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Happy New Year 2011

by Cynthia Fazekas

Cheers to a happy, healthy 2011!

Hello Tea People! Welcome to a new year with new hopes, dreams and all the promise of the future. While I don't believe in New Year resolutions (because I think we should revise as we go and resolve to make change as necessary- blah, blah, blah), I do think taking stock of the successes and missed marks of the past year can provide valuable information for the coming year. Most importantly, setting reasonable goals and a strategy of how to achieve them.

In our collective case, we are talking about tea - buying, selling, serving and enjoying tea. Education is still a huge part of tea business, no matter the form of your tea enterprise. While awareness has dramatically improved, there are still lots of folks who don't know the difference between the types of teas, real camellia sinensis vs. tisane, etc, etc. Even if your tea customer is fairly sophisticated, they will still require brewing info for certain varietals, specific details about your particular offerings and about who you are as a tea purveyor. Have an education plan. Train your staff to never sneer at even the most prosaic tea question.

Even if you have tea in your business in the most casual way, be prepared to answer questions about it. A small story about its source or inspiration for offering it can go a long way to seal the connection to your customer. Its presence in your offering is not random, so be ready to share some interesting information.

Revising product offering. Take a hard look at product sales and see what you really need to weed out. This can be painful but necessary. Prune your offering if you have deadwood. Talk to your vendors about bestsellers that you might be missing out on. Find out what is working well for others and see if the same products sell well for you. If you have them and sales are sluggish, try renaming, repackaging, and sampling until you see improvement. If you are not offering them, try a small amount and see how they move for you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Looking for trends, try to envision what will be popular in the coming months. You may always seek to keep certain traditional items and those with connoisseur appeal but plan an ever-changing rotation of new, trendy and even esoteric products for a certain amount of your offering. This will pique client interest and reward them for frequent return visits. Keep the comfort teas that always sell well, but always have something new to discuss. Keep an eye on culinary trends; this will be your key to popular flavors and the pulse of your clients' interest.

Educate your customers, energize your offering and embrace the coming year! We wish you all a healthy, happy and successful 2011.