In light of the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses have adjusted operations to provide more virtual experiences for their customers. Fresh Cup talks with a teahouse in Colorado about how they’ve transitioned in-store activities to a digital platform.
Back in March when Happy Lucky’s Teahouse closed its teahouse in Fort Collins, Colorado, owners Kari and George Grossman knew that while they could still sell loose-leaf teas online, it wouldn’t match the interactive experience customers enjoy in-store.
“Our main reputation in the community is about tasting and smelling,” says Kari Grady Grossman, who is also the teahouse’s marketing director. “We have this thing called the Great Wall of Tea with over 200 teas. People come and part of the enjoyment of the shopping experience is smelling the teas and custom tastings.”
Virtual Tea Travels
Happy Lucky’s already had a YouTube channel that they hadn’t really utilized previously. About 10 days after closing their doors to the public back in March, they decided to create YouTube videos emulating the in-store tasting experience.
“Our employees are all super tea geeks and they love to talk about flavor profiles,” says Grossman.
In addition to flavor profiles, smell, and mouth feel, some of the videos also include the story behind the tea and its growing region. “Some teas just lend themselves to more background stories, so those are longer,” she adds.
They also do video demos, like this one explaining the cold brew method, and a series called Summer Travel Through Tea, since many people aren’t traveling this summer.
“We did ‘travel to China with us’ and all the different regions and what teas are grown from which region,” says Grossman. “Next week, we’re doing one on India and Nepal.”
Grossman and her husband have a background in video production, but their tasting videos aren’t edited or expensively produced. Grossman uses natural light from a window, a brick background in the store, and a handheld iPhone 11.
“We wanted it to be organic, like you’ve come to see us in the store,” she says.
Instead of using a tripod for the camera phone, Grossman moves it with her hand to show the wet and dry tea leaves up close.
“It’s important to move the camera because if it’s just a talking head you’ll lose interest visually,” she explains.
Grossman feels that clear audio is important, so fortunately the space isn’t large and echoey. She uses the Bluetooth microphone in Apple AirPods to record crisp audio.
After a little practice, these short videos now come together quickly.
“When we first started it, people had to do it two or three times so they’d get a good take,” Grossman says. “Now when we do them, we can do four or five in them in an hour and a half.”
Engaging with Customers
Happy Lucky’s now has about 60 YouTube subscribers, and Grossman promotes the videos through a weekly email. Each tea tasting video is also embedded on its website product page.
“We get a couple hundred clicks on the video playlist but more importantly, we’re getting a lot of individual ones on each product page,” she says. “It’s really helpful for people because they’re at home and they’re shopping online. They need guidance.”
One benefit of virtual tastings is that customers can refer friends who aren’t in the Fort Collins area, and those customers wind up ordering online. “Through the videos, we can enlarge our customer base,” says Grossman.
Even after customers can safely return to the teahouse for in-person tastings, Grossman says they plan to continue virtual tastings to connect with people who aren’t geographically close. “Our business has shifted online and we want that to continue,” she says.
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Owners statement: Today we pause to honor the life of George Floyd and the great transformation his death has sparked that is long overdue in our country. Happy Lucky’s Teahouse is owned and operated by the multi-racial Grossman family, George, Kari, Grady and Shanti. From our experience of adopting two children of color, and experiencing racism alongside them, we learned that guilt is the glue that keeps prejudice in place. We have to talk about it. We invite you to use your tea time as an opportunity to listen to what our black & brown brothers and sisters are saying about their lived experience, on social media, on newscasts, in books, in movies and through bullhorns. If you’re an inheritor of white privilege like we are, allow yourself to grieve the guilt of that and let go of it’s weight. When love flows into the space where guilt has long hidden, transformation comes quickly. This business and this family strongly affirm that Black Lives Matter. We support racial justice, and police and criminal justice reform in our community, while holding deep respect and appreciation for the good officers in the Fort Collins police department who keep or community and business safe everyday. We started Happy Lucky’s teahouse with the intent of creating a space to build community through conversation over great tea. We need tea time together now more than ever but it’s a challenge with social distancing still in place. Once the COVID pandemic passes and we can once again gather, we hope that Happy Lucky’s can provide space for conversations about how we will dismantle the systems of institutional racism that plague our communities. This will set us free.