star teaBefore starting our retail business, we focused on wholesale and exporting, which is quite different.  So when we opened our tea shop, we encountered a lot of problems.  Now that those problems have been resolved, I wanted to share my experiences in the hope that they would be helpful to someone wanting to start a retail tea business.

The first question we asked ourselves was: which business model we should adopt?  Would our business be based on high volume or building relationships.  This plays an important role in choosing a shop location.  If you go with high volume, you’ll need a good location, which generally means higher rent.  However, if you focus is on building relationships, you can just pick a convenient room with a graceful environment, and pay less rent.  If you choose a place near government bureaus or big company headquarters, you will need to offer higher grade tea and more tea gifts.

Tie Guan YinAfter choosing to focus on building relationships, our next challenge was the decor.  It needed to be as simple as possible and yet, at the same time, reflect Chinese culture.  When guests come into our shop, they should feel like they are walking into Chinese culture, where all aspects of that culture – music, history, handwriting, buddha – can be discussed.  Make sure the character of your shop reflects you.

Next, it is critical to find reliable suppliers.  You can import your teas from local or international wholesalers.  My suggestion is to go with a local wholesaler, if possible, for most of your teas because they can give you more assistance and can accept small orders.  However, you may want to import a few special high-grade teas from a Chinese or other international wholesaler.  After all, the best way to learn about tea is from tea farmer, right?

At the beginning, you should keep your menu as short as possible, expanding it based on feedback from your customers.  Otherwise, you, as well as your customers, may get confused.

And finally, network with other tea entrepreneurs!