3/04/2007

Urban Tea Party

Maybe the coffee and Kashi are causing a serotonin boost this morning. Maybe I just want a break from really stupid people. Maybe I'm just surprised to read about something that doesn't qualify as a supporting argument for the dumbing-down of America.

Whatever the case, this isn't the blog I planned on writing this morning. I had two posts ready to go (I'm sure they'll gain their place later this week), but came across a pretty outstanding topic a few days ago, and am still thinking about it.

In sharp contrast to last week's "Barbie Bandits", here's an Atlanta woman who has some incredible marketing savvy, a great heart, and proof that money follows passion. Sounds like good Sunday reading to me.

Lisa Campbell is an Atlanta radio personality, who seemingly took every chance possible to travel with her daughter. Fellow travelers know that our foreign excursions often touch us in ways we'd never imagined; that we take away impressions and ideas more often than trinkets.

Lisa Campbell was no different. In Jamaica, she was introduced to a memorable cup of South African rooibos tea. In England, she left the country deeply impressed with the variety and pageantry that tea offered.

She went home and started mixing and infusing teas, presenting them like designer cocktails to her friends who came to visit. She began selling her blends online. Folks in her community wanted to know why she didn't have a shop they could visit.

Today, there is a specialty store called the Urban Tea Party within Atlanta's hip and happening neighborhood of Virginia-Highlands. But Lisa Campbell isn't the owner. She was, until two months ago. But then she literally "gave away the store."

What would be, by any standard, a bad business decision is probably anything but. Lisa opened the Urban Tea Party, and its devotees came in droves. But she was still a full-time news personality on local radio. After two years, the pace became too much.

She planned to sell the business. But as the story now goes, she saw an Oprah episode, where the talk show host passed out $1,000 to each of her audience members and asked them to do something significant for someone they didn't know.

Lisa says she woke up one night and realized, "I'm going to give the store away." She wanted to find a wanna-be entrepreneur who had the desire and talent to run a business, but couldn't find the necessary start-up money.

As a radio personality, Lisa knows the media. She put the word out to the "communiTEA", asking interested parties to compile a one-page business plan. She assembled a team of business-savvy associates to evaluate the applications that came in.

Expecting about 75 applications, she was overwhelmed to receive exactly 457. She was under the gun, as she wanted her new owner to be installed in time for the lucrative Christmas shopping season.

She narrowed the field to 10, and then brought them in to interview, round-robin style, with her search "commitTEA". (Yes, Lisa's got the wordplay down pat.) Sherolyn Sellers was the candidate who stood out to the entire team, and she received the keys to the store, including its extensive stock and existing customer base, on December 4, 2006.

So how is this good business? Well, Lisa still owns the parent company,
Urban Tea Company, and still sells tea online. She plans on franchising the business between 2008 and 2010. And she's publishing a book, also called "Urban Tea."

The word of mouth about Lisa's decision has traveled across the country. And no doubt if Oprah comes calling to have Lisa Campbell tell her story on daytime television, sales will go through the roof. This is certainly an out-of-the-box marketing idea that would flip Madison Ave on its head.

But her campaign doesn't seem contrived. In fact, she could have generated a lot more PR if she had extended the application period. Instead, she made it clear that there would only be about two months for the process to unfold, as her new owner had to get that profitable Christmas season to allow her to be successful in her first year.

Lisa's passion for tea is apparent. As a rabid coffee drinker, I have to say that, after perusing her pages, I'm damn near a convert. On her website, Lisa expounds for pages about the history, flavors, and types of teas. As someone who loves the nuances in wines, I'm intrigued. I'll admit, I've got tea listed on this week's grocery list.

The new owner of the Urban Tea Party in Virginia-Highlands obviously has big shoes to fill. But Lisa remains in constant contact with Sherolyn Sellers, advising her on every element of the business.

People will certainly be talking about this transaction. I know that the next time I'm scheduled to fly through Hartsfield-Jackson, I'll organize my flights so that I have time to go check this place out.

Millions of advertising dollars probably wouldn't cause me to say that. But a weird and wild business idea has. So, contrary to standard b-school thinking, it turns out that giving away the store really is good business.

6 comments:

matt said...

So are you going to give the keys to your blog away now. BTW Oprah is the antichrist

Aspeth said...

No one's exactly clamoring to take over the blog. I think there are about three folks a week who read this, so you know, I got that going for me...

Lucidiocy said...

four.

Aspeth said...

Nice! Welcome to the fray, four.

Karen Lynch said...

Wow,I love the story about the tea store. Sounds as if Lisa had some inspired action there!

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