Tea Traders are a specialist tea shop set up in 2017 by Paul and his partner, Nick, in Carmarthen, Wales. They are all about trying to engage people with different specialist teas by encouraging them to explore a whole range of tastes.
Paul and Nick wanted to offer something different to their community. Noticing that coffee drinkers have lots of choices, they wanted to provide more options to tea drinkers.
“Nick is a foodie guy so he looks after the kitchen and the menu and the baking. We wanted to work together and combine the foodie side of things with the tea, which is my passion,” Paul says. The pair’s complementary skills helped them to set up their unique cafe.
Sticking to their roots, they offer a number of traditional Welsh cakes. Nick bakes his own bara brith, which is a Welsh traditional fruitcake enjoyed with high tea. He soaks fruit in Tea Traders tea overnight to achieve its moist flavor. It’s been a hit with customers.
Paul and Nick originally worked in very different professions.
Paul, originally from South Wales, initially trained as a florist. A midlife career change saw him tutoring at the local college. After working there for 23 years, he migrated into management, where he spent much of his time working with young people with additional learning needs.
Nick also worked at the same college, teaching life skills, catering, and independent living skills. They both really enjoyed working with young people with additional needs.
“When we came to setting up our own business, we wanted to hold on to our dedication to working with young people. So we’ve now got four young people in the shop, they’ve got a variety of support needs from autism to learning difficulties. But they’re part of our team and that’s a really great part of what we do.”
The main drive for the couple to open Tea Traders was so they could work together.
“We wanted to pull both of our skill sets and interests together. So, I drive the behind-the-scenes part of the business: marketing, promotion, buying, finance, things like that, and then Nick is very much front of house working in the shop every day, Then, I’m the Tea specialist.”
It’s important to both of them that their cafe adds value to the local community.
“There are no other specialist tea shops for a long-distance. Tea Traders was built so that we could be involved in the community and offer something different. We hoped it would be a business that we could have some fun with as well.”
Paul explains that the idea didn’t come to them overnight. The concept developed over time and was influenced by personal circumstances. His parents were getting older, it was time to live closer to them. On top of this, the couples’ jobs were changing as the college grew in size. The timing made sense for them and give their own endeavor a try.
Reflecting back, Paul acknowledges they hadn’t quite appreciated what they were about to give up.
“The biggest challenge has been that you don’t know what you’re giving up until you make the decision to start. We had a comfortable life… we worked long hours, but it was a regular income and it came with regular holidays and some kind of structured weekly working week.”
Running a business was a huge adjustment.
“We have to be multitasking, knowledgeable, and resourceful in terms of energy and in terms of putting in income. We put a huge investment into the business, to begin with.” Paul knew that building a business and getting a stable footing would take a long time, but their first three and a half years were a huge learning curve. The couple had to adjust to working seven days a week.
“The concept of having a set working pattern just goes out the window, you just put all your energy and focus into the business.”
The help received when starting the business was integral to it’s success, Paul says. He urges anyone starting a business to seek out mentors in fellow business owners.
“It’s important to speak to others to get an idea of what help they’ve had in their journey. Because there is a lot of help available for people who are entrepreneurs and starting businesses, that it might be hard to find. In our case, we’ve managed to access lots of business mentoring, lots of business grants, support, advice from specialists. I’m not sure how we could have done it without them.”
When they started Tea Traders, Nick was already close to retirement age. The plan was to work towards a phased retirement and start to reduce his hours, but keep the business after they officially ‘retired’.
Looking back Paul believes the struggle has been worth it.
The business setup required more investment than they had initially anticipated. In their first 18 months, they had a lot of work to do to get back on track financially and break even.
They found themselves having to take a risk by investing more in the business to keep things going. Dedicated to their business, they hoped that their retirement plan wouldn’t be affected.
But Paul finds his work hugely rewarding. The couple enjoys being able to put in as much energy as they wanted to and to see results in return. “Being able to make decisions and not be accountable to other people is the real pleasure of running our business.”
At this stage, Paul has a positive outlook for the future.
“We’ve got plans for some new projects.” They’ve seen customer demand for tea bags, and they are looking to develop a new range. The pair are also looking into upgrading their packaging. On top of this, they want to expand their B2B offering both locally and globally.
“We’re going to look at the hospitality sector and the tourism sector in our local area and do more business to business-focused work selling into cottage businesses or local hotels.” Recently, they’ve even created a bespoke tea blend for a local high-end restaurant.
Alongside the classic blends, Tea Traders have some unique products on their shelves.
They are on a mission to make a name for Welsh Tea. They have their own blend of Welsh Breakfast Tea, a strong, traditional blend. An example of how close they are to their community, they stock a special ‘Lee’ blend, inspired by a customer’s family recipe. Lee came into the store and asked ‘for a little bit of this, and a little bit of that’.
“It’s got lapsang souchong in it and it’s really robust and smoky. We tasted it ourselves, loved it! So we put his name on it and now we sell this blend on the shelf.”
Their product offerings are well received. As a result, they have many loyal customers not just in their local community, but overseas too.
“We are really well supported and we’re lucky that support continued online, lots of customers carried on supporting us through the pandemic, and buying from the website. And not just locally – we’ve got fans in Scotland, and I’ve got a customer in France.”
Paul and his partner Nick started Tea Traders in their hometown of Carmarthen, Wales, to provide a specialty tea experience to tea lovers, as only coffee lovers were catered for in their town. Their business enabled them to bring together their passions: tea, baking, and helping the community.