Oct 5, 2012

some personal view about tea business

In the past a few months, I was pondering on a blog called "slow down but won't stop" talking about my plan of slowing down the tea business of Life in Teacup (but won't stop...) Then I remember this unfinished blog that I started writing long time ago (seen from the date of the relevant steepster thread, it was really a long time ago...) So I thought probably I should finish this piece about business first.

I was also sort of reminded of it by the recent business discussion with a few friends and some thoughtful business discussions initiated by Pete on teatra.de. I always feel Pete's view of business makes more business sense than mine but he also has a lot more "tea sense" than many tea business articles I've read written by the "tea industry people".

This was first inspired by a discussion on Steepster about "how did you get into the tea business?" It was not the first time I saw this kind of question, but this time I happened to have some time to type up what I thought :-D

I always have this hobby of collecting and trying different tea varieties. Some of them I fall in love with. Some of them I don’t like that much after trying once or twice. But just the process of trying new types of tea itself excites me a lot. At certain point I started to feel the current market offers too limited variation and probably I can bring more diversity to the market. Even Chinese mainstream market doesn't offer all varieties that I want. I guess it's because any mainstream market can't afford investing too much on rather unknown products that are destined for only an extremely small group of consumers without extremely high medium charges. So before I started selling tea, to get my personal tea, I often had to dig up and down for information of new tea source and then run up and down to get the tea. At certain point, I both enjoyed my tea adventure and felt terribly guilty that I had wasted so much time on just finding 100g new green tea for myself. In this sense, I feel my time for similar activities is much better used when the time is spent looking for various of teas and not just for my personal use.

In addition, I was very much encouraged by the growth of tea drinking trend in America. As an enthusiastic tea lover living in US, I was invited by a few Chinese tea magazines to research and wrote about American tea market. The research confirmed my gut feelings about growing tea market and further encouraged me. I am destined to deal with small varieties of tea and varieties that are not (yet) known by a lot of people. Without the thriving tea culture in America, I wouldn’t have thought I could possibly put together a tea business based on my own taste preferences.

Besides, something else that makes me excited about this business opportunity is, it’s an opportunity for me to try out a series of ideas. I always believe the subject is more important than the wrapper. I still hope I can further improve many aspects of our business. But I hope that a tea lover interested in tea business doesn’t have to invest tens of thousands of dollars as cash advance to open a business. Also I hope the budget of the business is focused on the subject (tea). Everything else (outlook, marketing, packaging…) can be minimized - probably from this, you can already tell I don't really know much about business in academic sense, and you will probably hear completely different things from real business experts. But I think what's wonderful about a small business with financial freedom is, you can do it in whatever way you like. Otherwise, why bother?

Long time ago, I read a book about a very old tea business. An owner of that tea business said, To run a tea business, you've got to keep a leisure mind. Well she talked about tea business in the old days which may not make much modern sense. But I am somewhat fascinated with the mindset of tea professionals in the old days. I think I currently have pretty much a leisure mind for my tea business. But in fact, I am a weak soul. I know I wouldn't have been able to maintain any leisure mind if I had to put myself in debts for the business. I guess I'm not alone on this. In recent years, I have seen more and more tea businesses that started small on ebay or their own websites, and slowly built up themselves into a larger online business or opening a bricks and mortar teashop. I think this is quite difference from the business mode of investing big cash to open a big store from the beginning. And I can imagine the financial freedom would allow the owners to run the business the way they want, instead of the way the market demands.

In recent years, I've also seen more and more "amateur tea sellers" both in and out of China. Most of my best green teas in recent years are either from tea farmers directly or from "amateur tea sellers" who are children, grandchildren, cousins, nephews, friends... of tea farmers. They sell tea that can't be found elsewhere and they can afford doing so because they don't financially rely on tea business. I started writing a blog about them long time ago but have yet to finish it sometime in future.

These are pretty much my own wishes based on my own shopping habits. I know my business philosophy is not consistent with many other people’s, and may not be the best way to do business. But I am curious to find out if my way will work. Besides, it just feels good when a big part of work is drinking tea.


Recently a few single friends of my husband's called him up one after one to discuss with him their relationship problems with wives, girlfriends, dates...(mid-life crises?)  I just couldn't help laughing upon it and I would tell my husband that this is entirely "blind leading blind". As much of a great person as he is, my husband is really a blunt guy who has no great idea about things like "where to go for the third date" or "what to do when my girlfriend doesn't return my calls"... But when I talk about business, it's his turn to laugh at me for "blind leading blind"... But whatever, if he can run his relationship clinic phone line, I can write about my business :-p

1 comment:

SimpliciTEA said...

Great post. Thank you for taking the time to write about your "business perspective" and then posting it for us to read.