Friday, July 10, 2009

Shuffling my feathers

What I am about to say might offend some people, and certainly most business owners dare not to voice. But today I want to stand tall and proud then bitch!

Internet is a media flood gate that's open to every one in every corner on earth or above. While it's easy for information research, it's also flooded with speculations and misleading information. This is not just in the tea world. Readers expect useful information, some just expect useful information for them at that moment, despite the basic back ground to absorb such information. In a world like this, while there is freedom of speech which everyone is entitled to, it's also personal disciplinary to take responsibility of what you put out there for others to read. I take my tea seriously, so I also expect other to say something factual if you feel my business practice does not meet their demand. Putting out a comment something like a Chao Zhou Clay stove would cost $10 in China is not considered factual. I'll buy out any quantity of Clay stoves you can find in China for $10 USD provided it's the exact same thing as what I have in offer. I'll pay the shipping too. Shipping cost is more than $10 USD to ship on a boat in itself. Who's paying for the breakage? Who is paying for the packing materials? The time to unwrap then check them one by one after arrival is about 10 minutes per set, another 5 to wrap them back in the box or put them on the shelf for display, another 30 minutes to take pictures, 30 minutes to photoshop it and post it on the web with descriptions and manage inventories on zencart. Packing for shipping takes at least 30 minutes, another 15 minutes to get the paper work and postage done, another 10 minutes to take it to the post office. On average, from an item arriving my door step to the time it is shipped at the post office, it takes at least 2 hours. On top of paying rent, utilities, labor, cost of materials, health department fee, city fee, federal license fee/tax, state board fee/tax there is paypal fee, thanks to W, webhosting fee is minimal to none, accountant fee, I get lost track of how much fee a business has to pay through out the year. No business owner will ever bill you for these things or inform you what they had to do to get a product out to you. If you think you can get something in China for $10, a business can only make $10 out of it, that's why you can't find $20 set stove in the US. We all should move to China and bargain down to $8, then live happily ever after! Coffee drinkers in the US do not realize they pay $10/lb of beans which the distributors bought for $1 or even 50 cents. That's a markup no one ever question, because it only cost $10/lb when they take it home. Do I think it's a reasonable markup? To a degree, yes. Because it cost $5 to sell the coffee, then another $1 to pack it. What the retail seller pockets is a barely $1 or $2. The advertising campaign of Coca Cola spends double digit % of their over all operation fund per year to reach consumers. While this is widely accepted method of "selling' their product, why is it that a small Dan Cong seller can't market tea via teapots? Even though it wasn't my intend to seize the business opportunity of tea pots and advertising DC by soaking your pot with it everyday, I DO drink old bush DC EVERY day! Therefore I do soak my pots with old bush DCs EVERY day! Walk with me on a math equation here, 10 pots for $40 each in a week, that's $400 big smackaroos, wow, it barely pay 3 days of my rent. If I try to seize business opportunity this way, would that be a little far from self made millionaire to be? Not to mention the time I put in answering questions and researching for answers, finding resources to meet customer needs. Don't get me wrong, I love doing it, it's ways for me to review what I know, and learn what I don't know. But all of those effort is not financially rewarding at this point is what I am pointing out. If I didn't believe in DC and the Chao Zhou tea culture with this deep level of obsession, my store would had been closed a long time ago. MANY friends and family members pleated me to shut down the store a year ago when recession hit the shore. For 3 long years, I did not have one vacation, didn't and still don't get paid and carry a 6 figure debt, if you think I am ripping my customers off, I have nothing to be sorry about, but immensely insulted. You can say I am not business savvy, yes, I can agree with you on that. I am not bitching for my own learning tuition, to me it's what it is, suck it up and make things better in the future. Perhaps one day, I can tell myself it's all worth while. Because my goal is not to make money through a business, regardless of what type. My goal is to reclaim the glory of Chinese Tea more than 300 years ago.

The fundamental law of economic is supply and demand, there is a demand for CZ pots, so I provide it. If that's considered seizing a business opportunity in a negative way, so is ipod, cell phones, crocs shoes and pretty much every commercial product in this world. If commercialization does not take part in the tea industry, no one outside of China will ever have tea today. The European would never learn of tea and smuggle seeds to India for cheap labor farming till today. None of us out side of China, or Chinese don't have a tree in their back yard will ever get to know what tea is! Tea is one of the biggest and prized commodities of the world beside salt, grain and cattle. Why it has been controlled by the government for thousands years? Why do you think it will ever change? It won't, financially too lucrative to let loose out of control. China was a monopoly player in tea, so was the East Indian Company who had its own army. Why do think tea is worth fighting for for many years in war fares? Why do you think the American politic is so bitter about tea and turned the country into a coffee drinking country. It's unrealistic to expect free flow of tea without much business influence, any product for that mater. As a consumer, the effect of tea is what you want, so it should be, and let it be. As a seller, the job is to cater to that effect and getting paid to do so. There shouldn't be any conflicts. What's the difference between buying and selling tea than buying and selling an apple fundamentally? Why such negative perception on tea sellers but not the monopolized fruit distributor in the US?

Many tea drinkers complain about why US based tea companies do not provide good tea practice, there are so many reasons to this. First of all, difference in tea culture. There isn't even a British tea culture here, let alone a proper Chinese tea practice. If so it exist, how many are supporting it as a local business? I see most of the forum people talk about tea they acquire from China 90% of the time. The believe is all the good teas are in China, US sellers only sell crap for high price. Doesn't that make a seller who genuinely want to bring in good tea from China a suicidal mission, at least a retirement fund draining business. When I looked for a location for my store 3 years ago, many Realtors turned me down because tea business don't last based on their experience, it's considered a high risk tenant. Every one is buying Chinese made goods in the US, how come no one complains about buying a pack of wooden laundry clips that's sold for $0.99 at a 99 cents store, where it costs about 1 RMB in China? We can support all the Chinese products but tea sold here in the US?! This is a mind set that will take many many years to change.

Look at our economy, we produce very little, but we sell a lot of bonds - a piece paper that worth nothing that cost buyers life time of savings!


M. Handler said...

I am grateful that there exist people like you, who face such obstacles to bring tea to my corner of the world...

Rebekah said...

Those of us on the other side of the counter do tend to take the working side for granted -- so glad you wrote this. We're very fortunate you put your passion to work for the sake of tea. Having a reliable and excellent source of dancong in this country is quite a gift. Thank you!