Jules Quinn started up her own business whilst still at University, studying a Fashion degree at Northumbria. Working on a placement in London, it was during a tea-run that Jules spotted a gap in the drinks market, and decided to launch her own design-led tea company. Jules combined a passion for tea with her creative and business skills to ensure that The TeaShed was already up and running by the time she graduated in 2011. Jules tells us why “being at university is the best time to start a business”, and gives us some entrepreneurial tips on how to become your own boss (and love your job too).
There’s a seemingly large distinction between the fashion and tea industries, what persuaded you to leave one and join the other?
Although I did a fashion degree at Northumbria, we learned so much more than just this. We looked at other industries such as food and how even these can have trends, just as fashion does and we learnt a lot about business too. My fashion/design background has actually really helped me. While I have worked with experts in tea to assist me with TeaShed, I approach tea from a design background so I have brought something different which is part of what I think has made this venture so successful. It also means I don’t have to pay design agencies; I can do much of what we require myself.
At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to be your own boss?
I decided this before I even went to university. I have never wanted to have “a job”, not even as a teenager, it was just never even a consideration for me. I knew from a young age that it was just about finding the right business for me and I knew that that time would come.
How do you best motivate/push yourself to achieve the most out of a working day?
I am always at my desk by 9am. It is quite easy when you are working for yourself to slip into bad habits, so I am very strict with myself and I always work really hard to make the most of my day. I think this is also really good advice for students, particularly those in the final years of uni. Treating your week as a working week can help you focus and prepare you for the future.
How have you managed to market your tea so that it appeals to both small-scale independent buyers and nationwide chain stores?
We definitely appeal more to independent buyers, mainly because we are small and care about the personal touches. However, John Lewis is particularly keen on supporting new companies and they liked the story behind the TeaShed. If you get an offer from a big chain you have to take it as this is where the volume comes from, but for us, it’s great to have smaller buyers too who really push who we are and what we’re about. I think it’s good to have bit of both.
What is it about the North East that makes it your primary base? Would you be inclined to move to somewhere like London?
Although originally from Leeds, I have lived in Newcastle for the last 10-11 years, it’s my home and it is where I wanted to be based from. I have a good network of people here and everyone looks out for one another which has made it a great place to start a business. I’m actually in London for the next few weeks as there are lots of events in the lead up to Christmas which are ideal for TeaShed but I don’t think I would move from my North East base – it is of course also much cheaper up north.
With the tea market becoming ever more popular and diverse (particularly crazes such as “fittea”), how do you stay competitive and unique?
We always try and look at different packaging to make sure we stand out from other brands. We also have a really great gifting range which is different to other brands, such as Clipper or Teapigs, because they don’t offer this. Twinings have their traditional tea tin but we try to give the market something fresh and more contemporary. We also host a lot of events, afternoon tea parties and pop-up events which is a great way to spread the TeaShed name and we have a lot of fun at the same time.
For the time being, are there any other projects that you’re keen to go into as an entrepreneur?
Yes, we actually have a new product launching next week – “PopaBall”. They are little bursting bubbles which you pop into your drink, such as squash, juice or even champagne. They burst in your mouth as you drink releasing a shot of flavour. We are first launching with strawberry, blueberry, passion fruit, lychee and green apple. They are also brilliant in cocktails!
It’s been four years since that placement, where do you see yourself and The TeaShed in another four?
We are definitely hoping to grow globally. We have launched in Japan and the brand is going really well there so now it’s about getting into other countries where tea is a good seller. It’s not just about selling in the UK, it’s about expanding, and worldwide distribution is perfectly achievable so we have big plans. On a smaller scale, we have also just opened a TeaShed Deli at Northumbria University and would like to roll this out in other universities as soon as possible. My ideal situation would be to be like the Starbucks of the tea world, but of course that involves a lot of financial backing!
What would be your best piece of advice for any students wanting to start up their own business whilst still at University?
I think being at university is the best time to start a business – although it may not always seem it, you have time in which to do so. Most students are already living on quite minimal amounts of money anyway and there are grants out there to help people start a business. As a student, you aren’t giving anything up, other than free time, because you haven’t yet started your career so there is less risk involved. My advice is to go for it, this is the perfect time so explore different ideas but ensure you keep your overheads low and are careful on how and what you spend your money. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
What’s the most valuable lesson that University taught you?
To believe in yourself. With university, there is a structure and guidelines which, of course, in order to obtain your degree you must follow these. But they are not always right / applicable in the real world and you still have to have belief in yourself and your ideas. So I think I learned that getting a degree and “ticking those boxes” is important, but believing in your own ideas no matter what anyone else tells you is also essential.
Discount Code: STUDENT TEA TIME