Attracting Men and Keeping Them
My idea of romance looks suspiciously like a man in a hurry who stops on his lunch break for a pound of High Mountain Oolong to get him through the month. I have loved introducing men to tea and cultivating them as customers. As many tearooms cater exclusively to women, they miss out on the potential sales and other joys associated with marketing to men. So if you have wondered how to attract men to your tea establishment and keep them, here are some suggestions.
A loyal male following can be acquired and enhanced by paying attention to the following details in your business. Adult men between the ages of 18 and 55 are most drawn to travel, luxury, games of skill, and beauty. Use these to communicate the wonder of tea.
Men love heroic tales filled with adventure and rare wonder. When a customer interested in tea sits at your tasting counter, give him a simple but unforgettable experience by guiding him through your selections and offering tastings that are similar, but better or more unique than the teas he currently enjoys. Tea history and lore is filled with riveting stories; such as the Dragon Well, monkey picked teas, Tikuanyin, the history of lapsang souchong, the classic Earl Grey, pu-erh teas on the Silk Road and the rise of tea in India. Instead of watching re-runs of “Man vs. Wild”, your customer will be envisioning the joys and perils of these great adventures. These stories are parables illustrating the diverse history, culture and varieties of tea. In my experience, men as a group are willing to pay higher prices for rare or seasonal teas if they understand the value. If they understand and appreciate the difference between a $10 four ounce package of Irish Breakfast and a $15 two ounce package of Yunnan Gold and prefer the flavor of the Yunnan Gold, the price difference tends to be less of an issue. The cost difference between the two is still less than $.40 per serving. The variety of history, seasonality, and exclusivity of the tea are all part of the value of the tea and add to the allure of the offerings.
Tea is one of the most affordable luxuries. For less than $1 a pot, you can have any number of exquisite, hand picked, artisan teas. Provide your male customers with tea knowledge, efficient, personalized service, and a great selection of teas. Tea selections should always include the basics: a particularly good Earl Grey, a Breakfast blend, a simple, yet delicious green tea, White Peony white tea, and some caffeine-free options. Beyond this your selection should have teas a step higher (a Silver Needle white, a Dragon Well green tea, Jasmine Pearls, and a First Flush Darjeeling) and beyond those a few aspiration teas such as the Wuyi Oolongs and the Aged Pu-erhs. Assisting customers in finding new teas that match their general preferences is an important way to give excellent service. Men typically buy fewer flavored teas than women with the exception of jasmine teas. Be sure to offer samples so that customers may taste in the shop before they take it home. In San Francisco, Samovar tea lounge has two locations with tea tasting bars. Its list is a careful study in tea without being overwhelming. Samovar offers tea classes, tea flights paired with dinner, and an extensive selection of carefully sourced teas in a warm, elegant atmosphere. Some men love wine, fine restaurants, cars and cigars, and more men than ever before love tea.
When watching sports guys endlessly analyze, compare, and revel vicariously through the performance of their favorite players. Be aware that customers are judging your performance when they visit. Your staff should be friendly, confident in their preparation of teas, knowledgeable, and fast. If they know your competition, they will compare offerings and which location has the ambiance that suits them best. It should go without saying, but try never to keep a customer waiting. Oftentimes the customers with outsized spending habits have the least amount of patience.
Tea tasting bars that permit customers to try teas before they buy them are amazingly effective. Décor works best in solid colors. Make sure service items are clean and uniform. Avoid floral patterns, chipped porcelain teapots, etc. If you serve food, offer some items more substantial and nutritious than teatime standards such as cucumber sandwiches and chocolate truffles. Employees should be well groomed and friendly. If you have the space for seating and a less formal atmosphere, consider Wi-Fi if you are close to a business district or near a university to encourage business people, professors, and students to visit throughout the day.
One tearoom that has done an excellent job in this regard is The Tea Cup in Seattle, Washington. Recently, I interviewed its long time manager, Brett Boynton, to see why he has such a faithful masculine clientele. “A good tea shop,” he said, “will freely and jubilantly offer liquid samples and as much knowledge as their brain can absorb.” Brett encourages new customers to take their time on their first visit to the Tea Cup so they have plenty of time to interact with the Tea Cup’s employees. Employees are encouraged to share their passion for their favorite teas with interested new comers. Brett also noted that tea drinkers, especially the men that visit the Tea Cup are more knowledgeable about teas such as greens and pu-erhs than they were five years ago. In part, I feel sure to that their faithful male following stems from their ongoing commitment to educating and introducing their customers to increasingly finer teas. While there are many tea connoisseurs that walk through the Tea Cup’s doors, the staff will do their best to find any tea that a customer desires no matter how simple or difficult to procure. The décor is inviting yet simple and the tea is all business.
In the United States, tea establishments traditionally are owned and visited by women. This dynamic is shifting as medical journals continue to publish the health benefits of tea. As men and women come to tea to enhance their health, they also, if they are lucky, stumble upon the world of flavors of fine whole leaf teas in their infinite variety. The value of these teas is tied to their complex flavors, interesting histories, seasonality, and health benefits.
Personally, I have sold tea to thousands of men over the years. When I first worked in a Chinese teahouse in Berkeley, I noticed that men came to buy tea in nearly equal proportion to women. This surprised me, because tea in the South is the domain of ladies and Europeans. I knew no men originally from this country that considered themselves tea drinkers. In Berkeley, I found men that were truly passionate about tea and also very passionate about food. They were not only exacting in their tastes, but willing to pay larger sums for fine, whole leaf tea. In the past six years as I have worked for importers selling tea to other tea businesses, I have noticed this trend spreading throughout the country. By developing a clientele of fascinating, cultured men, you might find you have more ladies coming than ever before.