When Starbucks opened its first store in China 17 years ago, Wall Street pundits and critics predicted the Seattle-based coffee giant would never succeed in the world's most populous nation. Their dire warning was based on a simple rationale: the Chinese people have been tea drinkers for thousands of years, and therefore unlikely to take to another caffeinated beverage easily. Starbucks ignored them, stayed the course, and aimed for the long-term. To date, China is already the global coffee chain's second largest market with more than 2,300 stores across the country. Perhaps, Starbucks can teach us an invaluable lesson in marketing exotic products and services to customers with entrenched tastes and preferences.
It is also a lesson Johnny Harris desperately needs. This 37-year-old Hertfordshire resident founded T-tox in 2012 to focus on production and sales of tea leaves. After failing to rack up sales and losing money for a few years, he recently introduced Britain's first range of matcha tea to give his line of products a unique selling point. Matcha is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea., which is consumed by dissolving the powder in water or milk. It has 10 times the concentration of nutrients in normal green tea, but with just a quarter of the amount of caffeine found in coffee -- the reason it can give drinkers calm energy without affecting their sleep patterns. Currently, matcha is native to Japan, where traditional tea ceremony that embodies a spiritual, meditative style is centered on preparing, serving, and drinking matcha in hot water.
Johnny has been a personal fitness trainer for the last 16 years, and he works with high-end clients from London. His company makes online sales through its website, and he also sells to clients he trains. His matcha tea is priced at $31.50 per tin (for 40 servings), but he is still not making much progress with sales and profits. Last October he traveled to Berlin to receive an award for the his line of products, which proved the problem is not with his matcha tea. His mentor’s advice: dress the part, don’t wear a suit, get out there and sell. It is a crowded but growing market, and that he should target customers beyond the fitness market.
When he was 18 years old, Johnny fell ill and had 5 emergency operations on his head. The traumatic experience led him to the decision to join the fitness industry, and later to set up his own company to focus on health and wellness products. Now, he has a manufacturer in China for his tins, a supplier for his tea, and plans to introduce matcha scented candles, gift boxes as well as glassware. All the more reason for him to take after Starbucks and learn to play the long game: to educate mocha-drinking customers what matcha is, to teach them the matcha ritual and the health benefits of this exotic beverage. Perhaps, he could make a start by watching the classic Chinese movie "The Teahouse" (1982) and brush up on his knowledge of oriental tea culture.
And don't forget to catch Johnny and other entrepreneurs like him compete on the hit CNBC show Pop-Up Startup. Get more details at: Alibaba.com/PopUpStartup