The world in a cup of tea

Toni Glass turned her love for tea into a unique busi­ness that is highly suc­cess­ful in South Africa. Now she is aim­ing to take her gourmet teas to the rest of the world.

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY - By Jes­sica Hub­bard

since­launch­ing her epony­mous gourmet tea brand in 2008, Toni Glass has grown the busi­ness into a ver­i­ta­ble em­pire. Far more than just pret­tily pack­aged and cu­ri­ously named tea leaves, the Toni Glass Col­lec­tion, a fi­nal­ist in the 2016 FNB Busi­ness In­no­va­tion Awards, seeks to in­tro­duce an el­e­ment of health and har­mony into peo­ple’s lives. Hav­ing trav­elled the world in search of the best sources, and to learn from the world’s most knowl­edge­able tea grow­ers and blenders, Glass is just a few steps away from be­com­ing an in­ter­na­tional tea mas­ter. We caught up with her to find out how she turned her pas­sion into a suc­cess­ful busi­ness.

What did you do prior to start­ing your own busi­ness?

Owner and founder of the Toni Glass Col­lec­tion I was trained as an art di­rec­tor and a brand strate­gist, and I worked in an agency for a year be­fore open­ing up my own ad agency. I be­lieved that agency life was sti­fling cre­ativ­ity. In ad­di­tion to the ad agency, I also founded a me­dia busi­ness that ran in par­al­lel. I sold out of these busi­nesses in 2005, and worked in out­door me­dia for a while.

Where did the idea for the tea busi­ness come from?

My mother was a tea drinker, so I was raised with a palate for tea. I knew that I wanted to get into some­thing that I was truly pas­sion­ate about, and tea was some­thing I had al­ways re­ally loved.

What mo­ti­vated you to turn it into a busi­ness?

I re­alised that peo­ple tended to drink tea at home, and very few would go out to drink tea as an ex­pe­ri­ence (as they would with cof­fee). In ad­di­tion, the qual­ity of tea lo­cally had been down­graded over the years, and I saw an op­por­tu­nity to push for qual­ity tea that was care­fully sourced. I made it my mis­sion to learn all I could, and trav­elled ex­ten­sively to learn from the world’s best grow­ers. It’s an on­go­ing study, and I have re­alised that there is a whole world in tea. There are more teas in China than there are wines in France!

How did you make your first sale?

It was very tough to get started, es­pe­cially as I didn’t come from a bev­er­age back­ground. I ini­tially went door to door, and blended my own tea in a two-bed­room flat. My first sale was to a cof­fee shop down­stairs from my ad agency.

How did you get fund­ing to get started?

The busi­ness was self-funded, and I be­gan by sell­ing to restau­rants, cof­fee shops and ho­tels.

What have been the three big­gest dif­fi­cul­ties you’ve had to over­come?

Ed­u­ca­tion: peo­ple have to un­der­stand why your of­fer­ing is dif­fer­ent and unique; dis­tri­bu­tion: man­ag­ing this is al­ways a chal­lenge; and stay­ing true to your core of­fer­ing as a busi­ness. As an en­trepreneur, there are al­ways new ideas and op­por­tu­ni­ties to get ex­cited about, so you have to en­sure you re­main fo­cused.

Big­gest les­son learnt?

The big­gest les­son I’ve learnt is that you truly have the po­ten­tial to change peo­ple’s lives. If you chip away, you re­ally can achieve any­thing. Also, if you think you know it all, you’ve lost it all. You can never be too big to lis­ten. As an en­trepreneur, you should al­ways seek feed­back.

Toni Glass

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