How Tonia Jahshan turned Steeped Tea into a massive retail empire (2023)

Since its inception ten years ago, the direct selling loose tea company has joined 9,000 vendors and has grown annual sales to $20 million

How Tonia Jahshan turned Steeped Tea into a massive retail empire (1)

Tonia Jahshan, founder of Steeped Tea. (Portrait of Regina Garcia)

Sometimes it takes a terrifying event to trigger a life-changing revelation. Tonia Jahshan - happily pregnant for the first time - was returning home from a normal day at the sales and marketing agency she ran with her father. During the drive, she felt the first symptoms of what all expectant parents fear: a miscarriage. The loss was devastating. In the weeks that followed, she sadly reconsidered everything, including her career. A big question came up again and again:Do I really want to sell electronic devices for the rest of my life?

It was 2006. Jahshan had been with the agency for five years. She liked the sales aspect of the job and her $100,000 salary, but she wasn't exactly passionate about the tools she sold for clients. She began to feel restless and disinterested. To shake off the excitement, she and her husband, Hatem, fled their home in Ancaster (a suburb of Hamilton, Ontario) and took a short vacation to a bed and breakfast in Halifax. There, Jahshan served a cup of Earl Gray Cream Tea. "I was so surprised by the taste and smell," she recalls enthusiastically. "Was great." Its owner said it was made from loose tea leaves from a shop in Mahone Bay, N.S. The Jahshans drove an hour west, found the boutique, and stocked up.

It turned out that this purchase was more than just a souvenir. Two weeks after they got home, Jahshan turned to Hatem, eyes shining, and said confidently, “I'm going to start a business! I will host tea parties and sell tea leaves and it will be great!”

Hatem, a chemical engineer and self-proclaimed "numbers guy" who then owned three Subway franchises, stared at her.

"And I name itDipped tea,” she added.

Hatem knew better than to question her instincts - and not just because he was relieved that she was enthusiastic about the work for the first time since the loss. Sure, Jahshan knew little about the beverage industry, but her infectious enthusiasm, tireless confidence and natural sales talent gave him complete confidence that she would succeed.

And it did: In the decade since, Jahshan's idea has grown into a loose-leaf empire with annual sales of more than $20 million (and counting) and 9,000 vendors selling tea and accessories across North America - enough to give her number 1. ,1 spot in its 2016 W100 rankingCanada's Top Women Entrepreneurs. He learned what it takes to turn an idea into big business: a clear vision, yes, and of course the conviction to go through with it, but also a willingness to take risks, the willingness to change spontaneously, and nerves of very hard steel.

After Jahshan broke up with Hatem, she spent every spare minute working on a business plan for three months. He quickly understood why the Halifax mug was so transformative: The leaves and buds used in loose tea blends produce a fuller, more nuanced flavor than the stale old bags — which he now dubs "the hot dogs of tea" — what I was used to it. Discover the health benefits (loose leaf tea is packed with antioxidants) and its value (blends can be steeped multiple times). When her research revealed that there wasn't yet much consumer demand for loose tea, she didn't see that as a disadvantage, but rather an opportunity to gain an advantage as a first-mover -- especially since there weren't any big companies that devote themselves to selling these things. Encouraged, she researched suppliers, designed a logo and printed labels. Six months after the trip to Halifax, she quit her job and put all her energies into finding a way to sell something people didn't even know they wanted—at least not yet.

To do this, he opted for direct sales. Also known as network marketing, the model is as old (and ubiquitous) as Avon ladies' parties and Tupperware parties. It's built on social influence: there are no stores or brick-and-mortar retailers, just salons and hosts who feel more like friends than robots pushing products. Jahshan knew the approach well: at 18, she began selling Aloette cosmetics to her friends, lured by the promise of a reward, and quickly became addicted to both the money and the excitement of throwing parties. "I liked the whole idea," he says. She went on to successfully sell Pampered Chef kitchenware, Mary Kay makeup and PartyLite candles.

Direct selling seemed a perfect fit for Steeped Tea: the party environment would allow advisors to educate consumers and build camaraderie, and the consumability of the product would be an ideal recipe for repeat business. To test her theory, Jahshan organized a two-day open house to evangelize about the tea leaves and eventually find the first party hosts. She handed out flyers across Hamilton, made baskets full of tea products, and persuaded her mother to bake 1,200 biscuits. Only two people showed up.

"It was quite a blow," he admits. "I almost gave up." But two weeks later, she learned that a woman in Cambridge, Ontario, who had heard about the open house, was interested in hosting a party. Almost 20 women had turned up for this soiree, and in the end eight of them wanted to end their own event. A month after their disastrous open house, Jahshan attempted to help create 20 "Parteas." Resolve all doubts. "Deep in my heart," she says, "I knew it would work."

This early success encouraged Jahshan. Her goal was never to start a hobby shop that would bring lonely people together for tea. He wanted to build a bold, scalable business that would allow people to earn a lucrative income on their own terms. He wanted Steeped Tea to be known. And to grow, it would need help.

How Tonia Jahshan turned Steeped Tea into a massive retail empire (3)

Jahshan tests the product at Steeped Tea's headquarters. (Regina Garcia)

It takes confidence to face potential investors even in the best of times. Doing this on national TV - while she's eight months pregnant - requires serious malice. Thankfully, that's one trait Jahshan isn't lacking in, and so she strutted the CBC set on her growing belly with calm confidence and a serene smileThe Dragon Cavein 2012 and asked the group of financiers to buy Steeped Tea.

It was a moment that lasted two years. In 2010, the company seemed to be doing well: sales were increasing, brand awareness was increasing and new consultants were constantly being added. But things were stressful behind the scenes. Jahshan now had two children and hoped to have a third. He invested everything he had in the business, but despite the growth in sales, it didn't make any money. He admits that he naively believed he could turn a profit immediately, but for each of the company's first four years he spent about $30,000 more than he earned. Making mortgage payments became an exercise in dependency. It's a familiar scenario for Jessica Oman. She runs Renegade Planner, a Vancouver-based firm that helps startups plan their growth strategies. "It's incredibly common for people to underestimate the cost [in the early stages]," he says.

The situation became unacceptable. Jahshan - who admits books and balance sheets are not her forte - decided to bring in a deputy to clean up the books and streamline operations. In her husband she found the perfect candidate. Hatem, who had just completed an MBA program, sold his shares in Subway and came on board to oversee finance and operations. (His title is CEO, but he insists he "sits in the background" while Jahshan, the "passionate face of the company," ultimately calls the shots.) With Hatem's help, Steeped Tea negotiated new supplier deals, halted sales of low-margin items and hired its first accountant. Profits improved almost immediately. That left Jahshan to pursue what she believed would be the turning point for Steeped Tea: expanding into the United States, an endeavor that would require more money than even the lean company could handle on its own.

When he saw a casting callThe Dragon CaveOn Facebook, the solution became clear. "We must go further!" he said to Hatem. "Why would you want to do that?" he replied confused. "The last thing you want is Kevin O'Leary calling you a cockroach in front of a million viewers."

But Jahshan insisted: "We took so many risks at this point. What else;"

The pair spent hours rewatching old episodes and finding answers to every question that could be asked. Jahshan memorized her numbers and practiced telling the company's story quickly and convincingly. When she got the call to show up at CBC headquarters, she was ready. "Right from the start I knew: We made it," he says. “How could you not love the company? We create entrepreneurs, that's itThe Dragon Caveis everything".

As usual, the shoot was much more detailed than what was shown on TV. Jahshan was questioned for an hour about her business model and sales figures. But she had answers to every question, and that — coupled with her no-nonsense demeanor — led to Dragons David Chilton and Jim Treliving investing a combined $250,000 in 20% of the company. Both are still investors today. Chilton often publicly praises Steeped Tea, and Treliving, who has since helped the company produce its own brand of tea supplies, among other things, considers the deal one of its best. "I'm a big investor in people's enthusiasm," he says.

The seven-minute segment aired in 2012 during the first episode of the show's seventh season. His influence was vital to the company, and not just financially. Two months after the commercial aired, Steeped Tea's list of consultants grew from 500 to over 3,000. Sales came in faster than they could ship the tea, prompting the two to drive around Hamilton and ask people at bus stops if they wanted to make some extra money by making tea leaves for a few hours. "We literally begged people," Jahshan recalls. "Fortunately, many said yes."

For someone having funDownton Abbey- The tea party guy whose idea of ​​indulgence is a cup of Earl Gray every morning - no milk, no sugar - Jahshan is anything but boring. She has fiery red hair with golden highlights that sparkle in the right light. When he talks about things he loves - especially tea - he does so with the enthusiasm of someone who has just seen a unicorn.

It all adds up to a magnetic presence and it's easy to see why he's managed to attract so many people to the Steeped Tea group. The company currently has more than 9,000 consultants selling its products: 6,500 in Canada and 2,500 in the United States. The vast majority – around 95% – are women. They come to Steeped Tea for different reasons. For some, it's about the money: Consultants earn commissions of between 25 and 39% on sales. (Last year, the top earner brought in $120,000.) Others like the simplicity: The company handles inventory, product marketing, and technical matters so consultants can focus on finding clients and crafting the perfect sales pitch. Still others are drawn to the idea of ​​a side income, a sort of backup career after the recession. And many, perhaps most, come with a desire to build what Paul Skowronek, senior vice president of public affairs at the American Direct Selling Association, calls "lots of freedom."

The Steeped Tea model is particularly appealing to mothers of young children - particularly those looking for a comfortable work-life balance. There are plenty of them: a 2015 report by TD Economics found an increase in self-employment among Canadian women since the 2008 recession, with 25% doing so to spend more time at home. This is Jahshan's ideal advisor: the parent who wants to earn a decent income alongside the school facilities and running the hockey stadium. Seeing herself as an ally and spokesperson for the mompreneurs, she sets the tone, taking her own children - now eight, six and four years old - on the bus most days and doing much of her work away from her office (six minutes by car removed from Steeped). Tea Headquarters). Her advisors can recognize themselves in her. As a leader, she strikes an almost Oprah-like balance between familiarity and inspiration.

Of course, it takes more than personal charisma to build a successful business like Steeped Tea. That the company's inception coincided with the dawn of the social media age is a happy coincidence that has drastically accelerated the company's expansion. Social networks - Facebook in particular - have breathed new life into the direct selling model, offering buyers and sellers a simple and intuitive way to connect with each other. The Direct Sellers Association of Canada reports that 42% of Canadians have purchased goods from a direct selling consultant - a number they expect to rise significantly as social commerce becomes more complex. Facebook has been an invaluable tool for Steeped Tea, both internally (through a closed group allowing consultants to share ideas and network) and externally (as a means of acquiring clients). The company's dramatic growth - sales have increased by more than 1,100 percent in the last three years alone - would have been nearly impossible if consultants had relied on Rolodexes and Avon women's landlines to attract clients.

Today, as Steeped Tea takes its place as "the" name in direct selling loose leaf, it looks a lot like the vision Jahshan had nearly a decade ago. "I could see where this company is going," she says calmly. "I knew we were going to grow up."


ABUSE BELOW: direct sales business people entrepreneurship business women small business Dipped tea Tee Tonya Jahsan W100 business women

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