Anyone With Any Knowledge About Running a Tea Business - Help Me Out!

I’m about to start my senior year of high school, so now’s the time to start planning what I want to do with my future. I want to follow a career path that I would enjoy, and being passionate about tea, running some kind of tea business seems to be a good route.

So anybody who runs, has a part in running, or has any knowledge at all about what it takes to maintain a successful tea business (whether it be a retail shop, an online business, or both)- if you could help me out with any tips you can provide me, I would greatly appreciate it.

Key things I am looking for:

-What are some good sources for buying tea wholesale (that provide high-quality tea while still being affordable)?
-Tangible tea shop or online retailer – which is more likely to be successful?
-What are the best areas for opening a tea shop? (I assume any metropolitan area or college town would be a safe bet).
-Do you know of any websites or books that could provide me with information regarding running a business in tea?

Any tips or advice you could provide me with would be very much appreciated.

P.S., if I end up following this path, all my Steepster buddies get free samples! ;)

9 Replies

I don’t have any advice as I’m a teacher not a business woman, but I just want to say GOOD FOR YOU!!!!

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Kiaharii said

If you end up doing this I’ll be your photographer for your website! :) I’ll will trade tea for photos. :P

More seriously (though I totally am). Try google of course, and then looking up small business associations wherever you decide to establish your shop. If your high school offers a small business class take that, and if not and you’re going to college take on there (or a community college). I just finished one my senior year of college and definitely decided to wait (maybe not ever) on starting my dream business (dog day care), it takes a lot of money to start one. Designing a business plan was a huge help, I’m sure you could find some stuff online. If you want I can e-mail you (if I have them… not sure), our business plan guidelines.

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Scott B said

I would go to college and take business and marketing classes. Maybe study abroad for a year in China and learn about their tea culture. You could also get an internship with a tea company.

THX2250 said

I think going to China to study is definitely helpful

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Helena said

Business and marketing classes will help and of course study what works with some of the other companies. There’s a discussion posted about “who’s your favourite retailer and why” running around steepster you might want to check that out :D

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Hi Kwinter!
I would love to offer a few pointers. As you know, I own Verdant Tea, which is a strictly online business (with occasional tastings here in Minneapolis), but before starting my own business I actually helped a physical teahouse in an advisory capacity and as a wholesale business manager. It is interesting to have both sides of the experience.

I don’t know if you will like hearing this necessarily, but you should. It takes a LOT more money than you might think to do a good job starting a tea business online or as a teahouse.

A teahouse means finding a space and signing a lease. Many commercial leases are 2 year minimum with two months down. If you serve food or prepare drinks, you will need an NSF certified kitchen and approval from local health inspectors. Equipment and build-outs (tables, chairs, counters, shelves, wiring, etc) can run 25-30k on a budget. That is a bootstrapping do-it-yourself budget. Then, you need to account for at least one full year of losses as you make your presence known in town, get written up, etc. If you choose to hire employees, you will have FICA obligations, etc. Expect to lose about 10k the first month, and hopefully, progressively less loss each month after that as you build up inventory, find customers, etc.

Online is another issue entirely. If you are buying from other vendors that sell online and reselling their tea, your costs are VERY low. You only buy what you need, set up a website and go. If you can build your own site, you shouldn’t be looking at more than a few hundred a month lost in licensing fees for fonts, hosting, etc. BUT- you have to aks yourself, what do you provide that is different at that point. others already sell the same teas, so why do you need to? Unless you do cool blends, or have some other dimension to the business like repacking sample sizes from many different companies and marketing yourself as a place to try everything.

The other rout is to source directly. This is extremely costly. I suppose you can work with big exporters and buy tea in any quantity letting them handle the shipping and brokerage, but then again, that is what everyone else does. I buy directly from the farmers, have a business presence and employee in China, and manage all the shipping, licensing, inspection certificates, brokerage and customs myself. It is so expensive, but I get to bring in really great teas because of it.

Just a few considerations for you on a practical level. Now for the fun: You should ALWAYS follow what you love to do most. I don’t say this as empty encouragement. I mena, that if you really love what you do, you will do it well, and as a result you will succeed and make enough to support yourself and your family. If tea is what you love, than do it. The key is to be flexible and always alert for opportunities. Sometimes the direct path runs into a brick wall, but if you are open to detours, you will get to where you want to be. Think of everyone you know and ask for help. People will surprise you in their generosity and advice.

Right out of school, I would try working in related industries and interning. That will give you a sandbox to play with ideas without the risk of financial ruin.

When you get to opening a shop, put together a full business business proposal including budget projections for the next five years based on market research. (Becoming a member of Specialty Tea Institute may get you access to interesting data- not sure). You need a solid plan to become profitable. Even if you are self-financed, you should do this. Business plans need to be very detailed, including every cost, and explaining exactly how you plan to grow your base of customers. If you court investors or seek a bank loan, they will want to see how their money is going to come back asap.

Also, I agree that language skills are a must. Business classes / MBA are not needed necessarily if you get sufficient internship skills at any successful business, and learn what goes into the whole process.

Just a few ideas. Please feel free to private message me or send an email if you want to get more details.

Grace said

Wow, this is really interesting!! Can I message you with questions too? :)

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Janefan said

I just saw a post on this very topic on the World of Tea blog!

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