Marketing Tips: 12 Kick-Ass Marketing Lessons From Al’s Tea Shoppe

How To Do Marketing: 12 Kick-Ass Marketing Lessons

2012 was a pretty huge year here in the UK – with the Queen’s Jubilee, the Olympics and the Euro football (soccer) tournament…

But none of this could hold a candle, or an Olympic Torch even to the awesomeness that is the annual Celebrating Cromford village festival.

“What on Gods green Earth does that have to do with Marketing?” I hear you ask.

Well, read on and you will find out via my 12 Kick-Ass Marketing Lessons From Al’s Tea Shoppe

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and have not heard of this huge festival – probably the greatest of all village festivals in the UK – then it runs for 3 days Fri-Sun at around mid-end of June every year (23rd-25th June in 2012). It has everything you’d expect of a premier festival in the world-heritage, historic village of Cromford – with music, dancing, welly-wanging, tractor pulling, sports events, tug-of war, village games, brass band, gun dog demonstrations, open gardens, pizzas at quarry cottage, market stalls, storytelling… well, I’d be going on forever if I kept this list going. You get the idea.

As part of this event, or particularly the Cromford Olimpycs part of the festivities, I had the absolute privilege to run a tea stall down in the meadows where the Olimpycs were taking place.

Now, despite not making too much in terms of my actual wages (my services were free in this case), I don’t think I’d be blowing my own trumpet too much to say that my tea stall was a roaring success. Here are some business lessons from the experience:

Lesson 1: Have Kick Ass Branding & Design

Every business needs a clear brand and great design.

So, my tea stall was housed under the best looking gazebo in that entire field.

My biscuits were laid out nicely.

The equipment was laid out ready for business.

The awesome signs that chief event organiser (Isabelle) had prepared were strategically positioned and looking more awesome than ever.

Lesson 2: Use Beta Testing

Get the customers to tell you when the product is ready.

Instead of looking like you’re not ready, tell your customers they are exclusively involved in Beta Testing.

Tell them Google does this kind of thing all the time.

Everyone has heard of Google.

Shortly after I was all set up, customers started arriving.

The water was still boiling.

I told my customers that I don’t think the tea or coffee is quite ready yet but that they can try if they like.

They say: “How much is it for a cup of coffee?”

I tell them “Well, here’s the deal. I don’t think it’s ready yet, but, you can try it… and if it’s not to your liking – in any way, you get it absolutely free and you just come back a little bit later when it’s ready…

… and if you do like it then you can choose to pay, completely up to you.

Either way, you can also have a free biscuit.”

Now that’s marketing.

Here’s what happened…

The water took a little while to get hot enough so during that time I had a few of these ‘beta testers’ – not a single one said “no thanks, I’ll just wait”, they all tried a cuppa – therefore (Bonus #1) testing the product for me – and were very happy to do so.

Bonus #2: Instead of having a customer who is disappointed with the product, I get to have customers who feel privileged or at least entertained by this idea of ‘beta testing’.

Bonus #3: I also get to sell my product the moment it’s ready because having these beta testers around shows some activity and provides much more social proof (see below) than if I’d just sent them away.

Bonus #4: I get to have customers around nice and early, even before I am ready.

Extra Special Bonus (#5): In fact, one customer, despite the tea being really cold, said that she just needed a sugar fix and insisted on paying for the tea anyway, even though it was very cold. I tried to give her her money back but she wouldn’t have it. I suppose it’s not such a big deal when it’s just 50p for a cup of tea and you’re at a village community event like this, but still. The tea was really cold.

Lesson 3: Exceed Expectations

Every business should strive to exceed it’s customers expectations.

They came to me asking for tea, coffee or juice.

What did they get?

Well, all of these things I’m telling you about in this article is what they got.

They got exceptional service. Politeness, conversation and enthusiasm.

They got their drinks made with care – not in a rush.

They got a free biscuit – and sometimes two. Some lucky punters got free drinks.

They got beta testing and entertainment.

They got somebody who was happy to dispose of their waste for them too (people would come to me as a proprietor of fine teas and polystyrene cups asking me if I knew where there was a bin. “I’m the bin” I told them and took their waste from them, adding it into my own little waste system. I definitely spotted a gap in the Celebrating Cromford market there for a better overall waste solution – but for now, it was my way of exceeding expectations to get rid of people’s waste for them).

Lesson 4: Offer Undeniable Value

Ensure your customer perceives plenty of value in what you offer.

This doesn’t necessarily mean be cheap.

Cheap is actually a dangerous path which can become a spiral downwards – your competitors can always out-cheap you.

Provide value with service and extras.

In my case, 50p was about the right price for a cup of tea at such an event. It’s nothing really. However, getting good service, a free biscuit and anything else I could provide around the edges in terms of service – is undeniable value.

Did I mention that they get their choice of free biscuit from a wide range of choices?

I don’t think I did mention that before, did I? Well here is the appropriate place. They got a choice for their free biscuit (choc chip cookie (the most popular), shortbread, rich tea, custard cream or digestive).

How about that?

Lesson 5: Have a Clear Offer

The Confused Mind Always Says ‘No’. Be clear about what you offer to the customer and what they should expect.

I had two price points.

Cup of tea or coffee: 50p
Juice (choice of Orange or Apple & Blackcurrant): 20p

That’s it.

Oh, and did I mention the free biscuit with every drink?

Lesson 6: Do One Thing and Do It Well

What should your clients tell other potential customers about your business?

I sell tea, coffee and juice.

Word might get around that you get a free biscuit too…

…but I don’t do anything else – I just sell tea, coffee and juice.

Where are people most likely to go when they want a tea? To Al’s Tea Bar which sells tea, coffee and juice or to the pancake stall who also do cups of tea?

Lesson 7: Give The Customers An Awesome Experience

Make your business a place which feels comfortable for your customer.

It was quite easy for me to have fun working in a tea shop (I love tea + free cups of tea for me).

I got to meet lots of new people and had the time to chat with them. I even introduced a few and got them chatting to each other.

I injected a bit of humor into things saying things like ‘Just don’t post it on Facebook’ after giving a customer a ‘secret’ deal…

… or ‘make sure you tweet about it.’

Most people I said this to (apart from the kids obviously) didn’t have a clue what I was on about though they may have vaguely heard of tweeting. I reckon they were all still quite amused by these random comments though. recently caused a bit of a stir by tweeting whilst he was carrying the Olympic torch so this last comment was quite topical and a bit of a reference to that (given that the Olympics is the theme for our festival this year).

Lesson 8: Use Social Proof

Seeing a crowd or queue at a stall (or any equivalent evidence of interest) tells you that there is something worth checking out or waiting for.

A lot of people when they are working in a shop try and work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Sure I was efficient.

I love efficient.

I had a really good system laid out (I love systems too).

But was I ever in a hurry? No. Not at all.

I took my time and worked slowly but steadily.

Not slow like OMG that guy is no good…

…but slow like taking real care to provide a good service and make the best cups of tea and coffee that I could.

So why was I taking my time?

Nope, it’s not to avoid getting stressed – that was never going to happen here anyway.

Quite simply, if a crowd developed to stop from chaos, apart from clocking who I thought was really first and who was trying to push in, I let a queue build up.

The stall is only so wide so after a certain number of people made it to the front the rest have no choice but to queue behind – this provides social proof.

Everyone can see the stall so they’ll come back later if they get too tired of waiting. I’m not losing any custom.

My stall is the place to be.

Most people are happy to wait – they were chatting and having a good time whilst they are waiting.

At one point when I was quite quiet, somebody actually came and complained about the tea.

Rather than taking this badly in any way, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated getting the feedback. He asked me if I washed the cups out with TCP! Obviously I didn’t wash the cups out with TCP. I told him “No, I didn’t wash the cups out with TCP.” They were brand new Polystyrene cups, the tea was made with an urn full of fresh water. Brand new tea bags, fresh milk. So I couldn’t have done anything differently to make the tea any better given the equipment I had. That’s just how tea, made from an urn and prepared in polystyrene cups tastes. I’m certain it would have tasted better if it had been made with a kettle and served in fine bone-china mugs, but I just wasn’t rocking that kind of equipment.

But being a bit of a tea connoisseur myself I could make it absolutely the best cup of tea possible under the circumstances given the equipment I had and most people were very happy with the tea and coffee.

Even standing there chatting to this slightly bothered customer was great social proof. There was just no room for anyone to be unhappy with Al’s Tea Shoppe.

I offered the customer his 50p back but he point blank refused to take it. He told me it wasn’t a complaint. So I asked him if he’d have another biscuit, which he also refused, with a smile on his face. I think he left feeling he’d made his point, but also happy that I’d provided him all the information he needed. In fact, despite his observation about the TCP taste, he still came back and bought another cup of coffee later, as did his wife.

Lesson 9: Make Your Customers Your Sales Force

The most powerful kind of marketing is word-of-mouth marketing.

Let me tell you a secret.

One of the most powerful ways to get a 5-12 year old to spread the word for you is to tell them “Don’t tell your friends.”

OK, so I gave the occasional bonus or maybe even the odd free drink to a few of the kids…

Sue me.

Lesson 10: Use Scarcity Wisely

Let the customer know that they need to act quickly to avoid disappointment.

I closed up shop putting a sign back in 5 minutes so that I could take part in the tug-of-war event. This didn’t hurt my business at all in fact it helped.

Why? Scarcity.

When you limit the time or the availability of a product or service (without taking things too far) people will value the time or availability you do provide more – this is the concept of scarcity.

Scarcity used wisely can prompt action.

People have a tendency to procrastinate and put off decisions until later. Then their busy lives take over and they just don’t get back to you. Giving deadlines or limiting availability can help a business on a number of levels.

As an aside – in my actual business, I only offer consulting to 3 clients at any one time. This is mainly a lifestyle decision for me but also employs a lot of these techniques not least ensuring I can devote time and attention and provide exceptional value and also the concept of scarcity.

Now back to the tea shoppe…

As I started to even get close to running out of juice I told my little champions “oooh we’re starting to run low on juice…” which of course they told their friends and which got me a steady stream of customers.

Then as I actually started to run out of juice I shouted out ‘Only 5 Juices left’ and yes, they came running.

Lesson 11: Build Strong Relationships With Other Business Owners

Don’t try and go it alone, the more strong business relationships you establish, the further your business will go.

Unfortunately I missed the welly-wanging but I dd tell my friend Dave who ran the welly-wanging to tell people about my little tea stall.

Also anybody who was working, or even vaguely working in the Celebrating Cromford Olimpycs, I offered a free drink and a free biscuit. This makes good business sense.

Lesson 12: Give Your Customers A Reason To Come Back

Real business is not just about customers but about repeat customers.

My reason was in fact kind of a joke, but worked really well.

With your 2nd cup of tea, you get 2 free biscuits!!

Obviously providing great value, giving your customers an enjoyable experience and great service all help to turn customers into repeat customers but some kind of incentive scheme (for example this is the purpose of loyalty cards in big tea/coffee franchise businesses like Starbucks and Costas) can be very useful.

What can you do in your business to turn customers into repeat customers?


Hopefully you can tell from the above that I had an awesome time at the Celebrating Cromford weekend.

Hopefully too, you recognize that whilst these marketing lessons were absolutely applicable to running my little tea stall, they are also applicable to every other type of business you can think of.

These are obviously not the only marketing lessons you could employ – but they are some of the main ones and a pretty good start.

Let me know if you have others you’d like to mention or that you’ve heard of and are curious about.


Marketing Tips: 12 Kick-Ass Marketing Lessons From Al’s Tea Shoppe — 22 Comments

  1. I hope you bake biscuits have as well as you write, Alan! 🙂

    Love the creativity you put into this post. Many people (me including) have hard time turning a life experience into a great post, and you seem to be a natural at it.

    By the way, I’d check your spelling of “Olympics” in a few spots…

    • Oh no, not you too Ana!!

      those aren’t spelling mistakes – it’s supposed to be, like, ‘Ye Olde Worlde’ spelling – i.e. the Olimpycs is mis-spelled on purpoise 😉

      or were you just teasing me and you knew that?

      maybe I should have said that I was mis-spelling that on purpose (it wasn’t me by the way, this was part of the chosen ‘branding’ for that event) but anyways…

      we’re a weird bunch us Brits you know with our weird spellings and strange festivals…

      seriously – thank you very much for your kind words – you have made my day!!

  2. I could see the relevance of kick-ass branding and design in Al’s Tea shoppe. Who knew a wooden duck with boots holding a cup of tea would be a great logo design? Thanks for sharing these great tips!

    • No probs April and thanks for commenting,

      we actually had lots of pictures of the wooden ducks… wooden ducks with wellies flying towards them (welly wanging), wooden ducks with a rope (tug of war)…

      Glad you liked the article anyways,

      take care & best wishes,

  3. Well Done Alan,
    I loved all your lessons intertwined with your personal story. But all this talk of tea.. i’m beginning to think you are a TEA-a-holic.
    Long lines really are social proof aren’t they!!
    and what is TCP?

    • Thanks Annie,

      TCP looks like this.

      Yep – I sure do love tea.

      P.S. The water-only thing is proving a real challenge for me. Unbelievable. Even just for 24 hours I’m finding it difficult, so you have my admiration – even more so for managing it. I get really bad headaches. I will do it though, just as I said in my ‘It’s OK to fail‘ post, it just might take a bit longer (as I’m such a wuss ;-)).

      • Alan,
        The first 2 days are definitely the hardest. The first day started out ok but after 9 hours it was hell. The next day all i could think about was food so i did a lot of little things to keep my mind off of it. The third day is when you start to hallucinate and then day four you feel like heaven. Your mind starts to open up and well, you’ll just have to wait and see.. You can do it Alan.

        • Well, I guess I’ll never reach euphoria then.

          At least not with this 😉

          My plan is just to fast for 1 day every Sunday.

          and I can’t even do that at the moment – though last week I made it to 7pm.

          This week I have to beat that – hopefully the whole day, but as I said, I’m not going anywhere so small increments are just fine for me. As long as things are moving in the right direction.

          I’m pretty slim these days, but crap food (sweeties etc) still doesn’t disgust me. In fact I still like it. I still look forward to sweeties on a Saturday. Though overall I’d say my taste is leaning more toward the healthy stuff. This dieting is a little harder at the end of the day than I’d imagined. Giving up alcohol was much easier than this. Still, it’s all very interesting.

          Are you about ready to write your next post yet. I keep on skipping over to your blog and checking you out but I read that one. I saw the movie too – when does the t-shirt come out?

  4. Good day! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Alan,

    I loved how you used real experiences to drive home your business and marketing ideas! And did I sense some humor in the post as well? Or at least the feeling that you were happy doing your tea marketing? I think that is one of the keys. The marketer should honestly have fun selling and marketing. If there is a slight sense that the person selling is miserable and does not want to be there then sales will hurt.

    There is a local pizza place that we frequent. Honestly, I don’t like the pizza but the owners are awesome people!! So we go back over and over for beer and pizza. It shows they love what they do and they make us happy to support them.


  6. What a terrific article! It was hilarious yet still had some great marketing tips. I’m new to your blog, and already very impressed. The Celebrating Cromford festival was obviously THE place to be. Sorry I missed it, being in Canada and all, although we did give the queen a big-ass portrait of herself this year so that’s something, right?

    • Well, Melody,

      I suppose that would depend what you mean by big-ass portrait.

      You don’t mean literally I suppose…

      thanks & really pleased you liked the article,

      take care & best wishes,

  7. 50p for a cuppa? Bargain!

    On a serious note – great real life example of tangible marketing – lots to learn here.

    Thanks Alan!

    – Razwana

    • Thanks Razwana,

      I was hoping that people would see through the humor and realize that there are some really fundamental marketing lessons here.

      If not, well, I had fun anyway 😉

      take care & best wishes,

    • Nah – I even mis-spelled it in the meta-description (now that I know what that is) for the post – more fun that way.

      I don’t care if people think I can’t spell. Let the spelling Nazi’s have some fun 😉

      thanks for the comment though Sarah,

      Take care & best wishes,

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