Kiwi Tracks: The fabulous adventure of creating and opening Ya-Ya House of Excellent Teas

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The fabulous adventure of creating and opening Ya-Ya House of Excellent Teas

Or: How a long story finds a happy ending...

I realize, this is only the third real entry in my tramping blog and I'm already WAY off-topic. Well, off-topic allright, but maybe not quite so far. My main intention with Kiwi Tracks was to share some tales about adventures in New Zealand and this tale certainly is about an adventure!

I'm so proud about the outcome, I'll just start with the happy ending:

Ya-Ya House of Excellent Teas is open

After having spoiled the ending (as you've seen, the teahouse is finished!), I'll start from the beginning.

When my partner Diane, her daughter Mia and I came to New Zealand last year, we came with the intention to open a teahouse here in Christchurch. It was Diane's dream and we knew now was the time to make it happen!
After much research, planning and real-estate hunting, we finally found the area we were looking for: Lichfield Lanes, the block around Poplar St / Cotter's Lane that contains a unique, old & industrial mix of brick buildings. Ok, we found the area (which is small enough), but which building is right for us? Teahouse Facade in September 2005I must admit that I wasn't all that impressed with the space that one of the owners had in mind for us. But Diane - using the great visual imagination that she possesses - could see already then that it would work.

The building wasn't in the best shape imaginable, but it certainly had a lot of potential.
Teahouse Facade in September 2005
After removing the junk that had accumulated there over an unknown period of time, we sat down to draw plans of the overall layout. Kitchen & toilets had to be created, Diane wanted a raised platform for floor-seating, etc.
We finally came up with a solution that was both feasable and visually appealing - which had to be changed a few times again, but eventually turned out the way it looks like now.
As soon as the interior steel poles (earthquake reinforcement) and new walls were up, even I started to see the teahouse in this place.Teahouse Steel and Gib
It must have been over the Christmas holidays when we finally started painting...

Over an extended period of time, we spent every weekend and available evening in the teahouse (to cover the peach-coloured bricks with a nice colour, to get sore arms and shoulders painting the ceiling, etc.)

In January, when the neutral coloured areas were painted, it all started to look inviting.

Then came the part we weren't sure what it would look like in real life, we could only imagine it to be quite cool: an enormous RED WALL. But again, Diane's sense for colour and design proved to be right and when we put our red brushes and rollers down, it looked fantastic!Colour

Fast-Forward to April: The outside steelwork that was scheduled for January finally went up. (Thanks, Anthony, for doing such a great job!)
After being sceptical about the new look at first, it has grown on us and we now like the slight industrial edge of "our 2 tons of steel"!
While we continued our beautification work inside, Anthony started to make the outside area more appealing. We had planned to create a Zen Garden with rocks, boardwalks, etc. from the very beginning and were eager to see it come to life. The initial plans had to be altered dozens of times to comply with council regulations, practical and accessibility issues, you name it. Diane always came up with a great compromise in those crucial moments when the whole concept seemed completely destroyed. DeckingZen-Garden-Design
Jason (who designed the original plans for the Zen Garden) helped us to finish the garden: creating a path with slate, filling all areas with differently colored gravel, leveling the gravel, etc.Path-DesignLeveling
During July, we worked extra hard to get everything organized so we could finally open. After postponing the opening one last time (sorry to everyone we promised to open in January, February, March,... It was truly out of our hands!), we opened the doors to guests on 28 July 2006!

Following a few pictures of the last stages and the finished teahouse. I hope I might see some of my readers in the teahouse. Maybe we could plan a trip into the mountains over a nice pot of tea...


More pictures, more information, a menu with all our teas, and much more is available on our website.Kitchen-ViewYa-Ya-TeahouseYa-Ya-Retail-Store

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Blogger Estie said...

You're right Jo, you have come a long way! The 'finished product' is a work of art.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous abigail said...

Hi Jo

I spend a lot of time looking at ways companies can use internet to (ethically!) promote their product. I'm also a friend of Esthers and first told her about you guys. It's tea enthusists like her who are going to be your best marketing weapon, and I had a couple of ideas for how you can best harness the tea-lover community.

I love the posts under your 'News' section on your website. It's regular, and it's relevant (eg. news of new tea blends). But customers want to get more involved then just reading these posts. They want to respond to them. That's why Esther and I have put posts on this blog, not only because we care, but because we can. Right now, no-one can respond on your company site, even if they want to. And I think people want to!

You could start a seperate blogger page just for your news section. It is possible to use a blogger page and make it look very similar to your company page, and I also don't think it looks unprofessional. It will give you a greater ability to connect with your customers by doing two things. 1) Reading customers comments is THE cheapest way to do market research. Customers will tell you what you did right and what you did wrong. You can respond and improve quickly. 2) You're letting your customers do your PR for you. People trust other customers more than they trust you. Because of course YOU are going to say great things about it. But it's when people like Esther sing your praises that potential customers really notice.

You could also reward your loyal customers by having a list of links called "fans" or "tea lovers" etc, and then link to people like Esther. It gives regular customers a way to bond to the Ya Ya brand, and unites all the hard core tea drinkers. It will also increase the number of sites linking to yours, and increase the likelihood of someone in Christchurch googling for a tea place to find your site.

Finally, you could add an RSS feed to your 'News' section. This will help your fans keep up to date with what's going on.

Please make it possible for your customers to connect with you and your company, cause we really want the teahouse to succeed!


8:26 PM  
Anonymous abigail said...

Just one more thing (sorry!). I forgot to say why building community was so important - it's cause the size of Christchurch is only big enough to support one group. You have to make sure they are all centered around Ya Ya's.

If you want to know more about feeds, is a pretty good place to start.

8:33 PM  
Blogger KiwiTracks said...

Hi Abigail,
thank you for all your pointers. Every point you make is correct and makes a lot of sense. I've created and am maintaining the website for the teahouse myself and was actually planning to do just this: add a blog! I'm thinking of using wordpress, though, and host the pages myself. Unfortunately, I haven't found the time to implement that yet (as well as filling the rest of the Ya-Ya website with content!).
I agree that interaction with your visitors is THE key to business these days and people expect ways to communicate (with each other as well as the business). Your point about RSS is also very valid. I think it is the best way to distribute information. My initial thought was to create a newsletter for the teahouse and distribute it via RSS. The problem is that many people never even heard of RSS-feeds or feed-readers and therefore, I think I'll start with a feed AND a classic email-newsletter.

It is great to see that people care about what we're doing! Reading Esthers post yesterday really made my day! Reading your helpful advice is equally encouraging. I think we owe you guys a cup of tea next time you come in.


10:51 PM  
Anonymous pohanginapete said...

Congratulations! I would LOVE to have something like this in Palmerston North, but it's hard enough even to find somewhere that makes tea (I don't consider a tea bag in tepid water to be tea, nor are herbal infusions real tea). Best of luck with it — not that something of this quality should need luck.

7:57 AM  

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