Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tea Business Spotlight 8 - Min River Tea Farm

Min River Tea Farm
Fuzhou, China

Welcome to the eighth 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?

We started in March 2011, so it's a very new business. We've been live for about a month now. The idea has been brewing in my head for about 1 year now, and it's taken that long to get everything ready and running.

What is the size/scope of your business?
We're still quite small, just focussed on the UK market now and only selling online, but quite soon we'll expand to Europe and the USA. We sell only pure, authentic Chinese teas, whole-leaf and with no added flavourings or fruity blends!

Why tea?
The place where I live (Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China) is one of the great tea areas. Historically, it was a major centre for tea trading, and even today, Fuzhou people love their tea - it's part of daily life, with friends or family, eating sunflower seeds and chatting over a pot of tea. Even on the way home from a bar or alcohol fuelled dinner, Fuzhou people will stop by a teahouse to drink some Tie Guan Yin to freshen up before they sleep. So, I love this social aspect of Chinese tea, the way it brings people together.

How did you get the ball rolling on your venture?
It took a long time for the idea to form in my head. I'd say the last six months I've actually been doing work on the business, but the first six months were spent just thinking, researching the market here in China and at home in the UK, talking to friends, and letting that idea mature. I came out of that first six months with some really strong founding principles for the business - honesty, simplicity and taste are the three things I bear in mind every day.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of your business?
The biggest differentiator about the Min River Tea Farm is that we are amazingly straightforward and simple. We don't offer hundreds of varieties of tea, or different grades, etc. - unless you're a complete tea nerd, that level of choice is overwhelming. We do the hard work of selecting a few really great tasting teas, and our customers are left with a really simple choice. Except for a few really dedicated tea connoisseurs most people I've spoken to just want to enjoy a great cup of tea in the mornings, and try something new, without all the fuss.

What were/are the biggest challenges of getting into/being in the tea business?
I think there's a big myth about sourcing teas being extremely difficult, and perhaps tea businesses like to emphasize that as a marketing tool. It does involve spending a fair amount of time and being very discerning about tea quality and the people you're buying from, but that's the fun part right? When I was searching around for my teas, for weeks I was running around the Fujian Province spending 3-4 hours a day drinking tea, and it was great. Perhaps it's more difficult if you're not based in China or don't speak the language. Finding a supplier does involve a lot of trust and a good relationship, and it was a huge benefit for me being able to talk directly to suppliers (I speak Mandarin Chinese) and also to hop on a bus or into a cab and meet them face to face.

One big challenge is to understand and comply with all the import/export regulations in China and your country. It's not easy, and I know that a lot of tea retailers actually buy their tea not from tea farms, but from big tea exporters in Hong Kong or Taiwan, because it's easier. The price goes up, and the quality sometimes goes down, and we didn't want to go down that route. So our teas are all direct from China, no middle-men, and we can guarantee the taste.

And then, like all businesses, the hard part, or not-so-fun part, is sorting out import/export regulations, dealing with accountacy, setting up bank accounts or getting loans, learning tax regulations, managing your packaging suppliers, things like that. The biggest barrier to business is not finding a good product, but actually getting that product to market successfully.

What would you do differently, if anything?
I wouldn't have delayed doing a lot of the extra 'business' stuff like sorting out tax and import regulations. I come from a web background, where you can build and launch a website in a weekend, and there's a culture of "just build it". Web developers often like to just release a product or application, and if it gets some traction, then you can worry about the business side. It's very fast, very agile, but with a 'real' business, you can't ignore that stuff - my last 4 weeks have been absolutely sleepless trying to catch up on all of those things!

How's business?
So far, it's good. Although its early days, orders are coming in and feedback from my customers about the tea and the website is extremely positive. I'm being very cautious about the business as it grows, to make sure that the really important things work well, like fast delivery of the tea to customers, but so far, it's very exciting.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to be in the tea business?
Do it! If you want to start your own tea shop, or online tea business, then just do it. The market is growing and nations of tea lovers like the UK are starting to show a huge interest in authentic teas, or new tastes.

Also, if you're not sure about starting yourself, why not contact an existing company? For example, we're looking for people on the ground in the UK or Europe to visit natural food markets or organic fairs and sell our Chinese tea directly to consumers, so if you're a tea fanatic and you're looking for a way in besides starting your own company, then there's always options.

Tea Guy Speaks Amazon Store

No comments: