Nowadays you can’t turn a street corner without being bombarded by the intoxicating aroma of coffee. High street cafés have always been popular, but in the past decades they seem to have exploded in popularity – and their phenomenal growth shows no sign of slowing.
It seems that the hot drinks sector is already heavily saturated, yet there is one inspiring entrepreneur who has found a gap in the market and exploited it with a mix of solid branding, recognising the needs of a market and innovative use of technology.
In 2009 Tracey Bovingdon founded Tea Monkey and caught onto a winning formula, after becoming “fed up of being treated as a second class citizen” when ordering a tea in a coffee shop, she identified a gaping gap in the market and filled it perfectly, opening the first café in the lovely little city of Milton Keynes.
As the name suggests, Tea Monkey is a high street tea café that offers a lot more than the average fare that you will find in a Costa or Starbucks – out is the tea bag dumped in a generic mug, in is the selection of 40 loose or pyramid teas served lavishly in professional looking see through tea pots. All of these products are sustainably sourced, fair trade and the highest quality possible for their margins, also sold are award winning coffees and a vast array of food snacks. But how have Tea Monkey truly differentiated themselves?
“Through Technology and Innovation”
Not only do Tea Monkey offer an extensive variety of hot drinks for ever more discerning Café visitors, they have also taken advantage of the latest in technology to further their customer experience. Walk into any store and you will find the latest iPads mounted on the walls – free to use for customers. These iPads are loaded with a large collection of games and various other apps to provide reading material for a lunch break, a competitive game of connect 4 between two friends, or just some light entertainment with which to distract the kids whilst their parents have a brew.
Tea Monkey have cemented their initial success and grown their fan base through extensive use of their social media accounts, but they have also found other ways of engaging with their community. On the website there is a section on where the public can add their suggestions to the store’s Spotify playlist. This not only creates more engagement between the café and their customer base, but also encourages repeat business as people begin to personalise their experiences at their respective cafes. The growth opportunities for Tea Monkey are tremendous when one considers the market, us Brits love our tea, so why would we not welcome a 40 choice selection of the stuff!
Alongside a strong brand and well trained staff, Tracey Bovingdon seems to have a sensible mix of revenue streams from her business model.
“A 60/40% mix of owned/corporate stores, franchisees, on-line retail and a Hospitalitea Range (wholesale)…working together to build this dynamic and refreshing brand globally” (www.smarta.com)
As a brand itself, Tea Monkey’s products and equipment could quite easily find a comfortable home on any supermarket shelf, but why do that when you can aim much, much higher? In the four years since opening Tea Monkey has also opened a branch in Bath and Leeds, pretty good growth thus far considering it’s such a new brand. They also have their first franchisees in the United States, Middle East, Japan and the Philipines. They are also in negotiation with Next to potentially put Tea Monkeys in a large number of their stores, were this deal to go through Tea Monkey would move from a relatively small business, to an easily scalable hard hitter amongst the hot drinks market.
Entrepreneurship is all about taking risks and reaping the benefits that they bring. Thus far Ms Bovingdon has successfully dived head first into a market populated by some very strong competitors. The questions she will no doubt be asking herself are, “what is going to happen when the coffee companies fight back with tea to take back market share?” and on a more global level “what are the cultural differences that need to be addressed when franchising this business out to other countries?” One thing is for sure, Tracey is on a very strong path towards success with what can only be described as the exact kind of café tea drinkers have been waiting for.