Overheard at The Tea Mavens: Wholesalers, You're Put on Notice!

The other day, I got an email from a client who's new to the tea business, and what that client had to say will either shock you or come to you as no surprise at all.

The client and I are in the process of setting up a new online tea company and are currently in the midst of tea and tea vendor selection. Having sent over my top recommended tea vendors in the U.S. (along with their areas of specialization) and a list of teas for the brand we're developing, you'd think that it would be easy for the client to select teas, right?

It isn't. And that's not the client's fault! As I explained to the client, according to the many tea retailers I've worked with and interviewed over the years, even the best tea wholesalers in the U.S. tend to be, well, difficult to work with at best, and bordering on incompetency at worst.

Here are some of the issues that this particular client encountered in ordering samples to cup:

Supplier A - "This morning, after three weeks and much back and forth, I am finally able to log in. Purchasing is another matter because they want me to send my credit card information by email which is certainly not safe."

Supplier B - "Have not been able to log into this site. My software protection thru McAfee has consistently returned a message that the site in not safe and blocks access.  I can override but since this is not a common occurrence, I am reluctant to do so."

Supplier C - "... has no visible wholesale operation. I'm sure it is there but I can't find it [due to poor web design].  Awaiting a response to several emails and calls."

Supplier D - "I ordered 29 samples of which 13 are not available due to stocking.  Still waiting for word as to when they may become available. Yesterday, I talked with them and they have no idea when the stocks will come in. This makes me a little or a lot nervous. You mentioned they have issues sometimes."

Supplier E - "Still awaiting approval to order." [This is more than two weeks after the client initially requested approval for a wholesale account. All of the client's business structures are in place, so this is not an issue of Joe Schmoe wanting free samples here—it's a legitimate business making a legitimate request.]

Supplier F - "Still awaiting approval to order."

Supplier G - "Still awaiting approval to order." [Are we noticing a trend here?]

Supplier H - "Still trying to order and awaiting ability to do so." [This is after numerous emails, calls and login attempts. In several cases, the client was approved for a wholesale account, but the login information only worked for a limited time or never worked at all, requiring multiple resets.]

Supplier I - "Same problem with wholesale but have ordered retail."

That's nine tea wholesalers who have pretty much completely failed this potential wholesale customer so far. To be fair, two suppliers were able to quickly and effectively provide samples and pricing. However, that's less than 20% of the most known and BEST tea vendors in the U.S. The overall rates are even worse for customer service fails like these.

The client went on to write, "Many of the [recommended companies'] websites are so poorly constructed that I can't find the suggested tea and resort to another source." Usually, the alternate source is a random small vendor that buys from a wholesaler who buys from a wholesaler who buys from a wholesaler who buys from an importer who buys from a wholesaler who buys from a producer, meaning that the markup is astounding and the price is unrelated to the quality level. The reason they stand out is that they have decent SEO, a basic "wholesale" section on their site and a navigable website that actually allows the client to place and order. So, although I certainly don't recommend them as a source, if I weren't around to course-correct with the client, they'd most likely win the customer (and, potentially, tens of thousands of dollars in ongoing wholesale orders).

The client went on to write:

This is a very short list of the many problems I have encountered following the recommendations. Very frequently I will be accepted to purchase but when I try they have no record of me and I start the process over again.  With some of these vendors I have been working for weeks to be able to sign in and order.  I have talked with representatives by phone and have engaged in countless email conversations.  
As I said earlier, these are a small number of the problems I encounter every day trying to get tea to taste...

Are you shocked by how awful this sounds? After all, the client is literally contacting these companies to become a large-volume customer on an ongoing basis. Wouldn't you think that wholesalers would make the process a little easier?

If you're a tea retailer, you probably aren't shocked at all. You're probably used to it. You might even feel vindicated reading this.

If you're a tea wholesaler, you're officially put on notice. Your wholesale clients (and potential wholesale clients) are sick of putting up with your terrible websites with their poor navigation, their lack of searchability, their circa-2001 designs, their lack of information / clarity, and their safety and technical glitches. They're tired of not being able to find the tea they want (even if you carry it). They're beyond irked about waiting for weeks to get approved for a wholesale account only to face login issues once they get approved. They're more than a little nervous that you don't have enough tea to send over samples (let alone actual wholesale orders) upon request. They're disgusted by the lack of safety of their financial information (i.e., overall website security issues and a request to EMAIL credit card information), and they believe that is shows a total lack of concern for them as potential clients. And, as a result, they're increasingly turning to those select few tea wholesalers who have actually got their acts together.

Do you know for a fact that your tea wholesale operation is one of the golden few? If you doubt it for even a moment, then send out a customer satisfaction survey asking customers and potential customers how you can improve. You might be shocked at what you're missing in your operations and your business structures!

And if you're pretty sure you're NOT one of the crème de la crème of tea wholesalers, then it's time for you to make some major changes, pronto. I'm saying this from a place of fierce compassion and the firm knowledge that you CAN do better: Every day you wait means more customers lost to the tea vendors who have their website, infrastructure and customer service working smoothly and well. The tea industry as a whole can do better. And it all starts with you, whether you're a producer, a blender, an importer / exporter, a wholesaler or a retailer. So get started today, especially if you're a tea wholesaler who has been calling it in lately!

Wholesalers, check out our consulting services and book a free call to talk with me about how we can work together to make your tea wholesale business one that retailers actually WANT to work with. 'Cause scraping by with the bare minimum in the tea business is simply not acceptable for wholesale customers anymore!