Brownsburg, Ind.-based Tina Jesson – a passionate home baker, entrepreneur and tea aficionado – is the owner of Tina’s Traditional, a British teatime business that had to pivot, like so many others, during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, her story may be one of the rare ones, as she found a way to become even more profitable than before, by packaging her products in a different way and selling them online.
“I love this business because of the magical moments we can create through the whole tea time experience,” said Jesson. “Tea is a ritual that calms, and it’s something that can be shared and provide connection and comfort. We have lots of fun in the experiences we create – be them virtual, in person or enabling others to recreate their own experience at home.”
Jesson came to America from England in 2008, and she started her business about 10 years ago by selling her fresh-made scones at farmers’ markets in the Indianapolis area. She went on to develop a tea party catering service, and she opened the first of four tearooms in Carmel, Indiana in 2014. Since then, she’s also provided upscale tea service for a number of public venues, historical properties and events across the United States, in addition to publishing several books, including Tina’s Traditional Book of Scones.
Jesson’s brand offerings include the Heritage Range, which consists of more than 20 quality loose-leaf teas, a range of jams and preserves (based on her grandmother's recipe collection), and a range of popular English baked goods and bake mixes, such as scones and shortbread.
Tina’s Traditional is also known for its “Great British Bake Along” classes, which were held at Jesson’s tea rooms prior to her shops closing, and they were since made available as virtual classes in 2020.
Hit Hard by COVID-19
“About a year ago, my business was hit hard by COVID-19, like so many brick and mortar businesses, and we were forced to close down for eat-in service,” said Jesson. “Hello – we’re a tearoom! And yes, I started to panic! I had many sleepless nights, wondering how on earth I was going to meet payroll, pay the lease on my tearoom and pay my business expenses. We quite literally lost over 95 percent of our income overnight. It felt hopeless. Oh, yes, the overwhelmingness and the confusion.”
Jesson said she asked herself, “So, what can I do?”
Today, after a year of pivoting her business and closing down her brick-and-mortar tearoom, Jesson has not only recovered, she’s become more profitable.
“Sometimes it takes something like a global pandemic to kick you in to action and serve more than you could ever imagine,” she shared.
How’d She Do It?
Closing her physical, in-person business may have been a major blow, but it allowed Jesson to focus on transforming her enterprise and making it successful. “The first step was to follow a unique, constant income method, I created. It helped me to calm down, stop the panic and focus my efforts on what I could do and what was working,” she said.
“We had already developed a range of tea flavored jams to add to our retail ready range, sold in our tearoom, and the scones mixes we’d created had sold really well over Christmas 2019,” Jesson continued. “It was a start. And yes, we offered lunch boxes and afternoon teas to go, but what really saved us was our online store sales.”
Jesson said it had taken her business months to reach the same revenue from online sales that she achieved during the first week of COVID lockdown. “I knew we were on to something,” she said.
Now, many months later, Jesson said she’s actually reaching more people and generating customers from around the United States by focusing her business online only, while making more profit than ever.
“We focused on what we could ship easily, and that became the start of developing 10 varieties of scones mixes and 12 different tea-time bake mixes to add to our range of homemade jams and tea blends,” Jesson said. “Then we took it up another notch. By packaging items together, we created the idea of the kit. That took our price point up and made shipping costs seem more reasonable. And then we came up with the new brand in the LETS GET! Range.”
Currently, Jesson offers three ranges of kits, including LETS GET SCONED! (scone making kits), LETS GET BAKED! (baking kits) and LETS GET BLENDED (tea blending kits). She also developed these into parties that people can book either in their own home, at one of her partner venues or virtually.
“We thought the [LETS GET] name would be fun and memorable, and boy do we need some fun,” she said. “We are now selling wholesale retail ready products, as we partnered with other businesses [who make 25 percent commission], and we are now training other tea-related business to deliver the LETS GET range of parties.”
Jesson noted that the biggest lesson she learned was that people need the relaxation and de-stress qualities of tea now more than ever. “This is a great industry to be in and it’s our obligation to reach more and serve more and help people with their mental health, as much as the general health,” she said. “Focus on that and move towards helping as many people as you can. The things that seem trivial to us makes a huge impact on others.”
Advice for Other Tea Businesses
What advice does Jesson have for other tea businesses, who may be dealing with challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? “You have to manage and move your mindset from what you can’t do, to what you can do,” Jesson explained. “Move to a place of serving others and you can’t feel down or demotivated. I keep asking the question: How can I best serve my customers and community right now? What do they need? What do they crave? What would make their day better? And how can I help them with what I do? How can I best serve them right now?
Jesson said she also advises other tea businesses to look at what they already have and build from there. “Package your products in a different way. We started selling scones but knew they would be hard to ship and keep fresh, especially with so many postal delays, so we ship the scones mix. Then we built on from that. We included a number of items that worked together, like scones mix, clotted cream, jam and tea, to help people create a teatime experience at home.”
According to Jesson, there are many packages or kits that tea businesses can create to generate more profit. “It makes the cost of shipping more appealing rather than selling a $10 item, you are selling a $50 item. Same number of customers, but higher monetary value of each transaction, and you move away from competing to sell the cheapest commodity and start building in the value by creating experiences. And the experience is something I am very passionate about.”
To learn more about Tina’s Traditional, visit TinasTraditional.com.