Moving every six years because the business outgrew its premises is testament to Tea Total’s success in taking stock and adapting to the market.
Recognising the start of a trend, being prepared to take a risk, and a deep fascination with consumer behaviour are three key factors that help Anna Salek grow her businesses exponentially. Already an established entrepreneur and business-owner in her mid-twenties, Anna dared to move in a completely new direction when an opportunity presented itself in 1994. Living and working in Sydney at the time, Anna decided to check out a newly opened tea shop. “It was a completely new concept back then. As someone who loves art, I was instantly seduced by all the different colours. As a foodie I was intoxicated by the wonderful aromas. And as a tea drinker I was just plain excited by the whole thing!” she says. Anna decided to buy 12 of their brightest and most beautiful teas and trial them at The Rocks Market, where she already had a stall. And that was the start of a twenty-year-and-counting love affair with the tea business. Selling directly to customers worked well in The Rocks, but on returning to Auckland, Anna opened Tea Total as a café, selling drinks and snacks as well as packets of tea. Anna read the market and approached other cafes to sell and serve her products. The coffee industry was in full growth, and businesses serving espresso understood the value of serving premium tea. “Who wants to pay $4 for a pot of tea that’s no different from what you’ve got at home? You need to offer people something better.” Listening to customers and watching market trends has been at the heart of Tea Total ever since. “Our core business hasn’t changed,” Anna says, “but we’ve changed the delivery method and target end user to evolve the business.” That meant the first Tea Total website in 2001, when e-commerce platforms and buying online was still relatively new. Anna found that customers loved the whole convenience factor of having the product delivered to their door. She looked at other ways to create and capture unique customer experiences to keep the business evolving. “Change is necessary just to stay still!” she says.
Having outgrown its space once again, Anna took the opportunity to reassess her entire operation in 2015, deciding on a Concept Store in the thriving Rosedale/Albany area. The change in direction came from Anna’s own ‘business model’ (“20 years of consumer behaviour knowledge and gut instinct honed by listening to my staff and taking inspiration from other successful businesses”) and a willingness to ‘shake-up’ the current business structure. “We were in danger of being a bunch of middle-aged women for a while. But we hired some younger team members and male staff. The inevitable work dynamic and marketing shift means we now appeal to a much broader demographic.”
Nothing ever goes entirely according to plan, of course, and there were some surprising results – positive as well as negative. “It cost more than we expected…” says Anna. The space was perfect: in a growth area with the kind of mixed economy and plentiful parking unavailable in other areas of Auckland. However, because the building had not been ‘in continuous use’ when they took over, there were council compliance regulations that Anna and her team just hadn’t foreseen. As well as costing more, dealing with compliance delayed the opening. That, however, proved to be a blessing in disguise. “Customers were still finding us, even though we weren’t open yet. So we just showed them our offices– and they really liked it!” So now, instead of going out to trade and retail shows, the marketing focus has deliberately changed to bringing people into their space. Tea Total now has a wholesale business showroom with tea-tasting sessions to inspire retail customers, supported by expert, on-the-spot advice. “We can show clients how to use the product, and grab possible alternatives straight off the shelves. We couldn’t do that if we were still taking the product out to them.” Because they have customers in their warehouse, the whole facility is friendly and welcoming, with painted floors and walls, proper furniture and a north-facing kitchen. Which means staff are spending their day in an extremely pleasant working environment.
“The whole atmosphere has moved up one,” says Anna. “Staff dress more nicely, it’s changed the atmosphere, and there’s a great team spirit.” It involved extra costs, but Anna says you can never undervalue the way people feel and work as a team. “It’s a big part of our success. People enjoy working here.”
Address: Find Tea Total Ltd at 5 Apollo Drive, Mairangi Bay, Auckland, NZ. Phone 0800 832 868
Anna Salek was interviewed by Carolynn Day for the North Harbour Business Magazine: FYI where this interview was first featured.