5 min read

From tea bar to tea subscription with Plentea

When COVID-19 hit the city, we were one of the businesses that had to shut down. Since then, we have shifted our direction and vision to be completely online, creating packaged signature tea blends for our vibrant community of tea lovers.
From tea bar to tea subscription with Plentea

Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in the food and bev industry, but not sure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Subkitter Tariq Al Barwani, founder at Plentea—a tea bar and tea subscription business based in Toronto, Canada.

Tell us about Plentea

We opened our tea bar in 2016 in The Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto because we found that - outside of our own homes - we were never satisfied with the tea selections and flavours in the city. Our desire to start this business grew out of the recognition that tea can be absolutely amazing when crafted with care, creativity and respect. Our tea bar gained recognition as Toronto’s go-to place for phenomenal tea creations and deliciously fragrant tea blends.

This isn’t your grandma’s cup of tea! At Plentea, we believe that creating unique tea blends is an art form and an experience for the senses. We ethically source our teas and meticulously select all of our ingredients before making it to your cup so that each blend is as bold, delicious and fragrant as possible. We take our teas seriously, and our loose-leaf selections encourage you to create the perfect, personalized cup of tea every time.

Our beautifully crafted tea lattes are what made us stand out in Toronto. Each latte was made-to-order, with passion, time and care put into each creation. As dedicated Tea Tenders, we will continue to create teas and recipes that blend familiarity with ingredients you wouldn’t think of – it will always be our passion.

When COVID-19 hit the city, we were one of the businesses that had to shut down. Since then, we have shifted our direction and vision to be completely online, creating packaged signature tea blends for our vibrant community of tea lovers.

At Plentea, our slogan has always been "Make New Patterns." We believe in doing things differently, in challenging the expectations of our business, goals and products. Our new online direction has enabled us to think of the global tea community and express our appreciation for the positive relationships inspired by a genuine love of tea.

Photo by @simson_wilson_photography

What has been your journey from brick + mortar to virtual?

During the pandemic we experienced a severe drop in traffic in the store. It started in February 2020 when businesses in the neighborhood closed down and our regular day time customers stopped coming in to work. We saw an immediate 40% drop in sales which was worrying but we were optimistic it would pass.

As the pandemic got more serious and we went into the first lockdown in March we saw a 90% drop in sales as people in the neighborhood stayed home. We decided to get on delivery apps, like all other businesses, however the orders were still just a trickle and did not help our cash flow. So we promptly decided to work with the landlord to reduce our rent and started to cut out supply orders.

What was surprising was that we were selling a lot more retail loose leaf teas via DMs on our instagram. Historically we didn't sell a lot of loose leaf teas in the store. It got so busy that we decided to use Shopify to build an online store. Luckily, the Shop Here now program just kicked off so we joined and they helped us build our first ecommerce store.

We then made a smart business decision to cut the brick and mortar store, as it was eating our cash flow up, and decided to move 100% online. We have been working with our online store for the past one year and seeing a positive response to it.

The past year has been like getting an MBA on how to run a business digitally for us. After working with the Shop Here program to get up and running I realised that was the easy part lol...now came the time to rejig work flows to everything from Market/Advertise to grow our business awareness, intentional design of our site to increase its efficiency in making recurring sales, delivery of the products to follow up and reviews and maintaining great customer service when your customer cant even directly “see” you.  We were so used to having  a brick and mortar that we knew what worked there now we had to translate that to the online world. What helped was being humble and acknowledging we know nothing. We slowly learnt from YouTube, blogs and other digital professionals (networking and asking for help is CRITICAL here). We were lucky that COVID actually brought out a lot of humanity in people who wanted to help small businesses...we are forever grateful to everyone who helped us.

What’s your typical tea-filled workday like?

I start the day looking at my notebook of plans! I usually plan my week out on Sunday and daily tasks the night before. I then check any customer concerns/emails or DMs and post something relevant to the day/our promo/ launches etc on our social media. Any orders to be shipped are immediately handled and inventory is stocked back up.

What tips would you give beginner entrepreneurs?

First of all it will be hard and you will get discouraged and feel like quitting...a lot! You are not the only one it happens to all business owners. I recommend:

  • Be Humble. Stay open minded. Know you can’t know it all and do it all.
  • Don't run a business alone. It's a team sport. Be very careful who you chose as a partner, but don't try to be a one person show.
  • Be maniacally enthusiastic about making your customers happy. Within reason alway go above and beyond for them and set that culture in your business.
  • Don't be shy to ask the customers to refer you, leave a review or simply just talk about you but it should not be an expectation, you need to work for it.
  • Be very very organized. Plan your quarter, month, week, day….and plan again as new information and opportunities come your way.
  • Only focus on high leverage/performing opportunities that will lift you to what ever your next level is.
  • Always learn. Always. Be diverse in you knowledge of human psychology to accounting.
  • Network and have a support network of business owner at your level and at where you want to be. Nourish that network.

Where would you like to take your business in the next few years?

We want to be the tea brand you think of when you want to gift your loved ones, send a thank you to a client, include in your gift bag. We want to be able to support different communities when we can with the power of tea; be it something to warm up with to something to spark insightful and beautiful conversations.

Plentea is a lifestyle.

Anything else you'd like to share about your story or words of wisdom for anyone on a similar path?

Stay the course! If you never did business It will take 3-5 years of running one to develop those entrepreneurial muscles so you are always tuned in.

Where can people find you online?

Here's our Subkit and Instagram.

If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share then email community@subkit.com, we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.