Thursday, April 29, 2010

Top Tools We Rely on for Our Wholesale, Retail, and E-commerce Businesses (cont.)

4. Philips Electric Kettle. Who this said this list had to be about software?

Philips Electric Kettle HD4651We love this lightweight portable and efficient countertop water kettle. While we don't use it in the store, we do use it every day to heat water for our tea tastings. Because the unit is so lightweight and durable, we've used it out of number of off-site functions. We've tried a number of different more modern, stainless steel models, but somehow, even though this is a plastic device, it just fits well on our hands and is easy to use. We don't care much for some of the other designs which are made to look like a traditional kettle you'd put on the stove.

Speaking of that we had one customer who had a relative visiting from out of town and thought the electric kettle was actually a traditional kettle that you would put on the stove. The smell of burning plastic soon engulfed their kitchen.

For those of you who haven't tried an electric kettle before, you've got to give this a try. The water boils so much faster than a gas stove or microwave oven. It's safer. Plus I can easily open the top to view the surface of the water, which allows me the chance to turn the heater off at right time.

Aroma AWK-161 Clar-i-Tea 1.7-Liter Electric Water Kettle and Tea BrewerWe've had this Philips electric kettle for about eight or nine years. We've undoubtedly used it thousands of times. We recently purchased a glass based on the water kettle by Aroma (shown on the right) for my parents. This model is also nice because it's made primarily of glass. I doubt if I'd use the tea strainer but if so it's a nice invitation to make a fresh pot of tea.

So I think about the thousands of teas we've made one a common denominators that we've come to rely on as her electric kettle from Philips.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cinco de Mayo coming up next week

Cinco de Mayo is coming up next week. Hibiscus (jamaica) is very popular in Mexico, where it is referred to as, "agua de jamaica".

Hibiscus is a very popular component in iced teas, where it is favored for its deep ruby red color. The taste is relatively sour, but it easily brightened with a good helping of sweetner. The combination of sweet and sour makes for a thirst quenching beverage.

Not only does hibiscus taste good, but it's also good for you. Some studies have shown hibiscus to be beneficial in managing blood pressure and cholesterol.

Our house blend, Rosa de Jamaica, features hibiscus, lemon myrtle and rose petals.

Now that's we're gearing up for the summer and Cinco de Mayo is nearly here, this is a great time to prepare a pitcher of aqua de jamaica. To make a 32 oz pitcher, take about 3 tablespoons of Rosa de Jamaica and steep for a good 7 - 10 minutes water which has been brought to a boil. Be generous with the sweetner with this drink, as it needs the sweetness to offset the pungency. If you prefer, try sweetening with stevia or another natural sugar substitute.

Kopius Teas


Monday, April 26, 2010

How Quickly Products Can Move

Mondays are always the busiest days for new tea orders for us. We implemented a more structured allocation process to manage our inventories earlier this year, both received and in transit (literally on the water). Even with this in place, it never ceases to amaze me how our inventory levels can change so quickly.

Early in the week, as we do every week, we synchronize our website to reflect current inventory levels. Today being Monday, we completed the update in the late morning. Within 30 minutes of the posting, over a hundred pounds of product had already sold out.

If we start to see this more frequently, we will move to a shorter interval for refreshing our website.

Pretty amazing...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Top Tools We Rely on for Our Wholesale, Retail, and E-commerce Businesses (cont.)

To continue with my list of top resources...

3. A solid Point of Sale system. I have spoken about this at the World Tea Expo on numerous occasions. There are many vendors out there that can walk you through all the features and functions of their systems. Before you go shopping, you should carefully write out what your requirements are. If you don't know what you'll need, try to speak with someone who has configured a similar system for a parallel business.

In the tea industry, we typically have types two types of transactions: food service and retail. The food service component will rely heavily on ease, speed and accuracy of the transaction. The retail component will need to track inventory and price changes so at the end of the day, month, quarter, so you will have an accurate picture of profitability. If you are in a high traffic area such as our retail store, Infusions of Tea, you may need to store and return to multiple in-progress transactions throughout the day.

On the food service side, customizable touch screen with programmable menus is a big plus, as is the ability to print a food order on a secondary printer in the food prep area.

On the retail side, it is easier to generate purchase orders in pounds yet sell in ounces. Also, the system should automatically generate price tags for you based on purchased quantities. Do you intend to build gift baskets or tea gift sets? You don't really want to be entering individual component prices during the holiday rush, do you? It's more likely these prebuilt sets will be sold at a discount so it is best if they are assigned their own product numbers.

Whether you choose to implement a true Point of Sale system or a simple cash register, all your data should flow into Quickbooks or whatever accounting system you are using. 

Piece of cake, right? I'll just conclude by repeating what I said at the beginning. Make a list of your requirements based upon your business. This will keep you focused as you compare various POS systems.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Top Tools We Rely on for Our Wholesale, Retail, and E-commerce Businesses (cont.)

To continue with my list of top resources...

2. Quickbooks. Now you know I'm a dweeb. If Volusion is the airplane that your customers ride, then Quickbooks is the pilot's navigation panel -- or it's kind of close. Many small business owners (I would guess over 98%) are already comfortably familiar with Quickbooks. If nothing else, an accountant or friend has set the system up so the business owners can make a few routine bookkeeping entries.

I guess the reason I love Quickbooks so much is most third party vendors integrate with Quickbooks. This means less time doing data entry. With either our wholesale or retail businesses, we transfer data automatically into Quickbooks. Whether it's a journal entry balancing sales, cogs, inventory, tax, and credit card data, or itemized transactions, it's all a blessing to look at when the mundane part of data entry has been resolved.

So what do we really use QuickBooks for?  Yes, of course tracking money flowing in and out of our business. But the real plus is basically two areas:
- business decision support
- tax preparation

Business decision support. Where have we been, how are we doing, where are we going? Accurate data to support critical business decisions. Late last year I gave a workshop on dashboards and scorecards as it applies to the specialty beverage industry (in this case - coffee, cafes, delis). It's not enough to have the information, you need to find a way to predetermine a core set of regular parameters (eg cash flow, sales year over year) and hypothetical parameters (eg effectiveness of marketing campaigns, # employees per shift on sales). These reports or "dashboards" automatically populate once you open your report application.

Tax preparation. It's April 13. Can I say it now? I hate taxes. It's tedious and time consuming. Yes, we can have an accountant prepare everything, but Quickbooks is a core starting point. It's like a filing cabinet. The more things are in order throughout the year, the easier it will be to find things - no matter what time of year. People forget how Quickbooks makes everything easier come tax time. For us in the retail area, we actually use our POS more for sales tax calculations, but overall Quickbooks is a good base.

I'm sure all of you new business owners will end up with QuickBooks eventually. Within the first year, you'll think you know this program and a new situation will arise for which you won't know how to address in Quickbooks. My main recommendation is to find a pool of at least 3 people you can ask questions of when you get stuck. Even searching the internet for answers might take longer than just calling a few friends. Besides, there must be a gazillion users out there for Quickbooks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Calories many calories

On a related topic, those of you in California eating in your favorite chain restaurants have noticed calorie counts appearing on menus. Apparently this law will be enforced starting Jan 1, 2011 for all restaurants with 20 or more units in the state. So even if you don't want to know how many calories are in that order of chili fries, you're going to know anyway.

California has been on the cutting edge when it comes to anti-smoking legislation. By putting calories onto menus, I think this is a good step towards fighting obesity.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Food Labeling Guide

Ever wonder what's actually required on the outside of package of food sold in the US? The best resource is to check out the FDA's website on labeling and nutrition. Some text is in the form of requirements, other text is in the form of guidelines. A lot of the thinking for such "rules" is food safety and consumer protection. By having a more accurate description of the product, consumers are able to shop with greater confidence, particularly when comparison shopping. It's funny how marketers are smart to capture your focus and attention with colors, fonts, graphics and more. Whatever the design, the final product label should be consistent with the above regulations and guidelines for food labeling.

Within the FDA's site is a section Food Labeling Guide. I think the biggest mistake people make for packaging tea is probably not knowing about the very basics - General Food Labeling Requirements. That is, people forget the simple things such as ingredients, weight, manufacturer name & address. Note that the labeling requirements are specific when defining placement of this information on a food label.

Another good section to keep in mind is the food allergens statement. See the FDA's Guidance for Industry: Questions and Answers.

Lastly, if you're going to be selling your product internationally, be sure to review labeling requirements of these other countries. For example, certain parts of your statements may need to appear in more than one language.

With a bit of planning, you can save yourself the headache of having to reprint labels or canisters. You know the labeling game...the first several thousand cost per label is extremely high and then it ramps down quite quickly with quantity.

The more standardized the labels, even across food categories, the easier it will be for consumers to quickly locate the information that is relevant to their purchasing decision, whether it is for health or curiosity reasons.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Top Tools We Rely on for Our Wholesale, Retail, and E-commerce Businesses

As many of you may know, we manage a series of wholesale, retail and e-commerce stores all focused on tea. We would not be up to do this effectively (with minimal payroll expenses) without the use of computers and related technologies. It is odd to find myself drawn to technology when in actuality my main motivation to move into the tea sector was to escape high technology.

But my affinity for technological solutions is really geared at finding practical solutions for the problem at hand. I know this to be the case because one need only look at my cell phone, which by the way does not have any smartphone features, to know that I don't just buy technology for the sake of having it. Even my MP3 player still uses a standard rechargeable AA battery.

Having said that, here a list of essential tools that I would consider now to be indispensable.

1. Volusion. Volusion (  is our core e-commerce platform which includes web hosting, website design, and shopping cart functions. Volusion represents our third cycle of e-commerce platforms. The first was Microsoft bCentral, which was promptly dropped by Microsoft several years ago. The second was eBay's ProStore, which was more or less a template design nightmare. Volusion's  interface, customization capabilities, and total breath of functions has really been a blessing for our small business. Add on top of that true 24/7 customer support and you have a solution that is really built for around-the-clock maintenance and upgrades.

I know if you read some of the forums within Volusion, you will find a series of disgruntled clients. But overall I believe if you are truly focused on business and not a software developer at heart, you will quickly come to realize how this one tool can open up your imagination for marketing new products on the Internet.

Another subset of technologies we've come to rely on through our use of Volusion is SQL. I'm definitely not a computer programmer by any means, but learning a few stored queries (SELECT queries) has really helped harness the power of this system. By stored queries, I mean a routine way of pulling relevant data from a relational database. For example, we have stored queries we use to transfer data between the e-commerce system and our Sales/MRP system. This might include customer shipping address, item codes, prices, quantities, etc. We also use stored queries to view purchasing data and manage product pricing and descriptions. We can pull customer data automatically for creation of our product sample labels. We even have stored queries to grab data related to customer returns and feed it directly into excel and word.

Lastly, we use Volusion's implementation of Intuit's web connections to link this system with Quickbooks. In short, it automatically creates an itemized sales receipt for every transaction. By some standards, this is low tech. For us, it's just cool. Who wants to enter all this data manually?

I will continue with this list in future postings shortly.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Change in Foil Pouches

We are slowly beginning to transition to using foil pouches with a natural, green paper exterior. You'll start to see these changes implemented throughout all the different wholesale foils we use in production.

The new foils are the equivalent strength to the old ones but are more ecologically friendly. We hope you enjoy the change.

Disruption in Supply of Lemon Myrtle

We recently put a temporary hold on our supply of lemon myrtle as a result of a recent cyclone that hit Australia's northern coast. This may also impact the availability of blends containing lemon myrtle.

We will keep you apprised of changes in availability as soon as we have more information.