Consumer spending is down, millions are out of work, and businesses around the country are struggling to survive.  I can predict with confidence that – absent a surprisingly strong holiday buying season – hundreds of physical and online tea retailers across the U.S. will close their doors early next year.  There has never been a better time to buy the very best teas!

Before you accuse me of being a cold Capitalist seeking to take advantage of the independent tea retailer, let me clarify my position.  The next few months present both tea consumers AND tea retailers with an incredible opportunity to break free from the classical (boring) mold and truly inspire the palate.

Tip #1: Resist the urge to conserve
Retailers: If you’re buying teas wholesale, you may be tempted to go down-market to save money and appeal to the frugal customer.  DON’T DO IT.  If a customer’s primary concern is saving money, they can stop drinking tea altogether or switch to less expensive mass-market options.  The overly frugal customer should never be the target of a specialty retailer.  Remember, 90% of Americans are STILL employed.

Consumers: Instead of responding to the current economy by switching to low-grade mass-market teas from the grocery store, use the same dollars you spend today to buy BETTER teas from independent retailers.  Whereas the prices charged by grocers have remained steady (and you’ll still usually be getting bad tea in fancy packaging), many independent retailers have the incentive AND ability to be flexible in their pricing.  Assuming you know of a local (or online) tea merchant you can trust, you may never get a better chance to buy extremely high-quality, rare teas at deeply discounted prices.

Tip #2: Ask for bargains on quality teas
Retailers: Many retailers are making mistake #1 and going down-market.  As a result, many wholesalers are overstocked on high-quality teas.  Now is the time to get the best teas at deeply discounted prices on the wholesale market.  Call your supplier and ask: “What are the best teas you have that no one is buying and what kind of deal can you give me?”  Without giving away any industry secrets, I’ll just say that an efficient tea importer has much higher margins than you probably think.  More importantly, tea is perishable and they would rather get something for their best teas than have them go stale.  Instead of spending less, focus on getting more and you’ll most likely find your wholesaler more than happy to help.

Consumers: ASK for bargains and seek out rare finds.  Here’s a perfect question: “What is your best tea that no one is buying?”  Every creative tea retailer will take a chance from time to time on a rare or unusual tea.  Most retailers have a few pet projects on their shelves that just didn’t sell as well as expected because of a lack of customer familiarity, poor marketing, or inappropriate pricing.  Instead of asking for a discount on the shop’s best-selling teas, ask first what their best teas are that are NOT selling, and THEN ask for a deep discount.  Once you’re equipped with the answer to the first question, you’re in the driver’s seat.  If you buy an overstocked, rare tea at a deep discount, both you and the retailer win.  If your retailer has a remotely efficient supply chain, they can definitely afford a healthy discount – especially on a tea that they fear they will be unable to move.

Tip #3: Give the gift of tea
Retailers and Consumers: Use the opportunity to BUY great tea to GIVE great tea.  I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like tea – just a lot of people who have never had GOOD tea.  Keep the industry we love (and your local retailer) alive by introducing your friends and family to the wonders of good tea.  It takes a pretty expensive bag of loose tea to deliver a higher price per cup than a cheap, mass-market tea bag.  Celestial Seasonings’ basic green tea at $2.99 per box of 20 tea bags is the same price per cup as a 4-oz bag of loose tea at your local tea retailer that sells for $17.  Give the gift of good tea this year and do everyone a favor!