LAS VEGAS, Nev.
Watching the New Business Boot Camp graduates eagerly autograph the class poster last week offers a glimpse of the future of tea retail.
The 2013 class of 134 hailed from near and far. It was composed of more gals than guys and blended the young and the gray. Many came to study the American retail model due to growing interest overseas. More graduates indicated a preference for brick and mortar ventures than in past years when internet retailers were the majority.
This is the sixth NBBC, a two-day fast-paced program that immediately precedes the World Tea Expo, an annual gathering that brought 4,000 tea professionals to Las Vegas June 7-9.
Attendees learn business basics from the ground up including a full day of tea tasting presented by experts from their respective tea lands. Critical to their success as specialty retailers is the ability to present customers with outstanding teas. Students note the characteristics of almost a hundred perfectly prepared brews and record their impressions from the Origins Tour in a clever passport which becomes a cherished memento of the experience.
I’ve attended and interviewed graduates of this program for several years and informally follow the progress of inspiring graduates like Melissa Wawrzonek who founded The Clipper Ship Tea Company in Northport, New York.
“For three years prior to opening I attended the World Tea Expo,” she says. “This was my research and development. I took the New Business Boot Camp and spoke to every person I could. I ended up meeting some of my closest friends through the show. It was really the first step in me thinking I could turn my tea hobby into a real business.”
Charles Kevin Kellogg of Epicuriosities Catering, in El Cajon, Calif., recaps this year’s presentations nicely on his blog.
The 2013 graduates were remarkably diverse and visibly enthused during a champagne toast to their success. As they signed their names to the poster (pictured above) and held their graduation certificates, it was apparent this group will offer the trade a boost of energy surpassing that of previous years.
“Expected growth in the tea sector, both domestically and internationally, bodes well for these graduates,” said Peter Martino, CEO of Capital Teas, and an NBBC instructor. “Students hailed from 20 countries with several each from Australia, Canada, and Mexico, and spanning the globe from the Middle East to South America and even the Caribbean,” said Martino.
American students were largely from the West. Many are in their 50s “deciding to embark on a new career for which they had passion,” observed Martino who operates a chain of six shops with his wife Manelle. Their company was founded in 2007.
Yves-Andre Wainwright traveled from Petion-ville, Haiti to attend. A consultant specializing in natural resources and environmental management, he sees opportunity for small entrepreneurs in this Caribbean nation violently torn by a 2010 earthquake that killed 316,000. Haitian farmers desperately need short-term revenue in a land that produces many fragrant tea ingredients such as orange flowers and lemon grass, Wainright explained.
Raj Vable of Eugene, Ore. is the founder of Young Mountain Tea Company, a retail venture he will launch in November. A young man determined to make his mark, Vable says that “where we’re going we don’t need tea bags.” His concept is tea sourced from the small Himalayan mountain gardens of India. His Facebook page depicts his travels in mid-May to gardens in Uttarakhand (formerly known as Uttaranchal) in far northern India.
For Kateseen Gill of Eugene, Ore., the course “is an affirmation of my business model.” A blender since 2009, Kateseen oversees a family-owned company, Tea Lady Teas. “We pride ourselves on our hand blended, quality, and organic loose-leaf teas,” said Gill.
Martino noted the largest group “was in their 50s deciding to embark on a new career, just behind them in number were the health and wellness professionals, including several yoga instructors, who wish to add tea to their regime of health and wellness options for their clients.”
Attendees will enter a more competitive market but one far from saturation with sales expected to climb past $15 billion in the United States.
Discussions are now underway to possibly host multiple boot camps annually in various cities to accommodate the growing demand for this sort of education,” he said.
World Tea Expo launched a new online educational program called the World Tea Academy at this year’s show. The course culminates in certifications in four disciplines: tea specialist, tea professional, tea sommelier and tea health educator.
— Dan Bolton
©Mystic Media 2013