Monday, 29 June 2009
When my wife and I set up Tea, we didn't do so becasue we thought tea was going to be the next big thing or, as I've heard many food and beverage experts profess, that tea was going to be hot. We actually set up Tea firstly because we both love tea, secondly because we could not get a decent cup on the go while working in the City of London and thirdly because we didn't think we were alone in this thinking. So Tea was effectively born out of frustration at the lack of tea-focused alternatives to the living, breathing coffee shops which were multiplying at unprecendented levels in London at the time. Coffee seemed to be having it all of its own way and tea was becoming a second-class citizen. In Britain? Surely not!
This got me thinking about how coffee had gone from thick, bitter, black stuff served in polystyrene cups to an aspirational consumer product that was being feted by city slickers and celebrities alike. My conclusion: coffee, or rather the coffee industry, made itself sexy. They also quite cleverly invented coffee-related words and expressions that made the wildly naive consumer think that what they were buying into was something more than coffee: a lifestyle. Furthermore, the coffee-based beverages that they were purchasing had such sophisticated names and required such complicated equipment (indeed a dedicated barista) that they could under no circumstance be made by the average consumer in the comfort of their own home.
So as coffee was going through the mother of all makeovers, busy wooing the fashionistas and opinion-formers alike, what was tea doing? Tea basically sat back and watched as if blissfully unaware to the fact that consumers were deserting tea in their droves for skinny lattes, cappucinos and mochas. So did tea become lazy? Let's face it, tea could be forgiven for resting on its laurels. It has been around in some shape or form for millennia and consumed in its current form in the UK for more than 350 years. Certainly there was talk of speciality teas, antioxidants, a British institution etc but there was no cohesive strategy to enable tea to compete on a level with its old foe.
To be honest, there is still no real cohesive strategy although there are an increasing number of innovative tea companies attempting to redress the balance with new flavours, brewing techniques and equipment which are all helping to connect with a new generation of tea drinkers. Of course, there is still room for vintage afternoon-tea parties, paper doylies, bunting, and chintz and there always will be but there also needs to be innovation. I would love to see more tearooms offering a superior tea experience with slick service in great surroundings for the discerning commuter and I truly believe that this will be the case. I would also love to see the more innovative tea brands truly compete with the large household names that account for 99.99999% of all tea sold. To be fair, I am seeing a number of the large tea companies develop new and innovative advertising campaigns although the products advertised appear very familiar. Come on guys, you can do it!
In the meanwhile, we can only hope that the tea innovators continue to innovate and we do not lose an entire generation to coffee.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
We always envisaged Tea as having the potential to span several areas within the world of tea with the teashops providing a showcase for our brand, products and ethos. To some degree this has worked with a number of opportunites coming our way as a direct result of having a high-street presence. I am not aware of another tea company with a high-street, online and retail offer. Having a high-street presence does however have its downside as it is a never-ending battle and drain on resources to keep ahead of the competition and ensure that consumers are spending their hard-earned cash with you. In addition to the customer element, there is staffing, health and safety, administrative duties etc. All of which conspire against your time and energy to ensure that outside of the teashop, there is little time to create the value and fulfil the potential that Tea has. In short, running a teashop in the current climate is pretty damn tough and exceedingly frustrating hence the Sunday morning brainstorming session.
If only a few hours on a Sunday morning were the panacea, we would have done it a long time ago. We do however have a clearer understanding of where we would like to get to and how we think we are going to get there. I say 'think' as from experience, regardless of how good the planning stage is, once plans get underway and are influenced by real life, they have a habit of changing quite radically from those highlighted at the outset. It is important to continuously review strategy, plans, goals and expectations, as they will change as time goes by. I suspect that moving Tea to the next stage will be as difficult as conception, inception and the first two years of business, which is why it important to try and enjoy the ride regardless of how choppy it may get.
Let's face it, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Sunday, 26 April 2009
In difficult times, some businesses choose to scale back and concentrate on the core business, which is a strategy that can work well. At Tea however, we have decided to invest in the business and try and spread our risk by looking at generating new revenue streams. Time will tell whether this strategy has worked but the intitial signs are encouraging especially in terms of our retail sales as a direct result of the retail unit. We are very hopeful that the launch of international delivery will help us to meet the online sales targets that we have set for the coming 12 months. We receive several emails per day regarding international delivery so are confident that there is a demand for our teas overseas. Again, time will tell whether we are successful in this area but if you don't try.....
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
What this environment has forced a lot of small businesses to do is look very closely at how efficient they are. In boom times, it is easy to get caught up in the moment and spend turnover at the expense of profit. In this environment, such a strategy would be suicide. At Tea, we are in the process of cutting costs through driving efficiency and reviewing our supplier base. We intend to greet the bright lights of recovery in good enough shape to take advantage of the opportunites that are invariably going to be ripe for the picking.
Good luck and may the leaf be with you.
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
All the extra heat got me thinking of spring and with the changing of the season comes a change in the menu. So I locked myself in my tasting lab, which encroaches under St. Paul's Churchyard, and began experimenting with some iced teas. Our first attempt at iced tea (summer 2008) produced some startling results; our Lemon Green outsold the mighty Coca-Cola on a daily basis. I am therefore keen to get the ball rolling to see if we can repeat such a feat. And just to explain what a feat this was; we UK-based tea drinkers do not really do iced tea, unlike our US friends, who consume gallons of the stuff, so it was indeed a pleasant surprise .
Watch this space for how we do in 2009! For now, all this talk of iced tea is making me thirsty...
Monday, 2 February 2009
Looking forward to seeing what the weather has in store for tomorrow. Not holding out for a vast change however. I may even get round to reviewing a tea, which would be nice....
PS The fact that we do not have any tables and chairs outside does not appear to be impacting our business.
Thursday, 29 January 2009
Now to the real bone of contention: I just want to run a tea business; selling great tea to anyone who cares to join me. I have done this for almost two years and for said period, I have placed a small number of tables and chairs outside (which is a pedestrianised area) for anyone brave enough to take a chance on the British weather. Today however, I have been told that we are violating City of London's strict regulations on outdoor seating (despite the government spouting more nonsense about trying to make Britain fall in love with the outdoor cafe culture) and that we are in line for a fine. Oh yes, 2009 is the year of the fine, which is fine because as a business we are doing fine!
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.
With economies crumbling, governments floundering, banks not lending, consumers not consuming, I have decided to begin this blog with a quote. Its relevance? Since the coming together of the now era-defining words which are 'crunch' and 'credit' our customers cups of tea appear to be getting larger and their books longer. Gone are the halcyon days of a customer ordering 'A Jasmine Silver Needle and a slice of carrot cake to go, please' and here to stay are the torturous words 'An English Breakfast with an extra cup and and a pot of hot water on the side please'. This is swiftly followed by 'Do you happen to know where the Jobs Section of City AM is?' and 'Do you have a cushion for this chair?'.
In times of need people often take comfort in all things familiar so we have stocked up on English Breakfast tea, digestive biscuits and are now showing reruns of Only Fools & Horses (for our US readers think The Golden Girls (sorry Del)). We think that we're here for the long haul so may as well make the most of it.