Starting an Online Tea Business? Start with YOU

So you love tea. And you know tea. Your friends are always coming to you when they have a question about tea. In fact, more than one of them has said to you, “Man,  you ought to go into the tea business yourself!”

Don’t tell me you haven’t considered it …

I bet you’d love to make a living around tea, but how? A tea shop? Unless you’re in London, a long-shot gamble at best. Bottling your own unique tea blends? Not without a considerable amount of startup costs. A grower? Yeah, right.

What about selling online?

Think about it: all the benefits of owning your own tea store, at a fraction of the price and with a virtually unlimited market. Sure, there are hundreds of online tea shops, with more popping up all the time. On the other hand, the market for specialty tea in the U.S. has exploded in the past few years and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

No doubt, specialty tea is hot–and online merchandising has never been simpler or more profitable. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, of course; the industry’s expansive growth is no secret. Even as we speak, the U.S. market is attracting established tea retailers from around the globe. The power of the internet means that chains from Europe and Asia are able to storm the market with name-brand products and dreams of aggressive growth.

Even here in the US, a number of tea companies can fall back on the resources of venture capitalists or other investors. National chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s–not to mention a good number of regular grocery stores–now sell mid-level or higher loose-leaf teas. At the same time, giant online one-stops like Amazon let you browse dozens of tea collections from different merchants that can be ordered by simply yelling at Alexa.

You WILL have competition.

As with any business, your chances at success often depends on what advertisers call the “Unique Selling Position”: why would people buy from YOU as opposed to anyone else?

Established business definitely have the edge here: if you are just starting out, they’ve got you beat on web presence, brand reputation, customer satisfaction, marketing and packaging, and probably even price. So what can you offer that they can’t?

That’s the question and the answer: the one thing you can offer that they can’t … is you.

If your friends are coming to you with tea questions, it’s probably not just because you know tea: it’s also based on the fact that they can get a solid, understandable answer from someone they trust.

If you love what you do, it shows. Entrepreneurs of all types will tell you that personal interest is a key selling point–and a great start at creating an online presence that stands out from the crowd.

The internet is a paradise for people who are happy serving a niche market. I like to compare to being a musician: if you want to be a rock star, well, the odds are very much against you: there just aren’t that many positions available. But if you simply want to make a living as a working musician, well, there are plenty of opportunities … you just have to find where you fit.

Look, building any business requires “ adaptability, hard work, and the ability to listen,” in the words of one entrepreneur. But when you’re doing something you love, you’ll be surprised at how much work can seem like play.

What You Should Know Before You Try to Open a Bookstore/Café

Do you love books? I love books. Somehow, books and tea (or coffee) seem to just go together. Which is probably why every introverted bibliophile I have ever met has at one point or another uttered something along the lines of “I want to open my own bookstore/coffee house/tea room/café.”

To which respond, “No. You really don’t.”

I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer here; I just happen to have a pragmatic side. Book lovers–all of us, I’m afraid–have this romanticized idea of a warm and cozy nook that magically takes care of itself while we snuggle in a comfy chair with a hot cuppa and read, read, read to our heart’s content.

In other words, we dream of opening the kind of place where we’d like to hang out.

Thing is, if you’re running the place, you don’t have time to hang out. A wise man once said, “You don’t own a small business: it owns you.” This might be even more true in a specialty business. For example:

  • Your life becomes defined by your customers’ needs. Stayed up until three finishing that book you just couldn’t put down? Tough. Your sign says “Open at 8,” so you’d better be there.
  • What you do becomes more important than who you are. Not a morning person? Have trouble making easy conversation? Dislike being interrupted mid-task? Sorry. You’re the shop-owner: the way people perceive you becomes your brand. You cater to customers … even the unreasonable ones with screaming children.
  • Your romantic daydream will often clash with business reality. You need a business plan going in, but once you’ve started, you do whatever it takes to keep the business alive. Remember, you’ll be going up against big name discounters like Barnes and Noble. That means your cozy farmhouse ambiance might have to give way to polished chrome and brass … and shelves of Dickens and Melville might need to be cleared for more copies of “Fifty Shades of Rainbows.”
  • It’s work. You’ll need to be there before opening each morning to get foodstuffs ready. You’ll be on your feet all day meeting customer needs (or worse, sitting all day because you have no customers!). And you’ll stay long after closing, cleaning up, restocking shelves, and preparing for the next day.

And there’s more: if you’re a literary person, it usually means you prefer to deal in words, not numbers. But running a small business is all about numbers: what you pay out, what you bring in, paying bills, figuring taxes. You’ll also have to deal with legal expenses. Licensing. Insurance. Chargebacks. Theft. Unreliable employees. Hiring and firing.

And all in an industry that has one of the slimmest profit margins of any business.

Are you discouraged yet? No? Well, in that case, you might actually have a chance of making your dream a reality.

But if it all sounds like way more trouble than its worth, well, maybe just brew yourself bit of black oolang, find a cozy corner to curl up with a copy of David Copperfield, and dream about all the books you’ll be able to enjoy by not opening your own café.

Monica’s Payday Cake Recipe

Long time, no post! I’ve been busy dabbling in new hobbies and adventures. Last month I went with a friend who is starting an online business to an ecommerce conference, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of online possibilities beyond blogging! Continue reading

Chai Tea Latte Recipe

With the cooler weather coming in, few things are more refreshing than a steaming cup of tea. Green tea, black tea, herbal tea, white tea, oolong tea… I like them all! Chai tea is one of my favorites, though chai actually just means tea in many other languages. Chai in the states usually refers to black tea brewed with herbs and spices, which is the recipe I am giving here. Continue reading

Pumpkin Recipe

The first time I made this recipe was over the summer even though pumpkin muffins are associated with autumn. Still, when I saw this recipe I couldn’t resist giving it a try. And I’m glad I did! This recipe is a staple favorite now and I use it to make the flavors of fall year-round.  Continue reading

Need To Boost Your Vitamin B12 Levels? Try These Recipes

Health and nutrition are becoming an important factor is the diets of people across the globe. With this new focus on what we eat and how it affects us comes the realization that there is a nutrient deficiency problem silently affecting many people.

Vitamin B12 is a lesser thought of vitamin that helps to combat mental health problems, fatigue, anemia, and stomach issues. If you become deficient in Vitamin B12, you can lose cognitive function, damage your central nervous system, become fatigued and anemic, and develop depression. Continue reading

Oatmeal Cherry Cookies

For the last few weeks I have been on a bit of a cookie kick. I already have most of the stock ingredients like sugar, flour, baking soda, and the like laying around, so I have been doing a bit of experimenting. The recipe that follows was me trying to balance my desire to be healthy with my sweet tooth but the sugar and butter in these cookies aren’t exactly healthy. They’re still delicious though! (No surprises there…) Continue reading

Vegetarian Lasagna Southwestern Style

Recently I met up for lunch with a vegetarian friend of mine. She is health and cost-conscious (successfully so, I might add) so she makes meals at home over the weekend to freeze for the week ahead. She told me about what she made in her last round of cooking and it sounded so awesome that I asked for the recipe to share here.

So I bring you… Vegetarian lasagna, Southwestern style! The beans, corn, cheese, and salsa layered between classic lasagna sheets give this dish a Mexican flavor. Whether you are vegetarian or not it is certainly worth trying. Continue reading

Priority One Clearing Shares Magazines For The Taste Buds

If you are guilty of watching Food Network on a daily basis, you have indeed earned the foodie label. We recently learned the folks at Priority One Clearing Services are fellow foodies too. Although, the Priority One Clearing staff doesn’t need to visit restaurants and attempt to dissect each seasoning nuance. All they have to do is select a food magazine from their subscription options. Continue reading

It’s Been A While…

Finally, I started blogging again. This time around, I created a space which is more like a personal photo blog. Yes, can’t quit taking pictures. How about cooking? Still loves it but can only do food photography occasionally. If you have time, you are most welcome to visit me at Droplets.