When we started Brooklyn Tea Company, in Brooklyn, N.Y., we relied heavily on neighborhood recognition and foot traffic as the lifeline to our business. However, following the shutdown of indoor dining, we pivoted our business online to reach new customers.
Our company is built on the passion of tea making and tea drinking, and the experience we provide is a part of what made us successful when we started. We have been able to reach a wide market of customers, from beginner to advanced tea drinkers, by using Facebook and Instagram. We created a virtual store and used the platforms to sell specially-crafted gift boxes filled with teas. Through Facebook and Instagram, we have been able to grow our business and create greater offerings. We now have 15.8k+ followers on Instagram and 1.6k+ followers on Facebook, which makes up our new online community. By adapting online, we have been able to successfully reach customers on their journey, as they move from apprehensive to novice to connoisseurs.
When people ask us how we have been able to manage a successful business at Brooklyn Tea Company – whether that’s in person or online – we have found our recipe for success through these four principles:
1. Customer Experience
We strive to take good customer service a step further and focus on stellar customer experience – in person or online. We used to do this in-store by greeting customers at the door, answering their questions with a smile, and allowing them to experience the teas with free samples. Online, we create fun and informative content on Instagram and Facebook and engage with our customers in the comments of our posts and through direct messages. We often share stories and use IGTV (a standalone video application by Instagram) more heavily to engage with our online community. With the loss of the in-person community, we have been able to create a new creative customer experience online.
2. Community Support
While our storefront could only be opened at limited capacity at the beginning of the pandemic, our neighborhood support never wavered. We saw many locals donate funds to our business, engage with us on social media or buy our products online. In fact, we were a part of Facebook’s #BuyBlack shopping guide in observance of Black History Month in February, where we were able to reach new audiences to shop our online store directly. Thanks to our growing in-person and virtual community, we’ve been able to get through the hardest times. Now, we’re giving back to our local community where we can. Recently, we established an annual scholarship fund for our community in New York – our first recipient was announced in January and they’ll be joining a historically Black college in the Fall with funds through our scholarship.
3. Small and Constant Improvements
At Brooklyn Tea, we've adopted the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Kaizen literally means change to become good. In practice, we make incremental improvements in all aspects of our business and culture to create long-lasting success. An example of this concept being applied recently is when we converted a poorly used space in the tearoom basement into an efficient assembly line style mini-factory. We wanted to meet the growing demands of increased online sales by allowing our staff to have the space and resources to quickly and accurately pack, label and ship teas.
The best way to serve our customers is for our team to share common goals and levels of commitment. We seek out TEAm members that have humility, humor and a strong work ethic. We also provide training on how to support one another, how to resolve conflict respectfully and quickly, and how to express their ideas and feedback in a constructive way. We’re excited to be growing our TEAm even further, when we open our first flagship location in Atlanta, Georgia this year.
While COVID-19 has proven to be a difficult time for many small businesses, including the tea business, we have been able to find much success by pivoting our business. In the early days of the pandemic, we had to pivot most of our business online. But after applying the concept of Kaizen - trying a new model - and getting our business onto Facebook and Instagram, we have been able to bring back our staff to their regular hours. Through our TEAm, we have also been able to remain focused and provide great customer experience.
Alfonso Wright and Jamila McGill are the founders of Brooklyn Tea. Located in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., Brooklyn Tea creates an authentic and accessible escape for its customers through its tearoom and luxurious teas. The tea shop offers more than 60 teas – all of the highest quality, organic and fair trade whenever available. As part of its mission, Brooklyn Tea also provides free expert-level tea education. To learn more, visit BrooklynTea.com.