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Tea Total's ultimate retail store

The majority of Tea Total’s business these days is in wholesaling. This makes the new concept space in front of the factory in Mairangi Bay more of a delicious indulgence than a necessity – just like an exotic herbal tea. Sarah Dunn visited to find out what one retailer's dream storefront looks like.

By Sarah Dunn | August 27, 2015 | News

Founder and managing director Anna Salek says the new space is part of Tea Total’s celebrations for its 20th year in business. Having always wanted a tasting room, she has made sure the concept space is designed in a way that eliminates traditional inefficiencies.

In her first experience of a specialist tea shop, the teas were kept behind the counter in bulky tins. When Salek asked to smell them, they had to be carefully lifted down and unscrewed by staff. 

Instead of jars, Tea Total’s space contains 150 small displays which each house a tiny shot glass of tea. Each shot fits into a cut-out slot in a vintage book and is covered by a bigger glass to make a bell jar-style arrangement. Salek says the original idea behind the larger glasses was simply to isolate the fragrance of the teas from one another, but she found the glasses captured the scent very effectively. Every tea in Tea Total’s range is represented.

Salek says the display deliberately reduces the interaction between store assistants and customers so that shoppers can experience the teas by themselves.

“I like the idea that people can come here and buy and not be sold to,” she says. “It’s self-service, in a way.”

She hopes the low-pressure environment will ultimately lead to a deeper relationship with the brand and ongoing sales.

Tea Total managing director Anna Salek leads a tea tasting session.

Salek started Tea Total in New Zealand 1995. In its first incarnation a year prior, she sold blends at the Rocks Market in Sydney as a fun weekend hobby while working as a sports masseuse.

When Salek moved the business over to New Zealand, there were no specialist tea shops. The first store in Mission Bay was not a success, but as Salek puts it, the business was “too early, and in the wrong location”. A shift to Mt Eden was just what Tea Total needed, and its popularity prompted a further shift to larger premises in Milford.

The last of Tea Total’s café-style businesses was sold 14 years ago. Salek says the business was wholesaling right from the beginning in Mission Bay, and this side of the business had gradually taken over. 

The new concept space represents a spare room left over after Tea Total moved into its new factory in July. Wholesale operations take up the rest of the sizeable building, with offices for Tea Total’s 11 staff, a packing room and facilities for storing and dispatching tea all contained. Salek says she’s thrilled to see the effect that the sharp new space has had on staff – “They’re different, they all like working in a nice place. The level of enthusiasm has totally changed.”

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