Members of Tea Runners tend to get pretty excited when their – in the words of founder Charlie Ritchie – “monthly care packages” arrive.
You can get a sense of that excitement from reading Tea Runners’ online reviews. This one, for example, is typical of the Tea Runner experience: “LOVE my subscription to Tea Runners! It’s a fun gift to myself each month. I very much enjoy all the teas! Perfect gift for the gourmet tea fan. LOVE the packaging too.”And these connoisseurs might never have sampled that Imperial Darjeeling Reserve or that Famous Six Mountains Pu-erh were it not for a change in Charlie’s constitution.
“I used to love coffee,” he explains. “Drinking coffee used to be my favourite time of the day. But then it started making me feel terrible. Between 9 am and 12 pm I’d feel great, and after that, I’d feel awful.”
After making the switch to tea, Charlie discovered the exotic, refined, and eclectic world of premium loose-leaf varieties. Having already run an e-commerce subscription company in the past, he knew he liked that way of doing business. And now he had a product that he knew would work exceptionally well.
“Tea Runners is a discovery service,” explains Charlie. “The reason people sign up for a monthly subscription with us is because they’ll experience award-winning and hard-to-find teas that mainstream grocery stores won’t stock.”
The physical lightness of the product also appealed to Ritchie and his co-founder (and life partner) Jewel Staite. They knew if they could send the subscription boxes without technically using boxes at all, they would save a tremendous amount on shipping.
The challenge, then, was to find a unique packaging solution. Enter Great Little Box Company (GLBC).
“I don’t remember how I first connected with GLBC, but I’m glad I did,” says Charlie. “GLBC has been exceptionally patient in helping us to create our subscription packaging.”
Ultimately, the solution Tea Runners and GLBC landed on was something that Charlie describes as an “origami envelope”. The packages are corrugated that fold together like an envelope would, measuring just two centimeters in width, it qualifies for Canada Post’s Lettermail rates which are substantially cheaper than parcel mail. However, it’s still robust enough to protect the teas, and opening it up is an elegant, unique experience.
“It’s like opening up a present each month,” he says. “There’s tissue paper, branded labels, and you open up each tea pouch, one at a time.”
What Tea Runners members find inside of those pouches can depend on their personal tastes. Charlie explains, “Long time customers can start to customize their orders instead of just getting what everybody else is getting. You start to recognize what you like and don’t like, and you can switch out certain teas for others.”
After having operated Tea Runners for a few years now, Charlie fortunately still loves tea. “Running the company takes all my time and all day long I’m solving problems. We’re always searching for new customers and online advertising is more expensive than ever. Logistics are tricky when you’re sending out 14 teas each month. But I still enjoy putting those packages together.”
And Charlie still enjoys sipping a uniquely flavoured brew, especially a high-end Darjeeling tea. He especially savours the thought of contributing to a stronger “tea culture”, whereby more coffee drinkers make the switch to a healthier tea habit. He explains that the body absorbs the caffeine from tea more slowly than it does from coffee. Hence, he has more energy to run his company without feeling that noontime slump.
We love what Charlie and Jewel are doing for lovers of fine and rare teas. We’re looking forward to creating their next work of packaging art together!