Katherine Maxwell opened Blue Mountain Tea Company in December 2015, and has run full-‘steep’ ahead ever since.
“I love coming to work every single day,” said Maxwell, in a recent interview with CollingwoodToday.
“I think tea is what coffee was 10 years ago. I have more and more people coming to me saying they’re switching to tea. Tea is for relaxation, whereas coffee isn’t. There’s a different energy with tea. The world is a stressful place right now. Tea gives you comfort.”
Maxwell travelled with her stepdaughter to Banff, Alta in March 2015. When they stepped foot inside Banff Tea Co., Maxwell felt a shift inside her.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and I started coming up with a business plan,” said Maxwell. “(My stepdaughter) was the tea person... she would go to stores like David’s Tea and Teavana. I looked at the business aspect and saw this was a business that was really blowing up.”
“This town (Collingwood) was also really blowing up at the time,” she added.
Maxwell says that in 2015, she was in a corporate job and was starting to burn out from constant travel.
“I thought, I could do this. So I did more research and decided to dive in,” said Maxwell. “The more I learned about tea, the more I fell in love with tea. I’ll never stop learning about tea.”
Maxwell says she got the keys for 66 Hurontario Street in November 2015 and managed to open early in December.
“I’m so lucky I had really good, creative people help me. It helped knowing people in this town who could come do my plumbing, my electrical, and helping to get everything done. We worked our tails off,” said Maxwell.
Maxwell says when the store opened, she had about 40 teas in stock. Now, she has about 160. Maxwell decides which teas she’s going to stock based on a variety of factors.
“For me, it has to be teas you’re not going to find in the (Greater Toronto Area),” she said. “I don’t want people to walk in here and think they could have bought it (elsewhere). I also wanted to find as much as possible that was organic and fair trade.”
“I wanted clean, ethically sourced, well-blended teas that tasted the way they smelled,” said Maxwell.
Maxwell’s store also does custom blends with herbs, as she’s an herbalist in training. She says she’s had naturopaths send people in with suggestions and she can blend on the spot for them.
“We don’t prescribe, but if people come in and say (for example), ‘I have a headache,’ I can suggest teas with lavender or lemon balm, which are herbs that are known to help with that,” said Maxwell.
“People come here a lot looking for healing. We’re part bartender, part wellness spot,” she said, with a laugh.
Maxwell says her top selling tea is Cream of Earl Grey.
“It’s funny, because there’s a ton of Cream of Earl Greys out there... but mine is so good!” said Maxwell. “The flavours are just awesome.”
Looking back, Maxwell says one of the surprising lessons she learned in running her own business is the amount of operational work that goes on.
“The ordering, figuring out what inventory system to use, the payment system, figuring out your accounting system... I’ve been doing all that myself. I would have loved to have someone telling me... to be prepared for the amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into running a small business,” she said.
Looking forward, Maxwell says she’d like to expand the online portion of her business.
“For me, three years down the road I’d like to have a thriving online business,” she said. “Some of our business comes from tourists who come to our store, love our tea and go home and (want to re-order). I’m going for a Digital Main Street grant and am working hard at getting ourselves positioned to be a place of destination for online as well as offline.”
For more information on Blue Mountain Tea Company, click here.