Innovative Retailer – T2
The Name: T2.
The Place: It’s Australia-based (with 60 stores in the country) but well and truly over here now. Six outlets in the capital from old money Chelsea to new money Shoreditch and opening fresh outlets like topsy. It’s all so exhausting I need to put the kettle on for a nice cup of tea.
The Story: Who doesn’t love a cup of tea, healing, soothing, and full of the swirling fragrant mysteries of the East.
That’s right. A nice steaming brew with a digestive dunked in. The anti-oxidants, the tannins, the theatre of measuring, steeping, straining and pouring.
That’s right. Teabag in, teabag out. The names alone are a catalogue of sensual Asian pleasures from Ayurvedic chai to Dong Ding Oolong.
That’s right. PG Tips, Typhoo. Yes, I’m not entirely sure we are talking about the same product are we?
I’ll have you know that I am an absolute connoisseur of tea. No, you are in T2 terms the uneducated – a user of weak teabags to make endless milk-filled, sugary drinks that bear no resemblance to the delicate infusions on offer at a T2 store.
How very dare you! But this is fine because T2 does actually sell 12 sorts of teabag to cater for those addicted to dunking the bag.
Ah you see. In the hope that they can educate your palate towards a more adult appreciation of the beverage. International retail director Darren Williams is a former employee of Hotel Chocolat and likens T2’s mission as very similar.
Kindly explain. Well, in the same way Hotel Chocolat has tasting notes for chocolate so you can really define your personal preferences T2 will help you determine which tea types work for you.
The hot and wet sort. I’m sure, but as with wine or beer, you might talk about upper notes, depths of flavour, or hints of this and that etc…
Do English people really want this though? Obviously T2 believe so. They sell 200 sorts of tea and presumably as a nation with an already enormous capacity for tea drinking they believe they can encourage enough of us to invest in a proper tea making set and loose leaf tea to use alongside (or ideally instead of) the PG Tips bags.
Haven’t most of us got a teapot? Yes, and we don’t use them. So enter the fray – the T2 tea-maker. It’s a piece of glass engineering that more resembles a cafetiere, which is really selling the benefits of loose leaf tea. With it you are able to re-brew some teas and it takes away the need for strainers. It makes tea as cool as coffee.
So what happens when I venture in store with my beginners head on? The stores are around 2,000 square feet although smaller units are also being trialled and there is talk from Williams that units in railway stations are also on the cards. And the staff will give you three minutes of retail theatre as they brew up any tea you wish to try.
Ooh, try before you buy. The tasting bar is a great draw for customers. Educational, normalises all the paraphernalia you can use to brew tea, and the staff will give you the low down on the ten sub-sections of tea which includes white, green, yellow, oolong, herbal and floral, and the little known Pu-erh. As Williams says: “We encourage people to hang out with the crew. Each store aims to convert customers to a purchase but it’s all about hanging out. We’re generally just happy to make tea.” Just don’t mention the c word.
Err? Coffee. Employees are not allowed to bring coffee anywhere near the office. It’s a coffee-free zone. That beverage gets quite enough attention already thank-you.
Fair enough. So, it’s this old provenance and ‘story behind the product’ thing again isn’t it? Correct. The boxed packaging of the tea makes the product range look slightly like a library (think the chocolate library in Selfridges for a similar idea) with the core lines branded in orange boxes.
Who’s buying? There’s a loyalty club ‘The Tea Society’ which consists of regular buyers in three tiers (tea society, high tea society, secret tea society – NB. you need to spend more than £1,000 to get to this level). Perks and freebies will be coming your way if you join up to this. If you calculate that the company thinks it will open 50 units in the UK over the next few years then you can see how many loyal customers they are hoping to attract.
I can’t believe it started in Australia. Yes, the irony of Australians teaching us how to drink tea. But don’t forget that they got us drinking cold lager and we invented beer, so they have form.
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