Small business chat – Andrew Smith

09 Nov

mugs 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?

You can find Char Wallah online at or on Facebook and Twitter, or in person at Unit 14 Pavilions Shopping Centre, High Street, Birmingham B7 4SL –  Telephone 0121 633 3681

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.


Posted by on November 9, 2013 in Business, Small Business Chat


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8 responses to “Small business chat – Andrew Smith

  1. heavenali

    November 9, 2013 at 9:53 am

    I love love love Char Wallah – I discovered it by accident when walking through the paviliions and have since visited about four times – I always have to buy a new tea.


    • Liz at Libro

      November 9, 2013 at 10:01 am

      Indeed – and you’re how I know about them – that wonderful word-of-mouth marketing which is manna to any business!


  2. Nordie

    November 9, 2013 at 10:25 am

    I try and do the word of mouth too – Karen (from the Birmingham Bookcrossing bookgroup) was bemoaning that she couldn’t get a particular tea she liked – and sure enough found it after I mentioned CharWallah!

    I dont go in as often as perhaps I should – I have more than enough tea already that needs to be used before I buy any more so I try and support in other ways.


    • Liz at Libro

      November 9, 2013 at 10:36 am

      Yes, indeed – although our last trip there forced us to muck out our tea and coffee cupboard. Always good for Christmas presents, too!


      • Nordie

        November 9, 2013 at 10:51 am

        true, I brought some teacups in there a while back, which came in a lovely little presentation box, and I gave them as a present recently to a friend who loves tea and was feeling down


  3. pierroad

    November 9, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I love quality tea and will be visiting Char Wallah online to buy some.

    Can I just say (speaking as a fellow small business owner and indie retailer) not to go with his ambition to open a second shop. We did this a number of years ago and I regretted it ever since signing the lease. We have since closed this second shop (once the lease came to and end) and while everyone got paid, landords, suppliers, staff and so forth, we didn’t ever make a profit from it and hit impacted quiet severely on our businesses overall profitability. It also had some quiet serious and unforseen tax impliactions. So although we’d improved our sales and turnover, we actually went from a very profitable position to a loss-making business. Not easy, when everyone keeps remarking on how well you’re doing!

    Go with the Trade Shows idea, Andrew, but aim at the public shows. Great buying shows are anything to do with the caravan and motorhome/camping outdoor markets. We exhibit at these and the visitor numbers often exceed 90,000 in one week. And, caravaners love tea as do most outdoorsy types.



    • Liz at Libro

      November 9, 2013 at 1:05 pm

      Thank you so much for that valuable advice, Paul!



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