According to Wikipedia, “frenemie” refers to either an enemy disguised as a friend or a partner who is simultaneously a competitor and rival.  I came up with the idea for this post when I was talking to one of my clients earlier in the month.  She told me a story that starts with a large tea company that owns several U.S. stores.  As a customer, she walked in and inquired about yellow tea.  The manager and staff member had never heard of it and asked my client how the tea was fermented.  As my client corrected them about the tea-making process, she was also quick to point out that the store sold a book that explained about yellow yea.  The manager and staff member looked at my client stunned and bewildered.

There is no doubt that the big tea chains and large supermarkets have their place in society.  The point is we all have to start somewhere, don’t we?  My tea education started with the milk-and-two-sugars tea in the UK, and as a BBC (British Born Chinese), I was also brought up on Chinese loose-leaf tea from Chinese supermarkets.  The large chains and supermarkets are a great way for people to start their tea education.  Some people start their tea education there and remain there, but for those who want to explore, this is where mom-and-pop tearooms can pick up where the big chains leave off.  Here are a few ideas that tearoom owners can use to differentiate themselves from the large chains:

Staff Training

I am sure many of you readers were nodding profusely after reading about my client’s story; I know that many of you have similar stories to share.  It is unfortunate that staff training at some big chains is not as high on the agenda as it ought to be, and this is where mom-and-pop tea stores can differentiate themselves.  The outcome of training staff well can be three-fold:

  1. People buy from people. To grow your business, you need to make sure that customers get to know you and when they get to know you and your staff – and, if they like your store – they will tell others.  This can stem from the staff’s knowledge of teas and products.
  2. Motivation. By investing considerable time in recruiting and training the right staff, you will keep your staff motivated and feeling part of the tearoom.  This can also help you with staff retention.
  3. Knowledge. With the power of social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), people will know in an instant how tearoom owners treat their staff; staff training will be a reflection of you and your business.

Community Building

Whether physically or virtually (via social media), many of us strive to be part of a community.  Mom-and-pop tearooms are no different and building a community can do wonders to attract business.  Community building can also create the following:

  1. Customer Loyalty. Stemming from staff training as previously mentioned, customers who feel they are listened to will return.  They’ll bring their friends and family.  And their friends and family will spread the word.
  2. Brand Extension. Community building is not only important in your brick-and-mortar tearooms, but also online.  Using tools such as Facebook (fan pages), Twitter, Four-Square, and blogging, you can encourage community building outside your tearoom.  If customers use their smart phones to talk about your tearoom, it can help to extend your brand to other customers.  (Travel and Tea has a great Q&A article about social media.)
  3. Community Strengthening. The tearoom has the potential to be THE place to meet for small business owners to conduct their networking meetings; for bicycle enthusiasts to meet after their two-hour ride; or for children to hang out after school.  Many coffee chains are renowned for people popping in, sipping coffee, and tap-tap-tapping away on their laptops.  As a tearoom owner, why not create your point of difference by building a sharing community, a place to meet, drink tea, and be social with one another?

For more sound advice for tearoom owners, see Dianna Harbin’s T Ching post.  For some basic advice on how to use Twitter, see MyMarketingThing.