March 18, 2020

I thought I should write about the current situation with Corona virus and how it already having an impact on our business.

However we may appear as a business, we are still very much a small family run company.  As well as my wife and myself, we have 4 part time members of staff and 1 full time manager.  These staff members rely on us for their income, which is of course used to pay things such as their rent and for food.

We sell a relatively niche product - speciality tea - and this year is the 10th anniversary of our shop in Edinburgh.  We have grown over the past decade and we supply very prestigious clients in the hospitality industry with our products.  

I am very proud of what we have achieved.  We did it on a complete shoestring.  Our start-up funds were extremely limited and we have grown through being lean, inventive and genuine.

Over the past 18 months or so the high street has taken a pummelling.  Foot fall is down pretty much across the board and our shop in Edinburgh has had it's fair share of quieter times over the past year.  We have adapted - we started to blend in-house to make more interesting products.   We have changed our packaging to include Natureflex and Aluminium. We have reduced our opening hours and we have started to host events in our shop on the days that it is not open to the public.  Things have started to improve and our shop has started to get more visitors on the days we are open and our events have been selling out.  We offer a tea experience in our shop that is different from our competitors.

We have had it hard from all directions.  Brexit has caused chaos and uncertainty. Many competitors have entered the market with flavoured teas bought from catalogues, whilst claiming to have blended them themselves.  Companies have green washed their credentials when in fact they are using non-recyclable packaging - all the while selling into the market at unsustainable retail prices.  Some our local competitors have been trying to exploit the current virus outbreak by selling so-called "health" teas or "immune boost" teas.  This is something we would never do as it dilutes the message of how serious this virus is.  Drinking teas will not help fight a virus that no-one has any immunity to in the first place.   Drink tea for relaxation and enjoyment!

We have ALWAYS been transparent with our sourcing and our environmental credentials and have never made any claims about teas that are unsubstantiated.

Costs have also risen - ethical accreditation has increased 25%, wages are going up and more and more burden is being put on small business.

BUT - we have been getting through it and we have been seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

And then the Corona virus has hit.

What does this mean for us?  Well the biggest issue is the added uncertainty.  The UK government has been extremely slow to act.  The latest advice is for non-essential contact with others but this has left us in a difficult situation.  Most of our wholesale customers are in the hospitality industry.  We have already had several large orders either cancelled or scaled back considerably.  Our staff are not sick or self-isolating so are not eligible for sick pay.   We have not been ordered to close but if no-one comes in to our shop and if our wholesale orders dry up.....  We are partially insured if the government makes closure compulsory but the requirements from the insurers are pretty stringent.

So where does that leave us?

We are as always trying to think outside the box.  We have already reduced our UK free shipping threshold to £15 and are considering adding an Edinburgh home delivery service from next week - We will drive around Edinburgh delivering tea orders to customers if you can stretch to a £15 minimum order.  This is a considerable cut to our margin but keeping revenue flowing is currently more important.

My staff are also looking at ways we could offer virtual tea tastings through either live streaming or videos so you can drink tea with us, ask questions and maybe learn something new so that you are not stuck at home feeling isolated.

Hopefully we won't have to shut down completely as the financial implications could be catastrophic for us.

I hope that you see value in what we are doing and in our company and continue to purchase from us and support us through these difficult times.

Please continue to support your small local and independent businesses.   We rely on you wholeheartedly and if we don’t say it enough we are genuinely grateful to have you as our customers.

Jon Cooper

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