Brewing Up: North Tea Power & Franchise Opportunists

Can a tea shop retail brand go national? Could there ever be tea alternative to Starbucks/ Caffè Nero?

During my time in Dubai I covered Unilever’s attempt to create a retail presence for its Lipton brand (market leader in the Middle East). They spent a good chunk of change opening a Lipton T-Junction outlet in Emirates Towers in 2003 with plans for 56 stores (a strange number?) in the region within four years. I left in 2008 and don’t recall seeing too many others. Plenty of new coffee shops opened during the same period.

No matter, maybe the objective is to create a destination for tea drinkers rather than close down coffee retailers.

North Tea Power on Tib Street (pictured) has been seeing some decent reviews. As of today, its busy Twitter feed has 440 followers (the more established Teacup on Thomas Street has 340, if that matters to you). I’ve been a couple of times and enjoyed mint tea and a flapjack; one visitor has asked if NTP can open a Chorlton branch.

Is it capable of going city-wide, national or international?

The key, for retail franchises, is systems. Can the business processes be easily replicated over countless locations, and can they be done profitably? They would want to ensure the customer experience is similar in Chorlton or Cheltenham; that there are recognised brand touchpoints; that the quality of produce was standard.

NTP (and Teacup) may not give two hoots about world domination. I suspect they don’t, at least not on Starbucks’ terms. City coverage, in the same vein as Odd/Odder/Oddest, seems likelier.

Part of the appeal is the independent, non-franchise feel (as a hand-knitted woollen is to a factory-produced sweat). Their market is the (small but significant) space occupied by people who prefer not to shop at Starbucks and McDonalds.

But this trick will be closely watched by branding experts, keen to replicate the feel of the independent with the systems of the franchise. Canteen in London makes a pretty good fist of it in the ‘British casual dining’ segment; expect a tea shop equivalent, complete with Fiest soundtrack and reclaimed school dining tables, on Market Street before too long.

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