T2: building a global brand without losing your local roots

In an age where dipping a dusty tea bag in hot water has become a purely functional exercise for many of us, premium tea retailer, T2, shines a beacon for a better cuppa by championing the nearly lost art of the tea ceremony, but doing so in a very modern way.

Founded in Melbourne, Australia by Maryanna Shearer in 1997, T2 is now Australia’s leading tea retailer, with more than 40 stores in Australia and New Zealand.  The business was bought by Unilever in 2013 and immediately embarked on an ambitious international expansion strategy, with stores now located across London, New York and Singapore.

Retail Connections caught up with Rachel Kelly, CEO of T2, to talk immersive store experiences and global expansion plans. Rachel joined the business as CEO in 2014, having cut her teeth in the world of fashion, working at Just Group as Executive Director with Solomon Lew, who recently entered the World Retail Forum Retail Hall of Fame.

“There are many similarities in the way we run our business at T2, like a fashion retailer we bring new ranges into our stores every six weeks,” Rachel acknowledged.

Rediscovering a lost art

Extoling the luxury of loose leaf brewing, with a great sense of theatre and storytelling, a visit to a T2 store is a sensory sensation as soon as you step over the threshold.  ‘Aroma tables’ are arranged with open leaf displays, encouraging you to smell and touch the leaves, while a tea brewing bar offers free samples and demonstrations on how to make the perfect blend. At the centre of the store, the extensive ‘tea library’ offers more than 200 varieties of tea.

Total immersion

“It’s an immersive experience” explains Rachel, “but we tailor the experience to the location. In our central London stores the emphasis is on efficient transaction time. Out of town, customers may have a little more time to explore the store. We are strong proponents of MBWA – Management By Walking Around – ensuring we really connect with our customers.”

Kelly is keen to emphasise that “you can’t have an in-store immersive experience if you are not connected with your local community”.  As a growing global brand, the importance of retaining the independent feel of the original Brunswick Street store in Melbourne remains key. T2 gets actively involved in community initiatives and events where stores are located.

Exemplary customer service also lies at the heart of the brand’s values. T2 staff are trained around a LEAF approach to customer engagement – L for learn about the customer’s needs; E for explore the product range with them, matching suggestions to their needs; A for adding value, providing brewing advice, recipe and free samples; and F for Forever T2, which centres around how staff close the sale and send customers off wanting to come back for more. T2’s Tea Society loyalty programme plays a key role in extending brand engagement beyond the store.

International growth

Kelly is leading an international expansion strategy to grow the brand into new markets. With six stores currently in the UK and another six planned to open this year, T2 is also building its presence in the States and is about to open a store in Singapore. In addition, it is investigating franchise opportunities in the UAE.  “Unilever’s support has been a tremendous help to us in growing the business internationally. Having access to their global insight and market data, has saved us a lot of time in entering new markets,” she notes.

Operational investment is a significant part of this growth strategy. T2 has recently rolled out a new global digital Ecommerce platform from Demandware, implemented in conjunction with Javelin. “You have to be a digital forward company,” explains Kelly, “but while digital gives freedom, you can lose the sense of discovery”.

Rachel wants to ensure the store experience extends across platforms, so the site has been developed as a hub to provide inspiration and advice, as well as being a forum for user generated contented, where Tea Society advocates can share thoughts and ideas.

As she concludes, “whether our customer are engaging with is online or in store, we want to feel there is a sense of generosity and passion in everything we do. When people give T2 as a gift it is our best advertisement”.

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