In this exclusive Q&A, we get to learn about The Spice & Tea Exchange from its CEO Amy Freeman and COO Penny Rehling.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Tell us more about The Spice & Tea Exchange.
Penny Rehling (PR): The Spice & Tea Exchange is an experience-based store with a mission of encouraging a more flavorful life for our guests. We offer more than 140 spices, 85 exclusive hand-mixed blends, over 30 exotic teas, naturally-flavored sugars, salts from around the world, and gourmet gifts and accessories. With over 50 locations nationwide, we are a rapidly-growing grassroots company that is continually evolving.
FC: Tell us how the concept was founded.
Amy Freeman (AF): When my sister Lisa (a current franchise owner) and I visited St. Augustine back in 2007 for a girls birthday weekend, we stepped into a local spice and tea retailer and I immediately fell in love. I knew the concept had potential and I had a vision on how to expand it. That same day, I spoke with the owners about the potential I saw in their business, and soon after, The Spice & Tea Exchange brand was born.
FC: How did you decide to get involved in franchising?
AF: Franchising always felt like the best way to expand this concept on the scale we envisioned. We wanted to grow the system through local operators who really understood their communities and tourist culture, and knew that franchise partnerships were the way to achieve this type of local relationship.
FC: We understand the company has reached several milestones over the past year – can you elaborate?
PR: Amy and I took on our new leadership roles of CEO and COO last June. Since then, we began focusing our strategies on data and metrics like never before. We have a strong executive team in place, phenomenal mentors, and an amazing team that has worked diligently for improvement in the midst of and since this transition.
In addition to our new executive roles, we opened our milestone 50th location in Idaho Springs, Colorado this past year, made the Entrepreneur Franchise 500 list of leading franchise companies, as well as the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing private companies – all exciting milestones for us to reach!
FC: What trends have you been observing in the specialty retail space that have impacted your business?
AF: As we know, global spices and teas are on fire right now. We’ve found an amazing connection with consumers, especially millennials, as it pertains to teas and custom blends. The millennial generation is adventurous in its cooking and taste palate, a trend as evidenced by what we’re seeing in the craft brew industry. This generation is also supportive of buying local, giving our specialized stores an advantage in this arena.
Millennials are 1/4 of our entire population, contributing over $200 billion in annual buying power, so there’s a ton of potential when you can capture this audience.
Fortunately for us, many of our corporate team members and some of our newer store owners are millennials. Tapping into their insight and hearing their input is an invaluable resource.
We’ve even introduced new products geared towards the younger generations. Introducing products that make drinking loose tea easier for millennials, such as The Urban Tumbler, which allows you to drink loose tea on the go, hot or cold, has been great for our stores.
In addition to being avid tea lovers, this generation is extremely health conscious, so our ability to offer the finest and freshest product varieties has been a huge draw for our brand.
Also worth mentioning is our rise in interest by Generation Z. With an increase in cooking reality shows, such as The Food Network’s Junior Chopped and Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook Off, we have seen increases in certain categories, such as natural sugars for baking and interest in 6 different types of paprika.
Consumers are definitely becoming more bold and daring with their cooking styles, and we’re witnessing this trend first hand!
FC: To what do you attribute your current success?
PR: Culture genuinely is king for all of us at The Spice & Tea Exchange and that will not change. We believe in our Team Members and our TSTE Core Values: Passion, Distinction, and Accountability.
The best part is that our team members share the same belief. That is huge when making sure we are all rowing the boat the same way (and sometimes, make sure no one is drilling holes in the boat at the same time!).
We also take an enormous amount of pride in the meaning of our company’s mission statement. It is simple yet says so much – “creating & sharing the experience of a more flavorful life.”
Our owners provide great customer service (caring) through interaction (sharing) and education. This creates an amazing customer experience, resulting in brand loyalty.
We encourage our team members to be engaged and have a voice, as we enjoy the collaborative input. It really allows Amy and I to get the best view of the landscape of our company at all times and allows us to remain present in our decisions that ultimately affect our lives and those of our entire system.
In some companies, folks tend to bury their head in the sand, and we prefer to lean in and understand any issues in order to turn them into opportunities. We are very solution driven, which has been a key component to our success.
FC: What do you envision for The Spice & Tea Exchange brand for 2017?
AF: Ultimately, we envision continued strategic growth in new markets while simultaneously innovating new product offerings and strengthening the in-store experience for our guests. Our vision remains simple; we want to be recognized as the brand of choice for quality and distinctive seasonings and teas, as well as for generating excitement within the consumer marketplace by immersing our guests in the unique sights, smells, and tastes of The Spice & Tea Exchange experience.