With Gardner Street, Rashi Sanghvi wants to add an interesting twist to your daily cuppaMilan George
Flavoured with natural, therapeutic ingredients such as cinnamon, hibiscus, rose petals, lemongrass pieces, each product from the house of Gardner Street ensures taste and health.
For Rashi Sanghvi, 28, sipping a hot cup of tea represents a moment of stability in the chaos of life. That moment of calm gives her the energy and the confidence to take the next big leap. This is what she wants her customers to experience, who buy her experimental tea brand — Gardner Street.
Rashi’s specialty tea brand focuses on offering a variety of high-quality whole leaf green and herbal teas. Gardner Street had a soft launch in 2015 and was re-launched with a revamped website in February 2017.
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Rashi knew that starting her own business was her true calling. She graduated from HR College, Mumbai, and holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from Babson College, Boston.
Growing up, Rashi thought of tea merely as chai. But her stay in Boston changed her perceptions towards the humble tea. She stumbled upon the various varieties and possibilities tea presented while looking for something healthy to keep herself warm in the chilly winters.
"This process of discovery coincided with a trip to Turkey and while wandering through the spice markets of Istanbul I knew that this was it,” shares Rashi.
Armed with the desire to show people the experimental side of tea and after gaining some experience working with a New-York-based tea company, she returned to India to exploit this growing opportunity.
Window of opportunity
India is the second largest producer of tea, but most of the higher-grade tea leaves are exported with just poor-quality tea dust and fannings left behind. According to an article published in AdAgeindia, “The green tea market is growing at an astronomical 50-60 percent Y-o-Y with a growing preference for flavoured green teas.”
While doing the groundwork, Rashi found that an increasing number of health-conscious Indians were switching to green tea.
But they were doing so half-heartedly. The low quality of tea available in bleached and opaque paper teabags often resulted in an insipid liquid that people were consuming in the name of "green tea". Not only is the tea plain and bitter but is also low in antioxidants and other health benefits.
Rashi saw a window of opportunity and launched Gardner Street with the idea of building an experimental tea brand that obsessively focuses on sourcing only the best quality tea leaves from the most premium estates and blends them with carefully chose real fruits, flowers, and herbs. All the varieties of tea are completely natural and contain no artificial colours or flavours.
Rashi chose her hometown Mumbai as the base for her business operations. "Green tea as a category while growing exponentially was still a very urban phenomenon and Mumbai being a melting pot is also a place that tends to try and adopt new things faster,” she adds.
A class apart
"While there are other players in the market such as Tea Cultures of the World and TeaBox, none of them are focussed on offering green and herbal tea blends with a very specific focus on taste and health,” says Rashi.
Gardner street was among the first players to launch pyramid teabags. The unique shape and the use of silken tea bags not only allows the consumer to see the ingredients in the blend but also lets the whole-tea leaves to unfurl and release all the hidden flavours and nutrients in the brew without the use of any chemical paper or staple pins.
While the possibilities with tea are endless, Gardner street primarily focuses on developing green and herbal tea blends that standout on two fronts – taste and health."We make sure that all our tea blends have a distinct taste that lingers on your palate and the quality of the tea we use ensures that there is no jarring bitterness. Often enough, when customers first taste our teas they can’t believe that they are green teas,” says Rashi.
The Gardner Street range includes Signature Collection; Berry Good, Chinese Whispers, Flower Power, Lemon Aid, Moroccan Mint, Wellness Collection; Detox, Heal, Glow, Light, Luxury Collection; Kashmiri Kahwa, Lavender Love, South African Rooibos and Assorted sets along with a specialised gifting collection.
Business development and branding
"Most of our branding and business development happens via word-of-mouth, social media, and events. Complementary brand collaborations are another tool we use extensively,” says Rashi. "Collaborations with brands such as The Label Life, My Envy Box, and Snackible have had an extremely positive impact on the brand awareness front,” she adds.
A young and dynamic business development team approaches institutional customers and retail stores across cities for collaborations. The launch of their e-commerce website last year played a huge role in expanding their reach and increasing their brand awareness.
The price range of the products start from Rs.450/tin - Rs.550/tin and the gift collection starts at Rs.550 and goes up to Rs.1900.
Gardner Street has done approximately 1200 transactions on their portal and processed a similar number from their other e-commerce partners.
E-commerce, from their website and other portals, makes up about 40 percent of the sales volume with a balance of 40 percent from gifting and 20 percent offline sales via retail stores and events.
Taking cognisance of the huge role social media plays in this space, Gardner Street has a dedicated in-house social media team. "Keeping the target audience in mind, we keep our content vibrant, fresh, and relevant," says Rashi.
Given the importance of visual imagery, Rashi and her team have put a lot of thought into the packaging of each product from Gardner Street so that it stands out on the crowded tea aisles.
"This visual imagery has been extremely helpful while promoting our brand via Instagram,” she says.
Gardner Street has also collaborated with many social media influencers to spread the word and create brand awareness.
The story thus far
The specialty tea market is a considerably large pie and is getting bigger every single year. Gardner Street has managed to create a niche for itself as an experimental green and herbal tea brand that is adding a twist to this beverage.
The majority of the orders come from the metros. A lot of traffic is also seen from tier-2 and tier-3 cities such as Belgaum, Lucknow and even Shillong. "In terms of brick-and-mortar retail, we are present in gourmet food stores, including a Westside in Mumbai, Pune, and Surat and are receiving inquiries from many other cities as well,” says Rashi.
It has also been receiving a lot of traction in the gifting sector with health-conscious and responsible corporates such as MPower tying up with Gardner Street for gifting.
"We are constantly receiving positive feedback from our clients. Thanks to our offerings, they can now see teas and specifically green teas in a new light. Our wellness range is helping a lot of our customers resolve lifestyle-related ailments such as digestion and skin trouble,” says Rashi.
The company is currently bootstrapped but will be looking to raise funds in the near future as Rashi plans to expand the product line and geographic presence.
The way forward
"In a growing business like ours, we face challenges every single day. From sourcing and manoeuvring my way around minimum order quantities to convincing retailers to stock our product to dealing with some tough negotiators, there is no dearth of tough moments,” says Rashi.
But Rashi is not the one to be bogged down when the going gets tough.She believes that grit and multitasking are the two most important things for an entrepreneur to survive and come out on top.
“Women and particularly Indian women have been using these two qualities to survive over the years and are now applying this to their businesses as well,” quips Rashi.
Establishing a pan-India presence for her brand, Gardner Street is next on her radar. She is also expanding the brand to include more product lines and ramping up the marketing efforts to make sure that teas from Gardner Street are on the shopping list of every household that is conscious about the products they consume on a daily basis.
On a parting note, Rashi says, "Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey; hence, always be on the lookout for someone who can mentor you. Also, when facing tough times, instead of getting discouraged, use it as an opportunity to take a step back and re-think how you can pivot to make it work."