler relationship allowing a wide array of quality loose teas.

Step 4: Compliment tea sales with a traditional and inventive array of accessories and food items. Beyond the scales, teapots, tea kettles, cups, timers, caddies, infusers, trays and tea sets, I decided to carry exotic honey and dramatically showcase a large array of fine chocolates.

Step 5: Created traditional and new marketing ideas and special events to awaken potential customers to the rich history and tremendous health benefits of tea consumption.

Markets Inside the Square

Traditional High Tea
With the song “Tradition,” from Fiddler On The Roof, playing in our minds, I will share some of the traditional marketing ideas we have incorporated into the Tea Madame’s sales plan.

We use elegant store announcements, notices at neighboring businesses, and our Web site, (www.teamadame.com) to tell customers about a variety of activities at the Tea Madame, including our high tea. Every Sunday afternoon we invite customers to a traditional afternoon tea held a few doors down at my husband’s Garden Bistro Restaurant. I’ve found that partnering-up with a popular nearby restaurant helps both parties increase their customer base. We offer a large array of tea sandwiches, freshly made scones, quiche tartlets, pastries and Tea Madame chocolates.

Themed Dinners
Once a month I reward my current customers and attract additional current tea drinkers with tea-themed dinners at my husband’s restaurant. Such themes as “A Proper Southern Tea” and “A La Province Tea” add that touch of elegance and magic to the meals we serve on summer nights on the restaurant’s unique garden patio. The whispering beauty of a live harp performance adds just the right touch to romantic and memorable dining experiences. Of course, I use this alluring setting to teach guests more about the health benefits and wonderful tea flavor choices. Imagine the fun you can have in exploring themed tea dinners with the owner of your favorite nearby restaurant.

Ceremonial Special Events
When it comes to my regular customers, there is nothing they love more than bringing their friends to the Tea Madame’s special classes. Of course, each month I offer a Tea 101 seminar to introduce the complex world of tea to existing and potential customers. One of my best-attended events this year was my Chinese Tea Ceremony. The rich story woven into each of the tea tasting steps is fun for all ages.

Markets Outside the Square

Health Clubs and Nutrition Stores
There is always a lot of talk about cross marketing with related businesses. I am finding that now is the time to ride the national, green tea awareness wave being created by Starbucks, due to its success with the new Tazo green tea frappucchino and shake, green iced tea and green tea lemonade. When ordering one of their green tea drinks, employees hand out a flier that reads:

What is Green Tea?
A widely consumed beverage in Asia that is quickly gaining popularity in North America.

Tea leaves that are close to their natural state - less processed than black tea.

On the flip side of the printed piece, the Starbucks-taught nation is learning the basics health benefits of green tea. In a quick easy-to-read Q & A, from caffeine content to the health role of anti-oxidants, Americans are being schooled on the great taste and health wonders of tea like never before.

Will Starbucks’ green tea beverage education create a new and growing throng of tea lovers? Well, not unless each and every tea retailer picks up where Starbucks left off.

Target Fitness Centers & Trainers
Go to your local fitness center and get the manager hooked on the great taste of loose tea. Then, make sure they allow you to turn their trainers on to the huge health, weight loss and fitness benefits of consuming three to four cups of green tea a day.

Nearby fitness trainer Nancy McCartney specializes in training men and women who are 50 years of age and older. Like most trainers, she is as focused with her clients on diet, as strength building and weight loss. “Promoting the health, diet and medical benefits of tea is a perfect fit for my customer base,” McCartney said.

Reach Out to Cancer and Medical Centers
There is a huge opportunity to provide a valuable service to your local medical practitioners by giving them a resource when they require patients to remove coffee from their diet and switch to decaffeinated tea.

I sell and freely hand out a bestseller by Nadine Taylor, M.S., R.D., titled, “Green Tea, The Natural Secret for a Healthier Life.” In no time, I have found you can build a sales network through your local fitness and nutrition centers.

I am just starting to tap on the enormous opportunity available to all of us in the marketplace right now. Yes, a discrepancy does exist between all the talk about the health benefits and the actual consumption of tea. I feel it is important to use this golden moment, and turn a casual interest by the general public into an active commitment to regularly enjoying the health and taste benefits of consuming a delicious ‘medicine’, which millions of people have benefited from for over 4,000 years.

Nurture The Press
I always invite the local press to all of my events. The full-page features in our local newspaper have come primarily by converting writers and editors into tea lovers. Not that anyone in the press is about to give up their morning coffee tradition - unless they have to. However, my little enticement of dropping off a free ingenuiTEA maker with a couple of green, white or red loose teas that they have never tasted, really primes the pump for more and bigger coverage.

It is also a great idea to find a particular reporter who covers small business in your area and begin educating them about the world of tea. Send them new loose-leaf teas to sample

each month, with a bit of information about that particular tea. Before you know it, you become a resource for future feature stories.

Here is an example of a recent teaser I sent my local newspaper feature story reporter:

“Starbucks is awakening the nation to the health benefits of green tea.

Everybody is primed to learn more about tea.

I just read an Associated Press article reporting that research presented at a recent American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) conference on food and nutrition just reported that green tea is now recognized to target a specific stage of cancer more effectively than current cancer drugs. In fact, the research said that regular consumption of green tea ‘is associated with a lower risk of many different cancers.’

What about doing an article on using green tea for cooking?

I read recently that a growing number of chefs in the United States are discovering a variety of ways to use green and white tea (white tea was recently reported to have more cancer-fighting antioxidants than green tea) in their recipes. With the groundswell of interest in green tea today, it is being added to broths, sauces and desserts as a value-added ingredient.”

The reporter may use you for stories at times that don’t even include a mention of your business. But, I have found, you will get a ton more press by being an ongoing resource for stories about tea that they would never write about without your ongoing practice of getting - then keeping - them interested in the subject.

Monique Christian is the owner of The Tea Madame (www.teamadame.com), a teahouse in Sumner, Washington. Tel: (1)(253) 891-2900.

Tea & Coffee - October/November, 2005


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