Peddling Leaves

As many of you know, selling tea is not for the faint of heart. With so little inherent tea culture in the US and the proliferation of coffee in the last century, getting into tea retailing is not even remotely a get rich quick endeavor. Fortunately, for most tea business owners, it is a labor of love. Having a product to sell that is more than a simple commodity helps ease the difficult times and motivation is easily found in a warm cup of freshly brewed leaves.

Many of us started with a strong desire to share our amazement at all that can be found in a simple cup of tea. No greed or other shadowy motivations to be found in our intentions. Most of the tea biz people who have shared their stories with me over the years started out just wanting to get this wonderful beverage they love so much into the hands of the many. Their desire, once falling in love with tea, is to share their passion and somehow make a living doing so.

We must be friendly, informative guides on the tea-path.
We must be friendly, informative guides on the tea-path.

Even with such pure intentions, it is easy to get a little desperate at times when we all have a myriad of expenses and need to keep the balance between buying and selling to stay afloat. The hard sell may seem attractive and even works in the short-term, but with tea a softer touch is more appropriate and even advisable when it comes to tea.

When working one-on-one with a tea customer, the first thing to do is to gauge the client. What is their current level of tea consumption? Is this their first time looking at premium teas? Are they between tea-newbie and tea connoisseur? Get an idea of when they are currently drinking and what is attracting them to your shop.

Find out if they prefer flavored teas or non-flavored. This will easily help you narrow down their interests. If they tend to drink flavored teas, lead them to some popular ones, but also probe to see if they are open to non-flavored.

How are they currently brewing their teas? This will tell you a lot about how what teas will work within their preferred brewing method. Ask if they have tried other ways. If they are solely seeking the most convenient, cater any suggestions to accommodate. Ask if they would like to see other methods demonstrated. Let them know there is no pressure and they are welcome to come back when convenient to try out some of your teaware.

Tea education is still a big part of tea selling. While you may get a few customers really hip to fine tea just looking for what is new and the latest harvest, many more tea customers are still in need of tea basics. For those of us immersed in the tea industry for a while this can be easy to forget. See yourself and your selling staff as tea guides. Always be prepared with the usual "Tea 101" info, and to gently guide the customer to something that will be an easy success. This gentle, informative approach is sure to work and will protect the sense of tea as a relaxing product. Thus ensuring a relationship with the client to last a leaf-time. (Heh!)

For the connoisseur, great service and unique high quality selections will likely be what impresses them. Find out what they seek and see if they can bring their tea-friends back sometime for a new harvest tasting of teas you are considering. They will appreciate being in the loop and the lines of communication will help you understand what your local tea-geeks want and hopefully create a great, enduring customer relationship.

In summary, listen closely to your customer and cater your selling to the needs of each client. Guide them to products that will work for them with easy success. Customer satisfaction begets trust, and trust is the foundation of the very best relationships.