One of my childhood ambitions was to be a teashop owner. How very lovely that would be –  to be sipping and selling tea as part of work. Of course, these days, I’d much rather be a customer in a teashop, but I still remain curious as to what goes on in running a tea retail business. Samantha Yee and Eugene Goh are both directors of Sarafine Concepts, the exclusive franchisee for Japanese tea brand LUPICIA in Singapore. Just this June, they opened a LUPICIA store in Great World City, Singapore.  They’ve very kindly agreed to share their experiences with T Ching readers. 

LUPICIA GWC Store_1When did you first think about setting up a LUPICIA store in Singapore? 

Sam: The idea first came about three years ago. I was living in Tokyo when a friend brought me to LUPICIA’s main store in Jiyuugaoka. It was love at first sight! I was blown away by their tea range and, more importantly, how accessible the store experience was.  There were counter cards explaining the difference flavors and origins of the teas, and friendly service staff who were very forthcoming with samples and recommendations. Not to mention the beautiful packaging, which of course, Japan is well known for!

Shortly after, I moved back home to Singapore, but continued shuttling between Singapore and Tokyo. Each time I came back, half my suitcase was filled with LUPICIA teas, either for myself or as gifts for friends. One friend joked that since I was bringing so much LUPICIA tea back from Japan, maybe I should consider bringing the entire store to Singapore! That was my “Eureka!” moment. I knew that LUPICIA would bring an entirely new experience to the Singapore tea scene. So I wrote to LUPICIA in Japan, and the rest is history.

How long did the whole process take (from proposal to completion of store)? LUPICIA GWC Store_2

Sam: It took about three years, from the time of my initial contact with LUPICIA, to the opening of our first Singapore store at Great World City in June 2013. Most of that time was spent on building a close working relationship with the LUPICIA team in Japan, and of course making sure that the Singapore store would uphold the same product quality and service experience that LUPICIA is known for worldwide. 

How does LUPICIA’s range stand out from the tea that is offered in Singapore? 

Eugene: The foundation of any tea brand has to be, first and foremost, the quality of its teas. Our Japanese team has almost 20 years’ experience buying tea from around the world, most of which is sourced directly from producers. For example, when our store opened, we offered a range of single estate, single lot 2013 Darjeeling First Flush teas. Regardless of where our leaves originate from, they are all imported back to Japan to undergo stringent checks at our factories before being packaged.

Discovery is a big theme for us at LUPICIA Singapore, both in terms of the range of teas we offer, and how we introduce them to customers. We currently carry about 100 teas in our Great World City store, out of Japan’s full range of over 400 teas. These range from hard to find high-end teas, like the single estate single lot Darjeelings that I mentioned earlier, to fun flavors such as Cookie and Grapefruit Green. We cover the full spectrum of teas, from greens to oolongs and blacks, to non-caffeine herbal infusions as well. 

Our range is supported by a store experience that helps even beginners to explore tea with ease and delight. The centerpiece of our store, for example, is a display counter that encourages you to open and sniff the teas at your own pace, and all our teas can be brewed fresh and sampled on demand.

LUPICIA also emphasizes on seasonality. We offer seasonal teas that are only available for a limited period to accompany the changing seasons in Japan. For example, we recently concluded our Taiwanese summer fruit oolong series – flavors like Ripe Mango Oolong and Pineapple Oolong – which are designed to make great summer iced teas. We’re now getting ready to usher in autumn, and ingredients such as Pumpkin and Chestnut are featured. 

LUPICIA GWC Store_3What has been the response like to the LUPICIA store in Singapore? 

Sam: We’ve been very thrilled by the response so far. Experienced tea drinkers like how extensive our range is, and that there’s always something they haven’t tried. A die-hard black tea drinker, for example, may be curious to learn more about Japanese green tea when they see our range of senchas, houjichas, sobachas and genmaichas. Or a traditional hot tea drinker may be interested to try cold-brewing iced teas – very tempting in our tropical climate!

We’ve also had great response from casual tea drinkers and complete beginners, who in the past have shied away from regular tea drinking because of perceived difficulties in preparing tea. In fact, our bestselling product to date is not a tea, but our Handy Cooler – a heat resistant tempered glass pitcher that allows you to make both hot and iced teas easily. It has a contemporary design, is affordably priced and comes in a range of cheery colors, which really helps change the perception of tea drinking to something that can be a part of an everyday, modern lifestyle.

We’ve seen very strong demand for our products as gifts. It helps that our products are beautifully designed in Japan, and that there are always seasonal limited edition designs and flavors in-store. 

What’s the most interesting customer encounter you’ve had? 

Eugene: One thing that has surprised us is the number of die-hard LUPICIA fans that already exist in Singapore. Almost on a daily basis, customers come into the store to tell us that they are big fans of the brand from their travels to Japan, Australia, Taiwan or the U.S., and how thrilled they are to find that we are now in Singapore. We even had one customer whip out her iPhone to show us pictures she and her family took in front of the LUPICIA store in Hokkaido while on a ski trip! Such encounters bear testimony to how special the LUPICIA brand is, and it is a challenge for us to find ways to continually delight these customers. Aside from getting to know them better while they’re in the store, we’re very active on Facebook.

What are your plans for LUPICIA in Singapore? 

Eugene: Given the positive response so far, we are optimistic that there is room to grow in Singapore. That said, we believe in taking a measured approach all opportunities, to ensure that the brand experience is never compromised. 

On the retail front, we will be looking at opening additional stores in Singapore, as well as additional ways to engage both existing and new customers. We’re always asking for feedback from our customers, so a lot of how we evolve in the future will be up to them and their suggestions on how we can help them in their tea discovery journey.

Images courtesy of Sarafine Concepts Asia Pte. Ltd.