Monday, February 28, 2011

Tea Business Spotlight 6 - Canton Tea Co

Canton Tea Co

Welcome to the sixth of our Tea Business Spotlights, in which we allow tea people to share insights on running their business. If you're a tea business owner and you'd like to take part in an upcoming spotlight, please contact us.

How long have you been in business?
Since Dec 07 but we spent 18 months in research and planning before we launched.

What is the size/scope of your business?
We are a small but fast-growing specialist supplier of authentic whole leaf tea from China and Taiwan. Our business is primarily web-based in the UK, but we are growing our trade business in Teahouses, boutique hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants and high end retail outlets like Harvey Nichols, London. We also sell quality teaware, some Indian and herbal tissanes. Our US customer base is growing rapidly - which may have something to do with achieving second place among the Best Tea Companies in the US tea review website Teaviews.

Why tea?
Because we love it and it meets our needs for a product that has intrinsic quality and authenticity. Our interest started in the late 1980's when we were given some incredible Pouchong by a Taiwanese friend whose family own the tea farm.

How did you get the ball rolling on your venture?
Once we connected with our buying partners in Guangzhou who have the serious tea knowledge and experience, we started in a just-get-on-with-it sort of way by ordering a stock of tea from our Taiwanese friend, being sent a core range of around six teas by our partners in China and building a website. It was very much a kitchen-table business for a couple of years - we were selling to friends, attending food shows- but we just went for it.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of your business?
The quality of our sourcing: we are the only specialist tea company to have full time buyers in China and Taiwan. They guarantee the integrity, quality and authenticity of our product, and is why Canton Tea Co can deliver such a great experience in the cup. The founders are strong too, with the right mix of e-commerce and marketing skills right at the centre of the business. And we're all very determined...

What were/are the biggest challenges of getting into/being in the tea business?
Sourcing, it's very hard to buy the best tea from anywhere except very close to the source. And even then you really need to know what you're doing and have long-term, trusted relationships with the farms. Funding stock and managing inventory - there are few easy answers to these issues! Cynical competitors who masquerade as small independents, but are in reality giant mega-funded corporations dominating shelf space!

What would you do differently, if anything?
Raise more finance at the beginning. Build the third website first! Hire the fifth photographer first! But not much else, you can only really learn by making the mistakes

How's business?
Fantastic. We are growing fast, winning plaudits and getting our core message across on multiple levels, which is essentially 'It's about the tea . . .'

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to be in the tea business?
Go for it. Although it's such a crowded sector right now, so you need to do or have something to differentiate your offer - preferably something genuine.

Tea Guy Speaks Amazon Store


Alex Zorach said...

Haha...I love this "third website" and "fifth photographer" comment...I think that is getting at the essence of how business, and perhaps life in general, is done well. =) Try out lots of things until you figure out what works!

Shai Williams said...

I just Canton Tea Co. I know that when I receive a tea from them that it will be top quality and their prices are so reasonable for the quality.