A couple weeks ago I attended the Toronto Tea Festival at the Toronto Reference Library. This consumer-facing festival features 50 exhibitors including local tea shops and online vendors, and associated goods and services (including macarons and shortbread, teawares and a tasseomancy exhibit). Here are some of my observations about the festival:

Who was there:

To the best of my knowledge, all of the vendors represented operate out of a single shop or sell exclusively online or through resellers – no national brands or chain stores. Most booths featured single origin teas, several of them focusing on one region (i.e. Taiwan, Nepal, China, Sri Lanka). With a couple of exceptions, I was surprised at the lack of flavoured blends, which I consider to be entry level teas and highly appealing to novice tea drinkers. On the other hand, there was a strong representation from ‘health’ teas and tisanes, including chaga mushroom, turmeric and ginger blends, and ayurvedic therapy blends. There was also a lot of chai! Overall, a lot of niche offerings that appeal to well-educated tea lovers.

Who was busy:

The biggest crowds gathered around booths with lively sales staff and clear, focused offerings. Vendors such as Wize Monkey, Chai Wala and Lee’s Teas limited the number of products on sample and for sale. All three of these companies have clear, concise, and consistent brand stories (what makes them special and unique); this makes them easy for attendees to absorb and makes even brief interactions valuable and memorable. From my own recollection:

  • Wize Monkey makes coffee leaf tea, which is a more sustainable use of coffee trees than actual coffee beans; it’s like tea, but not tea (approx. 6 products available)
  • Chai Wala freshly grinds spices for each batch of their unique ‘wet’ chai blends, which are incredibly delicious (2 products available)
  • Lee’s Teas offers 4 tulsi-based herbal chai blends. One of them is pink and there’s an elephant on the packaging (what’s not to love?) (4 products available)

Other vendors had a wider array of products but were able to gain customer attention through proactive staff (such as T by Daniel). These vendors were not afraid to get out from behind their booths, offering samples in the aisles and actively engaging passersby (without being pushy). Although they had more products on offer, these booths still had a clear, concise brand message and consistent delivery.

Winning Strategies:

The Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library is a good venue for this festival. However, with open presentations at one end of the floor and noisy acoustics, vendors must compete for attendees’ attention and business. With heavy crowds during some portions of the weekend, it’s hard for attendees to get to the front of each booth. This means that there is not a lot of time for in-depth conversation – just a quick taste (or two), delivery of your key message and (hopefully) a sales transaction or at least a lasting impression.

To make the most of this fast-paced interaction, my advice to vendors is to focus. Feature 4-6 products that best represent your brand, and don’t feel the need to sample more than 3-4 at a time (note: offering samples on rotation can secure repeat visits to your booth!). Many vendors offered sample packs of the tea selection they had on offer – a great way to get in the tea cupboard and encourage at-home sampling! Ensure that your booth staff are engaging and know your key messages – and are ready to repeat them hundreds of times over the course of 2 days:

  • Who are you?
  • What makes your company / product(s) special?

Although not every attendee or interaction will turn into a business transaction at the festival, consider opportunities to remain on that individual’s radar for future buying decisions. Providing a handout with useful information can help reinforce your brand. Better yet – offer a discount code or card for future purchases of your product. Finally, find a way to capture that attendee’s information (e.g. email address or social follow), perhaps incentivized with a draw or giveaway, so that you can reach them with marketing messages in the future. Although a festival is a time-bound event, successful participation should provide momentum to continue to grow your business into the future.