April 2008 Issue
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Recommendation

Tea Comfort in a Tough Economy

by Cynthia Fazekas

If only business pitfalls were so clearly marked.

Return your clients to a carefree, childlike state.

Difficult economies have come and gone - and come back again. Anything that works in cycles will have ebb and flow like the tides, like a pendulum... Yes, like the moon! The key to staying viable during a financial wane is to not panic, to sit and observe. Move with utmost caution and evaluate with a cool head.

Don't panic!

First, remember the media likes to report the negative and can be overly dramatic to draw attention. Don't believe everything you are reading or seeing on the news at face value. Indeed, it may not be the best of economies, but that does not necessarily mean your or you business will be adversely affected. A recent visit to a local shopping area revealed the opposite of what the media had painted. It seemed alive, crowded, kicking and screaming. People were buying lots of things that certainly are not necessities.

Be patient.

Any good financial advisor will tell you to not freak out and dump your mutual funds all willy-nilly. Similarly, you certainly wouldn't want to close up shop because of a few slow weeks. You may have to tighten your belt and trim some fat but keep from making sudden moves and overreacting. Be strategic!

Don't use it as an excuse.

Tough times happen and then things tend to get better. If you are experiencing a difficult season don't automatically assume it is related to an economic slow down. There could be many other factors. It is very easy to pin your troubles on a slow economy when there could be legitimate business reasons for a lack of success. This leads us to the next point:

Observe and evaluate.

A good businessperson should be doing this any way. You cannot sit on your laurels in business and expect to succeed and grow. Be nimble and open to changing things up. Retailers know that if product is not moving, you change its location in your shop, change its display, and devise a promotion to draw interest.

Are you carrying too much stock or supplies? Not enough? What incentives do your vendors offer? Most vendor swill offer better pricing if you buy more at one time and in most cases consolidating your shipments means less shipping costs that can go right to your bottom line!

Take a look at your staff. Too many? Not enough? Is everyone serviced adequately, are your employees tripping over each other? Have you asked them? Your employees will likely have insights you may have missed being too close to the proverbial forest.

Consider the aesthetics of your business. Colors and a sense of space can work with your or against you. Look at other successful businesses and see how their d�cor affects their sales and customer traffic. Can people move freely around your shop? Is there some bottleneck preventing impulse purchases? And for heaven's sake, make sure your shop or caf� is clean. (This should go without saying but, alas, we have seen evidence to the contrary.)

Other Things to Consider

Selling Tea Comfort

History shows comfort foods tend to do well in a slow economy and tea is certainly a comfort food. In times of trouble, emotional strife or even just a cold, bleak March day, tea can sooth the weary soul and provide a much-needed lift. Whether you are selling tea as a retailer, in a tearoom or caf� setting, you are likely better seated than many other businesses.

Think of what Starbucks, our bean bearing brethren, has been able to achieve. They have created a respite from the day-to-day mayhem. You can go there and sit for a few minutes and be away from the family, the job, or whatever else may be keeping people from taking time for themselves or even to just catch their breath. It is a personal oasis for many. Secondly, they have created a comfort food brand association. If a person is out running errands, they see a Starbucks and know they can quickly get a pick-me-up. Heck, yours truly doesn't even drink coffee but I know I can get something there that will be tasty and keep me going if need be. At the very least - it is a trusted caffeine source, even if not one's first choice.

The same can be done with tea, especially now with tea's popularity steeply on the rise. Make sure your business is the oasis people will seek when they need a lift or a time-out from their woes. People will also need distractions and escapism so don't forget to have tea events. Weekly or monthly tastings and tea discussions will create excitement, interest and the needed bond with your customers.

Affordable Luxury

People like treats. Whether these be consumables like tea, chocolate or a big fat mocha latte, it can also mean a day spa, an afternoon at a tea room, or a fun night out at a tea caf� with live music, people will still find ways to escape and enjoy life. Make it easy for them. Tell them that tea is an affordable luxury and break down the cost per cup if you sell it bulk, or advertise a pot of tea as an "Inexpensive Indulgence." This will diffuse any guilt they feel about spending a little something on themselves.

Treat Them Well

Customer service is becoming a lost art. No one seems to really believe or practice the old adage that "the customer is always right" these days. This may be because business owners and staff feel as though people take advantage and demand too much. You have to put that feeling into perspective. Yes, some people do abuse the system but there are many, many others who do not. The vast majority of your customers are probably nice people who deserve the best.

If you treat your customers well, validate any complaints they have and even thank them for letting you know about any dissatisfaction will go a long way with customer confidence. They could just be having a bad day, or maybe they had unreasonable expectations, either way you learn something when they honestly tell you they are not happy. Be open-minded and always thank them for their valuable feedback. Try to never take it personally. Smile. Don't forget to smile. Let them feel the love!

How is business in your area? Please email me and share. We would love to hear about what works or doesn't work for you.