This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Jennifer Commins, founder of Pluck Tea, a premium tea brand based in Toronto.
1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Pluck Tea was founded in Dec. 2012. We are a premium tea company that sources ethical teas from around the globe and blends and packs them by hand with natural ingredients – including several from local growers.
Our suppliers include local farms and producers such as Southbrook Vineyards, Prince Edward Lavender, Chocosol, Spirit Tree Cidery, and Niagara Try Dry. Our blending facility is located in Riverside (Queen and Broadview) Toronto – a stone's throw from many of the restaurants we supply to.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
I worked for 17 years in the office furniture industry. Near the end I was restless, and frustrated with the corporate culture I found myself in.
Before I left the industry I enrolled in Tea Sommelier courses for fun, and loved the subject so much that two years later I emerged a freshly minted, Certified Tea Sommelier.
As a long-time loose tea drinker and regular business traveler, I knew that restaurants had much to learn about tea. Shocking though it may seem, tea is still an afterthought for many restaurants. Sure, they may buy some craft beer or small batch roasted premium coffee, but the 12 cent teabag is still the standard in many places that bill themselves as 'farm-to-table' or 'fine dining'. This was in sharp contrast to the growing popularity of premium specialty teas in the retail marketplace. The more I thought about it, the clearer my mission became.
I launched Pluck, a company that helps restaurants improve their tea service, build their tea menu – and their profits – by supplying them with exceptional selection of locally blended, premium teas.
By popular demand, we launched our retail tea format midway through 2014, and can now be found on the shelves of several local cafes, Rowe Farms, and more recently, Indigo.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Our customers value delicious, natural teas, excellent service, and support local and sustainable businesses. This is true of the chefs we work with, our retail customers, and individuals who order our teas online. New customers often discover Pluck through word-of-mouth, or by reading the fine print on restaurant tea menus. We were thrilled to be named a 'Heather's Pick' in December for our holiday gift set.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
In the spring of 2014 Pluck partnered with Russell Square Partners, a private equity firm in Toronto. This partnership has been incredibly valuable, and we work really well together. My role as CEO is to build value through sales, product development, operations, and customer service. Pluck currently employs one full-time production manager. We still blend and pack all teas by hand, and we hire additional people at various times throughout the year to help out when things get busy.
5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
Consistency. Our commitment to consistently providing high quality, sustainable, small batch blended teas to our customers has been the key to our success.
Some key points on sustainability:
We purchase from Ethical Tea Partnership members, source ingredients from local growers and producers, up-cycle organic and biodynamic grape skins from the wine making process and apple pressings – a byproduct of the cider making process – and incorporate these ingredients into our blends.
Through our Tea for Good program we purchase existing tea inventory from our new restaurant customers when they introduce Pluck on their menus – and we donate that tea to The Stop, a local food bank and community centre.