After months of strategizing, procurement, research and other life devouring activities, finally our online tea shop is ready for re-launch.
The road to re-launch was far, far, far more arduous and complicated than I ever envisaged but before we get there, here is how our first launch went:
2 words: It bombed
Or: It sucked
Simply put, we were lost at how to start. All we had was a simple notion: Chinese tea is not that hard to brew and done right, it tastes great, something everyone would embrace and it is affordable for everyday consumption.
So we looked for brewing utensils that would simplify the process and there were some good ones. We looked for teas that were easier to brew and affordable.
What we didn’t think through was our target clientele base. Criminal on hindsight but in our asinine-ness we neglected to get this rudimentary concept sorted out.
First time drinkers! That could mean anyone.
Except when you target everyone, you often end up reaching no one.
New drinkers or prospective drinkers often look at ‘influencers’ or experienced drinkers to guide them.
Experienced drinkers would turn up their nose at the ‘novice’ branding of our products.
Even worse, we focused on a very narrow market, our local market in Singapore.
It gets better (worse), we had a somewhat niche product- loose leaves Chinese tea which is not quite mass market among the younger generation who would most likely be on the net.
Worst of all, we only had 4 types of tea as in our stupidity we thought let’s keep it simple, launch first and adjust along the way.
We didn’t have the slightest notion what was essential in an online store and launched without the following:
i) Shopping cart
ii) PayPal or any other payment gateway (we used interbank transfer)
iv) Returns Policy
Even writing this, I cringe at how raw we were. Eventually I built my own e-commerce shopping cart which was ugly, to put it mildly. It was not helped by the fact that most of the product photos were taken by me, with no studio photography lighting or talent.
The amateurism didn’t end with the website design either. Our product label was ‘designed’ (and that word is used in the most liberal sense) by me and pretty much stunk. The packaging was a generic packaging while we stuck that awful label on.
Suffice it to say, we soon realize things weren’t quite what it seemed and we haven’t even covered sourcing, probably one of the most difficult aspect of tea business.
Initially I thought it was quite simple, go straight to the source (China), bypass the middlemen, taste half a million type of teas and take the best. After all, I had been drinking Chinese tea for almost a decade now surely I could depend on my tongue.
Another moronic notion.
Firstly as I covered in the earlier post, the tongue can be deceived.
Then, there is the danger of relying on what is called the tea vendor’s brewing method in Chinese. Many tea vendors would brew in this manner:
i) Boiling or near boiling water
ii) Ultra short to nil steeping time
That fitted in snugly with my goal of providing simplistic brewing methods, no timer, no water temperature. Pour boiling water and decant. Simple.
It was only later that I realized that the ultra-short steeping time brings out the best in the tea leaves whilst hiding its flaw, good if you are brewing for personal enjoyment but horrendous ill-suited for discovering the true nature of the tea. Assessment of the quality of tea is near impossible with this brewing but more on it in a later post.
Stumbling for a while, I was indeed blessed that I was introduced to a friend who had been in the tea business for generations. Coupled with the books we had been devouring voraciously, we soon had a clearer idea what we were in for. Not that I consider ourselves to have arrived- more accurately we arrived on the right path- for the knowledge of tea is simply staggering and it would take a lifetime to scratch the surface.
We began reading history, geography, botany, production of tea and most importantly drank copious amounts of tea (a real joy no doubt). Not to mention that travelling to China is such a breeze and enjoyable aspect of this business.
We soon learnt to rely not just on taste but smell, sight, touch and sometimes even hearing to assess the quality of tea leave; learned to infuse them for at least 5 minutes to assess it, learned to taste it when it’s hot and then when it’s cold and how horrific some teas can taste under those conditions; tasting it blind. Even so, we do not pretend that we are able to accurately assess the quality of every type of tea leaves which is why we have sourcing agents for certain teas, people whom we trust and can be involved in witnessing the raw leaves and production process to ensure the ‘right’ leaves are used.
We learnt that some of our earlier teas didn’t quite meet the standard after careful assessment and pulled it off our shelves. Guess we won’t be turning in a profit any time soon.
We learnt not to rely on labels- for example why Pre-Qing Ming does not apply to many teas as a gauge of quality. Learning the production process was vital in helping us comprehend this and even so there are specifics of each type of tea that we are learning.
Certain things we just throw up our hands and leave it to the experts. We paid to migrate to a new e-commerce platform (Magento), paid for professional photography, paid for the label designs.
We re-strategized and thought of our positioning. It was something that had to be done from the start but thank God we did it now.
Most importantly, we got in a good selection of tea (18 by the time our next batch of tea comes in) that we can be proud of, delivering our new vision of authentic quality and exemplary value.
Of course the road to re-launch was fraught with speed bumps. Delays in production, logistical difficulties. We re-launched almost a month later than we anticipated.
In the midst of it, God provides and we have essentially all we need.
Now we have products we can genuinely be proud to sell and a web site that we beam when we surf it and we know you will like it too.
Our new journey begins, thanks for sharing it with us.