How fast did 2014 go?? I remember writing last 2013 end of year blog like it was last month. 2013 was good but 2014 has been even better with many highs and many lows.
In February I went out to China and Taiwan to source bubble tea suppliers for our new product launch, PopaBall. That was an amazing experience. After exhibiting at the Spring Fair trade show at the NEC, I boarded a flight to Dubai and then connected to Guangzhou in China. After the weekend of getting over jet lag and wandering around the streets filled with battered insects (as in to eat, not hit over the head), I had my meeting with a potential supplier who I had been emailing for the past few months, thinking I was just going there to check their factory out and sign the deal. About 20 minutes into the meeting the deal has completely changed and they were asking for £20,000 to be held in their bank account until my orders reached a certain volume and then I would be repaid. It was kind of like a holding bond to make sure their investment in the new machinery was met financially by my order volume. Well that was not going to happen. I spent the rest of the day trying to do everything I could do to work out a different deal but unfortunately it didn’t happen. I had planned to stay a few days at the factory, sorting out the finer details but in the end I headed back to my hotel and ate cake in my room for about two days. Not because I was particularly upset, just hungry and don’t like insects or chicken feet soup! I did venture out but it is difficult when you don’t speak or read the language and you are a woman on your own. I wonder whether the reason why the deal changed was because they saw that I was a young woman.
A few days later I boarded a plane to Taipei in Taiwan. If you think we have budget airlines you should see the one I got. There was a hole in the floor! After holding my breath for 1 and a half hours, I landed safely and got the taxi into the centre where my hotel was. Taipei was really cool and had a great buzz in the centre. I had a few meetings with suppliers there, which were good but for one reason or another they were not quite right. On the final working day I got a high speed train to Tainan in the south of the country taking 1hr 45min and traveling at 186mph. I was waiting to be picked up by Mr. Chou and after about 20 minutes I called him but no answer. I emailed and skyped but nothing. I was about to board the return train (this trip was proving not very successful!) when my phone rang and Mr. Chou was 5 minutes away. He picked me up in his car and we started driving half an hour out of the city – if my dad knew about this I think he would have had a heart attack. Eventually we got to the factory and it was great. We spoke about products and production and the team were really nice and were, I believe, more impressed than concerned about my age. After a great day of discussions and a lovely meal I took the train back north.
After a very challenging 10 days, I finally had my supplier and came home a happy girl. The months following the trip were spent sorting UK production and making sure all the boxes were ticked. In November we launched at BBC Cakes and Bakes show and the feedback and sales were great. In December we launched exclusively in Fenwick Newcastle and sales grew week on week. Now going into 2015 there is lots and lots planned with more retail distribution, opening a unit and expanding our online presence. You can keep up to date on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts if you like.
Aside from the bubble tea/PopaBall development, I have been pushing TeaShed sales with new products and more retailers. TeaShed was taken on by the wholesaler Cress Co, which has been fantastic alongside continued distribution with Hider Foods Imports. We also had a month pop up at Trinity Kitchen, Leeds.
In September, after three years of persistence, I opened a TeaShed outlet at Northumbria University. I remember when I was in my final year there and on my break I would buy lunch there and say that one day that unit would be a TeaShed. It is definitely a challenge running an operation within someone else’s operation but we are getting there!
In October I moved to London for 3 months so that I could do all the Christmas shows and push the awareness of TeaShed and PopaBall down south. London was amazing and it is so great for business with so many opportunities every day. I went on QVC for the first time, which was super cool! I had a live 6 minute slot on which I had to speak to the presenter about the pack which was for sale via QVC. My parents and neighbours were all at home sat around the TV watching and drinking TeaShed tea in support. Sales were great and since then I have been back on air quite a few times and have more scheduled for 2015 so keep your eyes peeled! QVC is a great company to work with and all the guests and presenters are lovely. You have to go in two hours before your slot, set up your stand of products, get yourself ready and then you can chill out in the green room. They have two TVs there, one where you can watch the live QVC channel and one where all the real time sales data is on. I have not actually seen myself ever on QVC and I think it is better that way!
In between all this there have been other highs and lows, some new contracts and some lost contracts, some very profitable orders but also some costly mistakes. It is undoubtedly very hard running your own business and whilst somethings get better as years go on, new problems always arise as with anything! That said, the good stuff does outweigh the bad and it has been a fantastic year and I am so excited for 2015 and thank you so much for being part of it.
I wish you all the best for the new year and if you are thinking of following your dream then go for it in some way or another. Once you do, you will never go back.
Lots of love