Debbie Nichol: Blue Samovar Loose Leaf Teas

Today’s blog guest is Debbie Nichol and here she tells you about her journey into tea, in her own words:

DebbieI’m Debbie Nichol and I co-own a loose leaf tea business called Blue Samovar with my business partner and good friend, Kirsty.

The idea behind Blue Samovar was formalised in a little café called the ‘Singing Teapot’ in Wotton-Under-Edge. Kirsty and I had been talking for years about starting a business but what in? Walking or cycling tours? Both were our hobbies and we both had a background in travel and tourism, so these seemed to make sense. But nothing felt quite right.

Over a cup of tea (obviously!) I told Kirsty about a trip I’d made to Dublin and an amazing cup of Assam I’d had in a little café. Made from big loose leaves, it tasted rich, malty, like no other tea I’d ever tasted… and Kirsty said ‘well, we both love tea, and if we want to tell everyone about how fantastic big leaf tea is, we’ll have to do it ourselves’

And so Blue Samovar was born. Tea has always been a part of our lives – a shared experience and now a great business and our own brand, with a shop and summer tea terrace in Chipping Sodbury, a website, and a market stall. We’ve made it our mission to introduce great tasting tea to as many people as possible, and share our passion for tea.

We set up the company in November 2012, spent six months planning and started trading at a food market in June 2013. By August we had a website and by October, a shop. We’d never intended to run a shop but it had quickly become obvious that to succeed, Blue Samovar needed a home and a friendly face – to sell our tea we had to give people the chance to try the tea, and to give us the chance to talk with enthusiasm about it.

So what’s changed for me over the last year? I have a background in marketing so I’m very used to, and pretty adept at creating something beautiful and engaging. I briefed designers on the website and designers on our bespoke tea packaging. I knew how I wanted it to look and how we should sound. We opened the shop and again, I had a pretty good idea of layout and shelf design. So when everything was in place, I sat back and admired my handiwork… only to realise that the hard work was yet to begin.

Beautiful things don’t sell themselves! You still have to put the legwork in, and more than anything, work really hard at letting people know you exist and that your product, above anyone else’s, is worth them spending their hard-earned cash on. We’re beginning to turn the corner now but only after six months of trying out different things, talking, cajoling and trying not to get too despondent when things don’t quite go the way you’d hoped and expected them to.

Three big things I’ve learned. Firstly, give things time. I’m an impatient creature and you have allow time for your messages to land with the right audiences. Don’t try something once and give up on it when it doesn’t seem to have worked. Behaving in a consistent and focussed manner will pay off in the end.

Secondly, make more of what you have today rather than always looking for the next big move. We know that our shop isn’t right for us in terms of its size, location and flexibility but it has got us on the business ladder and given the business a home. When the time’s right and the opportunity arises, we’ll move. I always believe that you have to ‘take possession’ of a place. Put your mark on it however temporary you think it may be, and look after every inch of space, from the hanging baskets outside, to the cupboard under the sink. If you don’t, you’ll give the impression that you’re only there for the short term, that you don’t have confidence in your business, that you don’t really mean it!

Thirdly, move stock on as quickly as you can. If it means selling slow moving stock at a reduced price, do it. New products on offer mean you stay interesting and engaging to both your existing and potential customers. And if you don’t think it will sell, it won’t. You won’t sound convincing and you’ll be reluctant to sell it. So don’t buy anything you’re not 100% sure about.

We have a busy few months ahead of us, trying out a new market, talks with the WI and of course, Christmas … the goal is to earn enough to pay for us to head out to Sri Lanka and visit some tea plantations. I’m sure we’ll get there!

Follow Debbie and Kirsty on Twitter: @BlueSamovar

And Like their Facebook Page:

Debbie is a current member of my coaching Club 100 which is all about advancing and encouraging female solopreneurs and small business owners. If you are thinking of joining our club and learning alongside these wonderful women I’ve been showcasing throughout the month of August, now’s the time. Current monthly membership sub is £100 for life. New members joining after 1st September will pay £150 pcm. Full details of Club 100 here: simply Click these words.

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