If you are leaning toward a store rather than a cafe, you will need displays, shelving, focus lights, a good amount of inventory stock and, since many concepts are a combination of both, you will need to decide where your emphasis will be. I can’t tell you how many times we were in the process of making a $50 loose tea sale when someone just wanted a tea to go for $2.50 and was in a big hurry to get it and get going. Staff decisions are important, not only as to how many per shift, but also the personality type and amount of training in tea and customer service you plan to provide. What about pay? Will it be by the hour with tips, and/or with a bonus or profit-sharing program? Will you manage the store or hire an experienced manager? Are you physically up to 60-80 hour work weeks? This is not necessarily age-dependent. I know of two women in the eighty-year range who work their restaurants hands-on. I’ve worked with twenty-somethings that couldn’t keep up with me or them.
So, back to the dream: who will your vendors be and how will you find them? The easy answer is trade shows but I can tell you that my best vendors were not found through trade shows but through word of mouth, lots of research, and calling and emailing and sampling and searching and digging. How much do you know about tea itself? How much do you know about major growing regions, how tea is processed, differences between regions, terroir, flushes, Fair Trade, organic? Some of your customers will know a whole lot about tea, but most will know almost nothing and will expect you to educate them.
Inventory control is a huge factor in running a business. Even with ‘forever’ shelf life, general merchandise is expensive (to you) if it just sits on the shelves looking pretty. If you offer food, how it complements the tea selections is important. In cafe concepts, it often happens that the person who went into business to sell tea ends up running a sandwich shop when the concept is not clear or focused.
All that and the tremendous time and cost aside, here we go again. This will be my third launch into the deep, and this time I have much more helpful information to move forward with. Like a veteran with war scars and a bit of trepidation, I sit here looking at the new dream on paper, and the entrepreneurial adrenalin still starts pumping. It’s like you can’t help yourself. You get pregnant again, even with the memories of the pain of childbirth, exhaustion of early morning feedings, and innumerable challenges as the child matures.
Are you already a retail tea business owner? I’d love to hear your input and experiences!
This is the second in a two-part series. To read part one, click here.