If you’re in the tea community and you take a trip to New York City, don’t be surprised if Michael Lavecchia and Ryan Snowden invite you for teatime in the park. As two of Tezumi Tea’s co-founders, meetups are part of their grassroots outreach to spread the word about what makes their products unique.
“People love seeing other people drinking tea outside. They kind of cheer for that,” Snowden said. “The content you can get from those kinds of experiences is a win-win.”
It’s a win-win because tea gatherings allow the Tezumi team to form personal connections with tea lovers, but they also provide an opportunity to take organic, relatable photos that engage Tezumi Tea’s social media following. Posting this kind of content wasn’t Tezumi’s original strategy, but when some of their prior methods started becoming less effective, the team found a new path.
Their willingness to test new strategies and ability to quickly shift to more promising ways of doing business have contributed to their success amid a pandemic, a recession and a changing technological landscape.
Tezumi is a Japanese word referring to the hand-picking method of harvesting tea. Teas harvested by the tezumi method are the highest grade.
“We chose this name because we put the same care and patience in selecting our teas and teaware,” said David Lavecchia – Michael Lavecchia's brother and a practitioner of Japanese tea ceremony, who's also a co-founder of Tezumi Tea.
With the help of their family in the Philippines, the Lavecchia brothers learned about the high demand for vintage Japanese teaware in other Asian countries. The family began exporting the vintage Japanese teaware they found in the Philippines to the brothers in 2019 to sell in the United States. Snowden, who had been friends with Michael for nearly 10 years by then, joined them as the third co-founder of Tezumi, and their first Etsy sale was that fall.
Each of Tezumi’s vintage pieces is unique, and customers are curious about where the items come from. So, David often has to decipher stylized Japanese calligraphy on the ceramics to identify each piece’s origin.
In addition to teaware, Tezumi now offers directly-sourced Japanese teas – not only well-known green teas such as sencha, kukicha and genmaicha, but also much less common Japanese white and oolong teas.
Tezumi Tea originally focused on Etsy as its main selling platform for its U.S. customer base. Etsy’s organic inbound traffic and marketplace features allowed Tezumi to launch and grow quickly. To date, Tezumi has had 2,500 cumulative Etsy sales.
But there were also limitations. Etsy doesn’t have a way for sellers to store customers’ contact information or data for marketing purposes, which means there’s no way to subscribe customers to an email newsletter or re-target them with ads if they exit without completing a purchase.
Tezumi Tea also wanted to be able to provide educational information about tea and teaware to their customers, which was difficult on Etsy. So the Tezumi team kept their Etsy shop open but redirected their energy and focus to direct sales through the Tezumi Tea website, integrating the e-commerce tool Shopify.
“You can do so much else with Shopify – the way a product has metadata, the way that metadata appears on certain pages, and the flow and the layout just takes so much practice,” Snowden said.
In 2021, the Apple security change negatively affected Etsy’s sales model, Snowden explained, and many sellers’ sales on Etsy dropped significantly, including Tezumi’s. But since Tezumi had already strategically shifted to prioritize sales on their website, they didn’t suffer nearly as much as they would have otherwise.
“Ultimately… building our own website saved our business,” Snowden revealed. “Without that buffer… we would be in a tough place.”
Tezumi’s overall approach to monitoring the digital landscape, reassessing the effectiveness of digital tools as changes occur, and testing new business plans has potential to be a valuable model for any tea business in a market that is constantly evolving.
To learn more about Tezumi Tea, visit Tezumi.com.
Cat Kerr has been involved with local cafes in Orlando, Fla., as a public relations manager and barista since 2018. She writes about food, tea and culture. In addition to being a contributor to Questex’s World Tea News, she’s contributed to Questex’s Bar & Restaurant.
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