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Taking on the coffeeshops – with tea

Interview with...

Tracey Bovingdon
On the board of directors of a major corporation at the age of just 29 and established two businesses previously founding Tea Monkey
Business name:
Tea Monkey
A specialist tea cafe
Milton Keynes and a Bath outlet was opened in late 2011
Trading for:
Tracey Bovingdon cropped

BusinessesForSale:  Have you always wanted to set up your own business? 

Tracey Bovingdon: I've always worked for large corporations and was on the board of directors from a young age - 29. I became very disenchanted with the way in which companies treated people.

And also with the lack of customer care. In the end I decided I would never work for anyone else again.

I wanted to have the feeling that if I wanted to change something it would be possible, and that I could do it for myself.

I set up my first business when I was 31. I've set up my own company three times now.

BFS: What inspired this idea? What made you think there was a market for a high street tea chain?

TB: There's no one else doing it. I like filling in 'gaps'.

All my previous businesses have targeted niche areas. There was no tea chain, lots of independents, but no high street presence across the country.

Tea has a different feel to coffee. I think tea has a really nice ritual around it in a way that coffee doesn't anymore.

I don't have working hours because Tea Monkey is me! As soon as I open my eyes I'm checking sales reports

It encourages people to slow down a little. People take time for tea, they chat over tea... five minutes and you find yourself in a better place. We call ourselves 'the original chatroom'. 

BFS:  How did you finance it?

TB: I financed it myself initially. I was very lucky to sell my previous business before the recession, so I could do it with my own cash.

And then within the first six months of launching our first store we won a few national awards and I was able to put an investor pack together and seek future investment.

BFS:  How long have your working hours been throughout this and has it calmed down now the business is established?

TB: I don't have working hours because Tea Monkey is me! As soon as I open my eyes I'm checking sales reports.

It's been getting busier over time. Sometimes I will have an idea in the middle of the night and email people in the company at 3am - I don't expect them to respond though!

My downtime is when I'm with my children. I don't do any work when I'm around them and I've never missed an event at their schools.

I work my day around their activities. So I work after they've gone to bed and when they're at school.

BFS:  What have you enjoyed about running your own business?

TB: The freedom. I give 150% to everything I do, therefore I might as well be doing it for myself than for someone else!

I'm also in control of the ethos of the business and I'm able to work with like-minded people, which is much nicer. You're with a team of people you want to work with.

You feel like you're having an impact on things much more. 

BFS:  What's been the biggest challenge?

TB: I've been shocked at the lack of good suppliers. The food and beverage sector has appalling supply chains in this country. I've also been very surprised by the lack of responsiveness.

As a small business it is very difficult to be taken seriously, and there's low support. It's a really brutal market out there.

I've also advised people who are setting up businesses. I'm astounded that this country does not support enterprise more.

No one understood that I had a corporate background. I'm a business woman - not just someone who got bored and decided to open a tea shop.

This lifestyle is not for the faint-hearted; it takes cash, time and strategic planning.

It's difficult for women, small businesses and independents to try and juggle everything and be taken seriously.  

BFS:  What has surprised you most about running your own business?

TB: I'm surprised at how complex the food and beverage industry is. I was in outsourcing before.

But at the same time, I'm surprised at how quickly it is possible to learn. For example we've already won a number of awards even though we've only been in business since 2011.

Anything is possible. I think I knew more than I thought I knew and I've learnt that I need to trust myself more. We spent money on consultants that didn't really tell us more than we already knew.

BW:  Would you do anything different if you did it all again?

TB: I would trust my instincts and my gut feelings more. I would spend money only on things that genuinely add value to the customer, the brand and the bottom line.

BFS:  What advice would you give to someone just starting out in business for the first time?

TB: If you do, you must prepare first. Be open-minded, but at the same time be very clear about your end-game and what you are trying to achieve.

Be very careful that you know exactly what it is that you're trying to start- you must know why you're doing it. Otherwise you will end up flailing around and spending a lot of cash unnecessarily. 

BFS:  Do you have a fixed plan e.g. a five-year or 10-year plan for the future?

TB: Yes we do, but things also change randomly and you should review your plan every year. For instance, October and November is our planning season for the following year in terms of strategy and marketing.

I do things from a corporate perspective because that's my background. I made sure our entire infrastructure was in place first so that it was easy to expand the business.

This included systems and processes and making everything computerised. Some may say its overkill for two stores, but it's necessary if you want to expand easily.

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