Entrepreneur takes Tea Garden’s brick and mortar online with Steepr


SteeprWhen Dan Kent first stepped foot into The Tea Garden on Grand Avenue in St.Paul, he saw more than a fun place to casually meet with friends and munch on chewy balls of tapioca.

At the time, this  IT consultant turned creative entrepreneur was in search of a unique opportunity and saw real potential in the tea business at large.  Within months, he had met with The Tea Garden’s owners, developed a deeper understanding of their objectives and convinced them to hear out his ideas.

“I had been looking for a traditional retail business that focused on a captive group of happy customers in a growing market,” Kent recalls. “Their products and overall experience was so interesting to me, I thought for sure they were already part of a larger national chain.”

To his surprise, the company’s footprint was still small, the ownership was tightly held, and most importantly, there was mutual interest in talking about scale. After the owners accepted his proposition (along with some of his money), he came on board as a business partner and proceeded to help open four new store locations within Minnesota as the first step in a larger plan for regional expansion.

In addition to his business expertise, money and operational input, Kent’s big picture vision was to tap into the power of the web by leveraging the assets already in place and expanding into various online sales, marketing and distribution channels. In true entrepreneurial fashion, he identified the go-to-market strategy, taught himself Ruby on Rails, and just last week, launched the initial addition to the current storefront model: Steepr — an online subscription based “tea of the month” service.

Starting at $5.99/month, Steepr customers can receive one ounce of  air sealed tea delivered doorstep on a monthly basis, which yields roughly 10 – 15 servings. “It’s a great way for the casual consumer to increase their exposure to different varieties of tea from around the world,” says Kent. For the more active drinker, the other available options include 2 oz. for $9.99/month and $14.99/month for 4 oz. split between two different varieties.

“Steepr is the classic offline/online model — we can leverage our network, knowledge and supply chain for people from just about anywhere to regularly experience really good tea and also enhance our revenues,” he affirms.

Since launch, Steepr’s online business has already picked-up 36 subscribers through word of mouth advertising and it’s expected that in store marketing will ultimately fuel more awareness and subsequent subscriber numbers.  Kent compares this angle to other online tea-tailers and has his own reasons for excitement — claiming that there is no other site which exclusively serves as a tea of the month subscription-based service and no-one has the in store experience to compliment the brand.

As Steepr evolves, Kent predicts that there will be greater customization of tea types (think caffeinated vs. decaffeinated), advanced e-commerce capabilities and other functionality that he’s “not quite ready to reveal to the world just yet.”