Imagine creating a successful business, going from small food festivals to owning seven stores, a successful e-commerce site and seven stores on the High Street. You’ve become a brand that people love and recognise.
And then you rebrand it.
Definitely a brave move, but one that the team at Bird & Blend have pulled off. I first came across them as Bluebird Tea at a really small event, when they were still based in the Midlands, and we’ve been enjoying their tea, and progress ever since. In the spirit of disclosure, I am a very small investor in the business, in their very successful and rapidly fully subscribed funding round last year.
I’m delighted that Krisi agreed to share some of the story, as I think they are one of the true crossover clicks to bricks success stories of recent years.
Krisi, how did the original idea for Bluebird Tea come about, and when?
The idea was born on the back of a napkin, in Canada in 2012. We were living out there, escaping the pressure of the rat race, skiing every day and living in the mountains.
I had always worked in tea and ended up working for an innovative blending company out there. I was blown away by how creative they were when it came to flavours and recipes. It made me question why my own tea-loving country wasn’t so adventurous!
So we decided to take this idea home. We just knew that Bluebird was going to be the beginning of something special… well and if it wasn’t we could always be back in the mountains again for the next winter!
How did you come up with the original brand name and branding?
Mike and I were taken by the concept of a ‘bluebird day’ which we discovered while we were working over in Canada. A bluebird day is one full of blue skies, and endless possibility. A day for dreamers, and smiles all round. This idea completely resonated with us, and we wanted to spread that message of happiness and possibility through tea!
How did you take the leap from doing food festivals to your retail stores?
When we got home from Canada, we didn’t have the means to open a bricks and mortar store straight away. In fact, it all came from very humble beginnings; blending and packing tea in our bedroom, and taking it along to markets and food festivals.
We quickly began to see that talking directly to people was important work. It was more than just a case of selling tea. This was giving the kind of experience to our customers, that turned their ordinary day, into a bluebird day. Our tea was doing everything we hoped that it could, and would!
One day, after taking our teas to a market in Brighton, Mike and I were walking through the Laines, and we saw a vacant store, and an advert for the space. That vacant store is now home to BB Brighton. At that point, we moved our packing station out of the bedroom, and into our brand new shop. We’ve been there for four years now.
You’ve taken the big step recently of completely rebranding everything. What was behind that decision?
Recently we became Bird & Blend Tea Co. That change wasn’t initially in our plans, but we realised that it was a necessary one, when we faced copyright issues with the name ‘Bluebird’. Of course, we were hugely attached to our name, so it was quite hard for us. It will always have a very special place in our hearts, but we couldn’t be happier about the beginnings of Bird & Blend.
We’ve been able to make little tweaks and improvements with the rebrand. We realised that some of the key elements of our communiTEA and culture didn’t come through as clearly as they could in our branding. Bird & Blend has been an exciting opportunity to rethink, refresh, and re-imagine!
Did you do any research with your consumers? How did you go about doing that?
Yes, we did, and we are so lucky that our customers and community are so willing to give us feedback. We do a big customer wide survey each year to learn more about what people love about us and to make sure we are always getting better.
We also heavily research our new shop locations by tracking locations of our online customers and then we go old school – standing in different parts of the city with a clicker at different times of day and year!
What elements of the original brand were important for you to keep?
At this point, we’ve established exactly what we want to do with our tea:
- mixing fun, exciting, and tasty blends
- acting as a force for good in the world
- sharing happiness and experience with our customers
- working to strong eco principals
- supporting charities and causes that are doing really important work.
All of that is here to stay! We’ve paid homage to our “Bluebird” beginnings in our new name and logo and, instead of dropping elements of the brand, I would say we’ve just emphasised them.
What has the reaction been from your customers so far?
The reactions have been absolutely incredible. We feel so humbled to hear from so many of our customers every day, who love the company and have stuck with us over the years and changes (and have seen many seasonal teas come and go from our shelves!).
We have the most loyal and supportive communiTEA. Bird & Blend has become more of a culture, than just a company and we wouldn’t be here spreading our message without them.
How will you know if the rebrand has been successful? What sort of success measures did you set for yourselves?
As our customers probably know, we’re not always completely conventional in our business methods! I wouldn’t say that we have set measures for success in the way that some companies might. Instead, we’ve measured the success of Bird & Blend in the positive feedback of our customers, the continued interest in joining us for workshops and experiences, and a growing base of tea drinkers, who come to us for all their mixology needs!
What would you say the role of storytelling has been for your business?
I think for us storytelling is in everything we do! It’s all about spreading that bluebird day feeling and sharing experiences and happiness with our customers and communiTEA. I think we engage with storytelling and spreading important messages in other ways too though!
For example, we have a quarterly chariTEA who we support, and we like to share news of this with our customers so that they can engage with the cause, and help us to give support. I think we all have a story to tell, and Bird & Blend is both our message and our platform to do so.
What sort of content do your customers love to see from you, and have the most engagement with?
Oh, this is a great one! We are so lucky to have such an enthusiastic and experimental team of staff and customers, to share all the blends of our wildest dreams with. We love using social media to showcase really exciting stuff: colour changing teas like Blue Raspberry, and black matcha lattes, made with our charcoal infused Black Magic Matcha.
Our customers also love to try their hand at mixing their own blends and join us for mixology workshop evenings in all of our shops. It’s so great to be able to meet our customers this way and share lots of tea knowledge (and tea cocktails!)
How do you see the future for the business?
We are really committed to taking the concept to more people, so, for now, that looks like continuing to grow our online store and gradually opening new high street spaces too. Although we could just focus on our online site, we were never really interested in just being an online business. Our stores are our showrooms where people can come and get advice, try something new and mix up their own new matcha drinks.
With the benefit of hindsight, what’s the one thing you wish you’d known about running your business before you started and why?
We had a lot of advice in the beginning about how people were always the trickiest part of running your own business. We never really paid much attention as we thought we were pretty good with people and knew we wanted to build a business that put people first, on both sides of the counter.
But I must say, in hindsight, I think I would have paid more attention if I had I known we were going to grow to a team of over 70 people. I would have definitely benefited from some further people development training!
Could you share a book that continues to inspire you and the way you do business? What is it about that one?
We have a bookshelf full of all sorts of management, people and inspirational books. Can I give you three?!
Paul Hinssen’s “The Day After Tomorrow” which is all about how to stay innovative and focused on the future opportunities not the mistakes of yesterday. He does a really fab talk about it which you can watch here too.
David Marquet’s “Turn The Ship Around” which is all about how to empower teams to be the best they can be. He is an ex-submarine commander, and the stories he tells are all true, so it is a great read.
Howard Schultz’s “Pour Your Heart Into It”, which is the founding story of Starbucks and really inspirational and interesting… even if it is coffee!
I would encourage you to check out Bird & Blend, and not just for incredible teas. I’d look at their storytelling, their building of a highly engaged community, and about doing it their own way. I also can’t think of many other businesses who have undertaken a total rebrand and pulled it off. What other businesses do you think are doing things differently, and successfully?