I was looking at our archives, and I have been writing something on a pretty regular basis since 2003. Of course it hasn’t been all me; there have been others that have contributed. In the beginning it was just monthly emails, and the actual blog didn’t come into existence until around 2005. Still, that is a long time to be doing most things, and in Internet years it encompasses a couple of generations. Looking at that old stuff also caused me to consider the history of the company.
Seven Cups has moved into a different phase of business development characterized by much less anxiety and a greater sense of stability. We set high standards for ourselves; year after year we have we rarely failed to get our orders out the same day that they come in; our tea houses are respected in the neighborhoods they serve; our website continues to evolve and content continues to be added.
We established values for the company from the beginning, and we are still doing business according to those principles. We decided that our company would always be small, and that the goal of our company was to enrich the lives of whomever we came in contact with as a company- suppliers, customers, and staff. We developed a marketing plan that focuses on our existing customers rather than looking for new customers in the belief that having this kind of focus would bring us new customers from solid referrals. It is true that methodology limits us to slow organic growth, but we are in it for the long haul.
It has always been a value of our company to be competent at sourcing Chinese tea and including as part of that competency a depth of research that would enable us to provide accurate and authentic first hand information about the tea. I feel that we have lived up to our goals. The balance in the American tea industry has been marketing over substance, and we decided to do the reverse.
In tea marketing it is really difficult to distinguish yourself from other companies, as everyone makes the same claims to having the best tea, authentically sourced, by tea experts, blah, blah, blah. In this kind of marketing heavy environment, our approach has been to focus on excellence in all aspects of our business, with the conspicuous exception of marketing. We don’t spend a lot on packaging, you won’t see any Google ads, nor are you ever going to get any marketing materials from us unless you ask us, and we don’t give away free samples. Even still, word has gotten around, and not in a big way, but in a way that is big enough for our small company.
My purpose in writing this blog has been primarily to share my experience with tea and with China, and it is something I plan to do more of. I do have some opinions about problems in the tea industry, and have devoted a great deal of study to this, primarily on the relationship of China to the greater market, and I plan to talk about that more too. Being critical of the industry that you are in is risky, as there seems to be an unspoken agreement not to go there, but we are certainly an industry that could benefit from a higher set of standards; think of the evolution of the wine industry in America over the last 50 years.
As an entrepreneur and the founder of Seven Cups, I think there is a time when you should step down, and let others manage the company. I am doing that now, and turning the reins over to Mikel Chertudi, someone that I have been very proud to work with for the last three and a half years. Seven Cups has a staff of great people that work as this incredible team that allows us to be a small company and still do great things. Of course Zhuping will still be actively involved making sure that dust doesn’t find a resting place in our tea house, and that every detail is taking care of. Both she and I will continue to work on the sourcing side of the business. I also have some other projects I am interested in, with writing being a big part of it. Not managing the company gives me more time and freedom to write.
Any writer should have a target audience, and the people that I am writing for are our friends, family, customers, and long time readers. It is a relatively small group. I’m not writing for the broader tea industry, or even the majority of tea drinkers, though I hope they enjoy my blog. In other words, I am not going to be writing with an eye on marketing, and I am sure that I am going to make a few people angry from time to time, and will not always be presenting a positive spin on things. I hope you will keep reading.