Drinking artisan blended teas is fast becoming a new trend, particularly in the UK, and with a number of speciality tea rooms popping up the trend is set to grow, garnering a rather different following than you would expect; tea drinkers that are young, urban and affluent. The trend incorporates new gastronomic developments where tea rooms are now creating tea and food pairings and experimenting with sensory development. Last year Camellia’s Tea House created a breathable tea room that offered inhalable cups of tea.
Newcastle-based entrepreneur Jules Quinn launched her design-led tea business The *Teashed in 2011 on the cusp of this trend, and her brand was immediately picked up by Fenwick and John Lewis, followed by a number of independent retailers.
The *Teashed is now sold worldwide with 150 suppliers in the UK and distributors in Europe, the US, Asia and the Middle East; and it’s her unique blends and creative packaging that has made her stand out from the crowd, building a large fan base of young, cool urbanites.
We caught up with Jules to find out how she managed to launch a successful brand without any previous experience and whilst still at University.
TRS: How did you come up with the idea to launch a designer tea brand?
I was on a work placement in London and had to make LOTS of cups of tea. They sent me to Sainsburys one lunchtime to buy more tea for the office, and I noticed that the tea selection was a third of the coffee selection. This was 5 years ago. I thought there must be a gap in the market for a cool, young exciting tea brand aimed at a younger age group, and I was right! Now of course tea is huge and the market has changed a lot, and I like to think we had our part to play in that change.
TRS: Where did you start? What was the first thing you did to turn your idea into a reality?
I spent my final year at Northumbria University developing The *Teashed and then launched straight into Fenwick. I basically went into the store and asked which buyer I needed to speak to and then spoke to them! My lack of experience didn’t even cross my mind; I just got on with it.
TRS: Tea blending is an art; how did you develop the tea blends yourself? Did you get help?
Absolutely! It takes about 15 years of training to become a tea taster. I have people in Sri Lanka who do this for me. So I will say I want a mint tea, and they will send me about 5 different varieties and then we’ll go back and forth until we find the right one.
TRS: Did you need to go to Sri Lanka to source your tea producers?
Nope! I Googled them. It was only 2 years later that I had the time and money to go out there.
TRS: Did you design the packaging yourself or did you employ a designer?
Yes I do all the graphics myself. We learned a lot about the Adobe software at Uni and that has been really useful. I use Photoshop and Illustrator on a daily basis.
TRS: How did you finance your start up?
I asked my parents for help and I also won a cash award. The initial funding I received was £5,000 from my mum and dad. After that I won £1,500 from Northumbria Uni. All the money I received was spent on buying stock. From there I started selling within lots of food & drink markets, which was a great way of getting cash into the business quickly.
TRS: Have you had further funding in order to expand?
My mum and dad have given me a few thousand pounds here and there when there were cash flow issues. The first cash award I received through Northumbria Uni was because I was a student there. Then I got a £5,000 Lloyds TSB award, which I applied for via their website.
TRS: How important is your USP (Unique Selling Point) to your brand?
Without a doubt your USP is important but how different can a USP really be unless you have invented a completely new product or have a very niche untapped market? I think more important than product USPs are your brand USPs. How are you as a company, why are you doing this – what is your story? Ultimately it’s not a product that you want but a brand. Once you have your product, story and the infrastructure in place, you can begin your long and very hard journey of running your own business. It will be a challenge but believe that you can get through it, as when the good bits happen, they outweigh the bad times twice over!
TRS: You host tea-themed events; is this key to the marketing and positioning of your brand?
We put on events to showcase what the Teashed is about. It’s a great way of showing people who you are because just sitting on a shelf isn’t enough. You have to make friends with your customers and get your brand out there in other ways so that when people see your product in a shop they’re more likely to buy it. We host them all over the place on lawns and within old warehouses. All sorts of people attend from mums and their babies to older ladies who love drinking tea out of china cups! We run some events ourselves and could spend up to £2,000 on them, but we also team up with bigger events such as the Eat! Festival – NewcastleGateshead.
TRS: What other marketing do you do?
We run events, social media, sampling and competitions mainly. Our marketing strategy is to have fun and to engage with people on as many levels as possible. We promote our events through social media, posters and word of mouth. We do a lot of sampling in stores which works great for us, and we run competitions via facebook, twitter and instagram. As long as we break even we are happy to invest in marketing as it’s more about brand awareness.
TRS: Do you use social media and if so, is this an important part of your marketing?
Yes social media is really important to us because it’s a basically a free way of getting your brand out there and it works on a personal level. I try to post daily, but its not really to gain new followers but to engage with the followers we already have.
TRS: How did you manage to get so many well known retailers and suppliers to stock your brand (including John Lewis and Fenwick) almost immediately after launching?
There’s no secret really; I walked into Fenwick and asked one of the shop assistants who I would need to speak to; I emailed her, got a meeting and then was listed. I don’t think it’s that hard if you have a great product and story behind your company. With John Lewis we were very lucky as they got in touch with us, possibly from seeing us in Fenwick’s. They are really lovely people to work with. There are a few things you need to be assertive about when talking to buyers, like pricing, where your product sits in the store etc. We had parameters to work within with regards to negotiating on the wholesale price; there are set margins depending on what area of food/drink you are in; with us it was around 40%. The best tip I can give is to believe in your product and believe in yourself. We had some experience in markets and consumer shows, so we knew first hand what people liked and disliked, which helped.
TRS: How did you find distributors to work with?
Distributors are great at dealing with all the independents. I found ours at trade shows and made direct contact with them.
TRS: It was reported on Startups.co.uk that you made £90k organically; how did you achieve this?
Working 24/7 and being careful about how and when and what I spent money on.
TRS: What has been key to your growth?
Keeping an eye on your finances, not being greedy and reinvesting back into the business.
TRS: What has been the most challenging part about launching your own business?
Probably living with my parents in the countryside. I love them to bits and I have lived at home for almost my whole life (I’m 26), and I have had to do this to make my business work. My friends have all moved away, I don’t go out much and I earn a lot lot lot less than most people my age. But in the long term it will be worth it.
TRS: Do you have a business mentor?
No I have done this all by myself.
TRS: Has working in an industry that you have no previous experience in, held you back at all, or have you been able to learn on the job?
If you want something bad enough you learn pretty quickly. I have made some mistakes but I have made lots of good decisions. Maybe if I had previous industry experience I would have not made those particular mistakes but I still would have made mistakes. And by mistakes I don’t mean in a bad way, just in that I would do it differently next time. Mistakes are the only way to always do something right in the future!
TRS: What tips would you give someone launching their own business?
To not worry or doubt themselves and to just go for it.
TRS: What’s next for The *Teashed?
Global domination one tea bag at a time! We are also launching a new product www.popaball.co.uk so there is a lot going on.