My Grandfather, Wilfred Dickinson, was a bit of an entrepreneur. He was a chef by trade in the Army during World War Two and a butcher, landowner and publican afterwards. One of the few sentimental items he left after passing away was an old tea pot that he won whilst racing pigeons. He told his daughter, my mother, “one day the tea pot will be ‘worth something’”.
A note left inside the tea pot reads: "Won with pigeons, 1937, don’t break."
After some time working away from Cumbria – and looking for a fresh start – I moved back to the county I love. Intrigued by the story of the tea pot - and believing it to be a “sign” – I wanted to explore my ambition of having my own sustainable business, one that enables me to “put something back in” to my great county and where possible, help others along the way.
Over the years I’ve bought and sold all sorts of things: antiques - the interest for which arose from the research into the tea pot and whether it was worth anything (it doesn’t appear to be, in a monetary sense, but certainly is of sentimental value) - watches, gold, property and even fresh fruit smoothies from a mobile event trailer. I’ve never really lost anything, always breaking even or making money, so I like to think I have a bit of a knack for turning a profit.
As constraining as the first COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 was, it was also a fundamentally life changing period for me, for three reasons:
My wife Kay and I became proud parents;
As well as looking at the world with a different perspective (I need to provide for my daughter Ella Rose, not just myself now), I was also fortunate to be able to take four weeks away from work on paternity leave, which gave me precious time to think;
It was Kay’s 40th birthday and one of her gifts gave me the “lightbulb moment”
Not wanting to gloss over point 1 above, as it is by far the biggest achievement of my life, however, point 1 flows in to point 2 and we’re here to talk business. So on to points 2 and 3:
Point 2: I wanted to do more than bring Ella into the world and give her nice things: I wanted to provide her with a legacy, something I never had, the choice of having something to take on to make a living from, or to go it alone - some security in an unstable world.
Point 3: The epiphany arrived when I ordered a cream tea hamper for Kay’s 40th birthday from one of our favourite UK holiday destinations, Cornwall. In the hamper there was a local tea which, as well as being really tasty, was also in eye catching packaging. Intrigued, I read a bit more into the company behind the tea and liked what they were about: ethical, environmentally friendly and seemingly approachable (“boo, caught you peeking” it read on the underside of the carton).
Being a huge tea lover and understanding the power “having a brew” has, from my time working around the world, where the teams I worked in often used a “brew-break” as a method of decompressing following stressful situations, I looked into whether there was a regionalised county tea brand in Cumbria… There wasn’t, so I contacted the tea and coffee manufacturer, Cornish Tea and Cornish Coffee Co, with an idea…
Part of my email read:
“Basically, I have a USP and the will to work with you to bring your tea – albeit a slightly different blend – to Cumbria. We could take your product and put some different packaging in place that would see the likes of well-known supermarkets buy-in to becoming distributors. Approach the best hotels (there’s some amazing hotels by the way) and get Cumbrian Tea as the tea of choice for their cream teas. The possibilities aren’t endless, of course, there’s a limit. But who knows what the limit is? I’m really willing to find out if you are!”
They loved my idea, invited me for an interview and now we are business partners having launched our very own Cumbrian Tea: Ramblers’ Brew.
There’s still a lot of work to do to make Cumbrian Tea a truly acceptable Cumbrian brand, but we are at the beginning of something special.
Our vision is for “a tea that the great Cumbrian people would be proud to call their own… a tea to share with the world”. The mission is “to work sustainably to provide the people of Cumbria – together with its many visiting ramblers – with great tasting, ethically sourced and environmentally friendly products, at a very reasonable price”.
We also have a social impact strategy and look to work with local charitable organisations to assist them embed sustainable outcomes. Basically, we really want to make a positive impact on the great county of Cumbria!
The first leaves used for the initial Cumbrian Tea production run now sit pride of place in Wilfred’s teapot. Known as “The Dickinson Luck”; it is hoped that as long as the teapot remains intact, there will be success for The Cumbrian Tea and Cumbrian Coffee Co.
The Learning - Having a Mission is Key
Lake District Smoothies was “going to be huge”, take on the likes of Innocent Drinks, but it never got off the ground. The branding was good, the model simple, but was the strategy ever really thought out? No, not if I’m honest. My business partner and I had come up with the concept, invested money into producing a drinks trailer and attended events to sell our wares, even getting great feedback. But we were looking for someone – an investor – to find us, to sweep us up and help us make a manufacturing facility. This has worked for some people who found themselves in the right place at the right time, but social media wasn’t the same then, as it is now. We were operating in the fields of Cumbria, so would have had to have been VERY lucky to catch someone’s eye!
Looking back, we were too busy delivering “on the ground”, tactically (and loving every minute of it), as opposed to thinking about the big picture and how we could take the business to the next level. With The Cumbrian Tea and Cumbrian Coffee Co, things are different: I had the concept (the vision and mission mentioned above), polished the proposal (business case) into something viable and then floated the idea with “the enabler”, the person (or company) who had “been there and done that”. They didn’t need to invest, emotionally or financially, but they did. Why? Because from the outset the mission – driven by a clear vision – objectives and strategy for each objective was clear. Of course, together we had to refine things through engagement, but primarily we agreed things first time and were on the same page, so captured and fully integrated these fundamentals into the business model.
Sun Tsu the Chinese general, military strategist, writer and philosopher said “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” I stand by this quote and have embedded it into my daily workings – you need to deliver on the ground, that’s for certain otherwise you won’t make money, but it is imperative in business to have a strategy, to know which direction you’re going in. Sure, things can change and have for so many businesses recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but knowing what path you’re on, where you’re going and how you propose to get to the destination, is vital for success.
The key “business ingredients” need to be available and our successful business model can be explained, in our opinion, through an analogy using the fire triangle. A fire needs a source of heat, a fuel to ignite and oxygen to enable the fire to “breathe”. Without one element of the triangle, there would be no fire. Or in our case, no viable business.
Fuel = The niche or gap
There needs to a gap in the market driven by consumer demand which will fuel sales. This is the reason for existing! Cumbrian Tea came to being, initially, due to me having the realisation that there was no tea (or coffee) brand totally synonymous with, or to, the county of Cumbria. Such as the likes of Yorkshire has.
It doesn’t matter how you come to understand the gap, for us, it was a bit of a punt: Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world - after water - and there wasn’t a regional tea brand. Whereas in other counties, there was. These businesses seemed to be doing ok, so why could we not do it in Cumbria? Well, we’re trying and it seems to be working.
Heat = The product
Getting the product right is key. However, it may not be 100% perfect first time round. James Dyson refined his vacuum design hundreds if not thousands of times before he was happy to market products for sale.
For us, we needed our tea and packaging to be as close to 100% perfect as possible, because with tea (and the fact we’re a small business), you might not get a second chance.
So, we considered the following:
Product taste and sourcing: Our tea had to taste great otherwise it would just be considered gimmicky, which isn’t what we’re about. Our products also have to be in line with our core values; so sustainably and ethically sourced. Whether being complimented by water from The Lakes or not, the leaves also had to be versatile enough to taste great, wherever they end up being used for a tasty brew.
Current/Up to Date: News was starting to bubble away in the media about the presence of plastic in tea bags. We didn’t want to hit the ground running “up the curve”, so we wanted plastic-free tea bags to home our lovely tea leaves in, bringing our tea as up to date as possible in the current climate.
Packaging: The great tasting tea and plastic-free tea bags needed to be housed in eye catching, enticing, but also sustainably sourced and environmentally friendly packaging. There’s no point, in our opinion, having plastic free tea bags, if your boxes are wrapped in plastic that isn’t recyclable or takes thousands of years to biodegrade. The wording on the packaging “pops” and hits you in the face, within a second you know exactly where the product is from, and what it is…
Relatable and relevant to the area: Tea leaves don’t grow, commercially, in Cumbria. So, we needed our brand and brand products to be synonymous with the area in a slightly different way, hence our social impact strategy (and me being local).
We also don’t manufacture in Cumbria, yet, but are proving the concept of our products initially with the view of bringing a manufacturing facility to West Cumbria, in the near future.
Naming the “trading as” (T/A) brand name needs to be right, as does the brand naming in entirety, otherwise - like some of the other few companies in the county offering similar wares - you miss the “trick” and will fail to plug the gap in the market.
More information about the materials we use and where we source our tea from can be found on our website: www.cumbrian-tea.co.uk
Oxygen = The Enabler
So, we got lucky. Incredibly lucky. We were a little bit cheeky in our approach but wanted to stand out. We were also lucky to have found one of very few people who had a very similar mindset and core values, together with a want and desire to go into business, and the ability (the manufacturing facility) to do so. I’m also rather spiritual, and believe in fate.
All three of the above will arrive through a moment, an epiphany, then come together through a desire, fuelled by inspiration or aspiration, to succeed. This is the hunger I alluded to earlier: You have to be totally bought-in to your business and product(s). You have to believe they are the best they possibly can be: the best on the market. Now you have to take that energy and tell the world!
We combined a holistic, referable and recognisable county brand; very appealing branding/packaging; a great quality product and an up to date environmental, ethical and social ethos to launch Cumbrian Tea into the world. We wanted people to see our products, instantly know where it was from then look a bit deeper to understand us, our ethics, what we’re all about and why. And, not to mention, enjoy our tea!
Repeat sales and continued business development during difficult times (2 lockdowns in the first 6 months of trading) tells us were doing ok and are on track to become a sustainable business.
Everyone has an entrepreneur inside, you just need to be persistent – don’t let the naysayers put you off - trust your gut, and sometimes, it helps to be a little bit cheeky!
Very best of luck!
Mark Cant | Co Founder & Sales Director
The Cumbrian Tea & Cumbrian Coffee Co Ltd
m: 07717 805580 | 01900 292123