"We are hoping to soon come up with our own tea salons": Atulit Chokhani

In an exclusive conversation with Atulit Chokhani, Founder, The Tea Shelf sheds light on emerging avenues in online tea retailing in India.

How did The Tea Shelf start? What was the inspiration behind launching the same also shed light on your journey so far?

Belonging to a family with a 150-year-old history in the tea business that includes tea plantations, tea engineering, and tea packaging and exports, I always had the hunch to explore more of the tea industry. With my love for good tea and a passion to share this love of fresh premium teas with co-tea drinkers worldwide, stepping into the digital space came as the next natural step. Supported and backed by my wife, Srinidhi Chokhani, an avid tea lover herself, the concept of an online tea store, The Tea Shelf, came to fruition in January 2015.

Since its launch, The Tea Shelf has sold 500 Thousand cups, showcasing 109 varieties of exquisite teas, and reaching customers in USA, Netherlands, Guatemala, UK, Germany, Singapore, Australia, amongst others.

Kindly shed light upon your distribution? Do you also plan to come in offline space by launching the offline store?

We are catering to tea drinkers worldwide through our online tea store, www.theteashelf.com. Apart from our own website, we are retailing through a number of online marketplaces who have shown interest in listing our tea range. We have selectively chosen our retail partners, instead of going ahead with showcasing our teas on every market platform. We do have some exciting offerings coming up in the offline space and will share details soon. For now though, our teas can be found in a boutique store in Chennai called A Tailor’s Tale.

Indian tea market is getting flooded with organic and premium brands. So, what is your USP? How do you set apart yourself to these brands?

We have valuable experience in all areas concerning tea, with four tea estates in Upper Assam, a tea engineering unit to manufacture tea machinery, a state of the art blending and packaging unit in Kolkata, and bulk tea wholesaling for the domestic and export market. We love tea; we know tea- its every kind. We have tea experts and tea tasters on our team with vast experiences with tea and their participation is instrumental in bringing you the best!

Our strong Tea background puts us at a step ahead, be it while sourcing garden fresh teas from the finest tea estates in India or curating in-house, exotic, hand-blended teas with a creative mix of natural infusions and quality teas.

 Who do you see as your competition within same space?

Tea drinking is our culture, hence we don’t see other brands as a competition, but only as a fellow tea lover who is as passionate to share a good cup as we are. Every brand is here to stay and we welcome more fresh drinking brands in this space.

Kindly shed light on your product categories? Also, mention your best performing range? Going forward, what are the plans for category expansion?

Our product categories span a range of garden fresh teas, curated Tea Gift boxes and Tea accessories. The tea range includes Black, Green, Oolong and White Teas along with handpicked single estate teas, as well as handcrafted flavored teas. While our range of teas is on a constant rise, we are soon going to add products to expand the tea accessories category.

Tea as a product has picked up as a unique gifting option; hence our gift boxes attract a lot of wedding and corporate orders. Amongst the tea varieties, Green Teas and our flavored blends are very popular. The Chamomile Mint and Lavender Rosemary Tea amongst the flavored ones and the Virgin Green Tea are some of the favorites.

How do you manage your order returns? Also, tea is a very fragile item how do you ensure last mile delivery?

Each of our products goes through thorough quality checks. We take immense care while packaging order to ensure that fresh tea reaches our customers in the most convenient way. We have partnered with global logistics partners to cater to customers worldwide. We can proudly say that till date none of our orders have been returned.

What kind of marketing initiatives have you taken to create brand awareness?

Social media obviously has become a key to reach out to a larger audience, but it has to be used as an interactive tool. We constantly run social media campaigns designed to engage the audience. Last Christmas we got our followers to share their Christmas pictures as part of our “Christmas Giveaway Gifts” contest. We received an overwhelming response. Apart from social media, we have had the opportunity to be featured in a number of publications. .We have a team of experts from the field of marketing and communications assisting us while we brainstorm newer markets in the space. Till now we were testing grounds with off-ground events, b2b events where we met some exceptional people from the same field. This year is very exciting for us as a brand as we have some really interesting things lined up for 2018.

What are the major challenges as far as online tea retailing is concerned?

One of the challenges and this may apply to other products being retailed online as well, is that buyers are speculative about buying without seeing. You will see that each of our teas is featured with a vivid description, yet the aesthetics of physically experiencing the leaves cannot be matched. Also, reaching out to the target audience in an online retail model can be a challenge initially.

At last, kindly highlight your growth plans?

 We are definitely looking at serving a larger number of tea drinkers worldwide. We want to make tea drinking an experience. We are hoping to soon come up with our own tea salons where every tea is experienced as a coveted drink. Like I mentioned earlier, we are looking forward to a great 2018!



Atulit Chokhani