It’s time for another Small Business Chat and today it’s a new one with Andrew Smith of the delightful Char Wallah which sell teas and tea-making accessories from a shop in Birmingham and online. Andrew shares with us the importance of doing your research and planning your marketing (their branding is lovely and they’ve got a competition running at the moment). I’ve actually visited the shop, used the very efficient mail order service and tasted the tea, and very nice it is, too. And they’ve gone from construction to tea, which is an interesting mix … although sometimes those things do feel like they go together, don’t they, if you’ve ever had builders in!
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
Our business is called Char Wallah and it’s located in the Pavilions shopping centre in Birmingham (and online). The business started trading in December 2012, two weeks before Christmas.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
We are a nation of tea drinkers, but it’s hard to find a good quality tea shop on the high street in any city except London. We also believe that the health benefits of drinking tea are becoming more apparent, especially green tea. You cannot compare good quality loose leaf tea to the tea that available in bags at supermarkets.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
Having started to drink good quality loose leaf tea in Australia, on returning to the UK we found it difficult to purchase good quality loose leaf tea at a reasonable price in the UK.
Had you run your own business before?
Yes, although we had no experience in retail. Our business experience was solely within the construction sector.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
We launched the business and are still running the two companies side by side until the tea business builds up enough business to earn a full-time living.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Nothing really, we have found the whole experience quite exhilarating and a world apart from construction.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Get more rest and switch off at a reasonable hour.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
I have to be honest and say nothing: we spent 18 months designing the brand and concept so everything was well planned and executed. We also obtained some valuable information and a valid insight into the retail business from a friend who had run his own retail business for 30+ years.
What are you glad you did?
Took our time to plan and develop the concept.
What’s your top business tip?
Do a lot of research, check out the opposition and dare to be different.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
We are growing week by week, not at a massive rate but an expectable and manageable rate that allows us to make minor adjustments as we grow without too much disruption and cost
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
We would like to have another store and also explore the possibility of marketing through various trade shows around the country, taking the product to the people!
Good research, a love for the product and not throwing all their eggs into one basket – this, plus excellent customer service (they can package your tea into flat parcels so it fits through the letterbox) mean that they’ve got a good chance of doing well. Also, I heard about them through word of mouth, which is always an excellent indication of a good business, in my experience of my own and others’ businesses.Where was he a year later?
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my new book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.