Setting up Comins Tea House
Comins Tea House imports ethically grown loose leaf teas from around the world, direct from individually selected producers, as well as working with British designers and craft makers to create beautiful hand-made tea-ware. It is run by myself and my wife, Michelle Comins, and was launched online at the start of November 2011.
Our aim is make it simple for our customers to find and enjoy fine tea. For us the provenance as well as the taste of the tea is important, as we want our customers to know exactly where their tea comes from and also how to prepare it properly. This will mean our customers can enjoy each cup to its full potential.
Our launch collection is made up of teas that are an excellent representation of their type and that are teas to be enjoyed every-day.
We also believe that the way you enjoy your tea is as important as the tea itself and this led to the creation of our own unique teaware. We want our teaware to add to the tea experience, as well as reflecting the talent of British makers. As with our tea, we think telling the story behind each object and each maker is important.
Our business has developed over time through a passion for tea and for British design. We have gained our knowledge through many years of practical experience tasting and enjoying teas on our travels and holidays around the world, talking to people in the industry and by reading widely. We have also attended various tea courses and many design festivals to identify and meet British makers. Our business is a journey – the nature of tea means that we will never stop learning.
Michelle is a lifelong tea fan but I did not feel the same until a visit to the Makaibari Tea Estate in the hills of Kurseong, near Darjeeling, India in January 2008. The owner, Mr Banerjee, shared several cups of his finest Darjeeling before guiding us on a walk through his wonderful tea estate. The whole experience changed my perception of tea and the idea for Comins Tea House was born.
Shortly afterwards an introduction to the thriving British craft scene made us realise that our vision to design our own unique teaware could be achieved by working with British designers and makers.
These events set us on a path that has led to many meetings with inspiring people who have taken time to listen, advise and embrace the vision to enjoy tea the Comins Tea House way.
We were fortunate enough to be able to finance our own business. We wanted to start online on a small scale and grow according to our customers needs. This allows us to have a tight grip on our finances and a greater control on the direction of the business.
The biggest challenge in the beginning was sourcing our tea and the makers for our teaware. The ethos of the business is to ensure we know the provenance of everything we sell and build relationships with our partners.
We undertook a great deal of research and invested a lot of time in product development with makers and made the commitment of travelling to meet as many producers and makers as we could. Our partners – British makers, tea producers, web-designers and our illustrator have gone out of their way to support our small start up business. Without their kindness, advice, ideas and patience we would never have come to launch.
Our first venture into face to face selling was at the Tea and Coffee Festival on London’s Southbank in November 2011. We also attended the Hildreth Street Market in Balham, London at the end of December 2011. Both of these events will be revisited in the future, We also have great plans to develop the range and location of events we attend in 2012.
Our customers vary widely. We attract discerning tea drinkers, those that are occasional drinkers and also people who want to move away from their standard tea bags. Many customers tell us that it is the wide variety in types and blends of loose leaf tea that puts them off trying something new. Instead they often stick to their standard tea bag. Indeed 96% of the 165 million cups drunk in the UK every day are brewed from a tea bag (source : UK tea council).
The ‘New To Tea’ section on our website is designed to give new customers a feeling for the different types of tea available and to make their initial choice easier. The tastes and flavours associated with each type are indicated and a handy table shows not only how strong a tea will taste but whether it will invigorate or relax. Some simple guidance on brewing and storage are also included. This information combined with interaction through email, twitter and facebook should allow everyone to find the tea suited to their taste.
We developed our website so that we can use it as a central point for all our activity. We will be producing quarterly newsletters, for which customers can sign up for on the site. We have links to our facebook page and our twitter feed. Our blog is set to become a crucial aspect of how we communicate with our customers, as we post the story behind the business, reports on what we are doing as well as informative articles. We aim to attract guest bloggers and allow our customers to share their voice.
We are a new business and there is a great deal of potential for growth in the future. Initially we will be focussed on developing our website and growing our range of teas and teaware. We need to increase awareness of our company and make people talk about us.
We have a strong aspiration for the future of the business, but for now we are concentrating on getting the basics right so we have a strong platform to build upon.
The best advice we could give to anyone looking to start an online food and drink retailing business would be to have conviction in what you do and to let your passion shine through. There are so many fascinating people in the world and most of them are very willing to share their knowledge if you share your interest and vision.
Also we would say that you should be aware that not all tea is great. As with most products there is no such thing as something that is super cheap and high quality.
We have learnt an enormous amount and had great fun setting up and running our business, but I don’t think we would do anything that differently if we did it again. There are always small tweaks that could have been made in our initial product development that would have sped up our time to launch, but overall good preparation has meant we haven’t made any big mistakes yet!
Rob and Michelle Comins: www.cominsteahouse.co.uk
Follow Rob and Michelle on Twitter: @cominsteahouse,
Facebook addresses. : www.facebook.com/pages/Comins-Tea-House
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