To start, a little bit about myself. I am a new user here. I created this account specifically or posting my experience as I felt it was necessary to share with the tea community but I hope to contribute more to this site in the future. I have referred to a lot of the information on this site when doing my own research about tea. I am a student studying medicine and a lover of science. I am no longer employed by Teavana after quitting the other night following a series of unbelievable management pitfalls and disrespectful treatment. It's hard to organize my thoughts or even convey what a mess this company is, but I'll try.
Teavana, in some ways, is a store just like any other. They want to make money, they want to meet sales goals. However, having been employed by my share of retail stores, Teavana takes the idea of meeting quotas and sales goals to an entirely new level. Their business model is based off of confusing, manipulating, and overwhelming the customer so that you can deceive them into purchasing something that they don't necessarily want or need. Don't get me wrong, a lot of sales positions are like this. Pushing add-ons and suggesting pricier items is all something people do in sales positions, but Teavana takes the lack of sales of overpriced items extremely seriously. They pit employees against each other in a cock-fight of sorts. Many a dramatic fight was fought in the back room (or on the sales floor in front of customers) over whose sale was whose (particularly over the holidays when customers come in and out several times). Many of the fights were justified because we were constantly under threat of losing our jobs. Our numbers were reviewed hourly, daily, weekly. As you can imagine, tensions were high and many people resorted to drastic measures to keep their numbers up (more on this when I discuss management issues later). We needed $100/hour in sales to remain employed. It was never enough to suggest items or try and boost your sale, if you didn't convince the customer to buy it, you're a failure and you've failed Teavana. Here is a list of the methods I was trained to use on customers of Teavana. These methods were "taught" to me by both a corporate trainer and the official Teavana training manual:
-Get them to try the samples. These samples of "tea" are nothing but flavored sugar water. The amount of sugar we put into these samples is simply astounding, particularly the iced "Blueberry Bliss and Strawberry Lemonade" that we're told to push mostly on kids and to mention that the dried fruit offers Vitamin C. At least three cups of sugar go into this sample. The samples are also blends of two teas, so if you like it and want it to taste the same you have to get two teas blended (a 4oz minimum as opposed to the usual 2oz minimum) and also buy the special German Rock Sugar.
-After they try the samples, bring them into the store and give them a tour while offering more samples. Mention the Cast Iron first (the most expensive items), the Breville teapot (the next most expensive item), etc. Move your way down. Ask them "Isn't this beautiful?" If they say yes, assume they want to buy it. If they so much as glance at anything, try and get them to buy it. Employ the "5 Times" rule. This means you're supposed to push a product or add-on onto a customer five times before they presumably crack under the pressure or simply get flustered and walk out (what happened most of the time).
-If they want a cheap tea, mix it with an expensive white tea and tell them that's the tea blend they have to get. Otherwise they won't get the 'benefits' of the expensive white tea. This went for beverage purchases as well. If a customer wanted a cheaper tea made as a beverage, my trainer would suggest adding a white tea for "a better complexion and antioxidant boost" but never mentioned that this would be a $2 extra charge. She conveniently hid the menu behind some canisters at the tea bar so that prices of beverages couldn't be seen.
-If they want 2oz of tea (the minimum), purposefully overscoop it. Lift the bag of tea off the scale so they can't see how much it is, show the actual tea to them and ask "Is this OK?" If they say yes, that's them giving you the OK for the 3, 3.5, or 4 oz you just put in there. Ring them out quickly before they notice. On many occasions people realized we scammed them and attempted to return the tea. Returning tea is against our policy.
-Mention the "Pound deal". If they buy 1lb of the tea they get a 10% discount (off of already overpriced tea). If they get a whopping 5lbs of the tea they get a 20% discount. A pound of our most expensive tea is about $190. The tea was not remotely worth what we charged. Most of it is mixed with dried, sugared fruit in excess. On more than one occasion I found twigs and bird feathers in the teas. The tea sat in bags in the bag room for months. No care was ever given to using older tea first. At the end of the year they'd have the "Heavenly Sale" which basically just cleaned out the store room in the back of old, expired tea.
-Push the tins (an additional $7 purchase) and pretend like that's the only way to buy tea. Do not mention that we have bags or smaller tins to put the tea in. Even if they want 2oz, put it in a XL 16oz tin. Start scooping tea into it before the customer even says how much they want. Show it to them and ask "Is that ok?" If they say no, take a small amount out. Take smaller increments out until they get flustered and say it's fine. This way you deceive them into buying more tea than they wanted to and make them settle, rather than starting with a small amount and building.
-Push the special "German Rock Sugar". Mention that it "metabolizes instantly" and that it's healthier than regular sugar (all lies). Sugar is sugar. This sugar is no different. The ingredients say it: Sugar and caramel color.
-If someone wants an "un-caffeinated" tea, don't sell them the cheap un-caffeinated herbal teas. Sell them regular tea and mention that a 30 second steep will decaffeinate it. This is a straight lie. If this were the case, tea companies would not be spending so much money on solvent-based de-caffeination. We also mention that white tea only has "1% the caffeine of a cup of coffee" which is also a lie, because it can have up to 15% depending on the flush and shelf time.
-Push the health benefits. I'm not here to argue the health benefits of teas. As a beginning med-student, it's just territory I don't want to get into with people. Pushing the health benefits is the only podium Teavana has, otherwise, no one would feel justified spending hundreds of dollars on tea. We have it all...good for skin, good for teeth, good for growing kids, good for metabolism (did we mention it's full of sugar?), good for heart health, cholesterol, blood pressure, good for 'hydration' (because it's made with water?)... you name it. We might as well be selling the elixir of life. We ask the customer "What other health benefits are you looking for?" like we're peddling snake oil and as if anyone employed there as a clue what an antioxidant actually is or what it does. This is what irritated me the most about working there, the utter ignorance of it all. Not at the fault of the employees, but of the company for daring to make the employees pretend like they know anything about the health benefits that may or may not be associated with tea. Here we are in the mall, peddling overpriced tea to the ignorant masses who are being told by yet another clueless employee that this tea might miraculously "boost their metabolism," which is a straight lie.
-Push product. Glass tumblers that were brought back in once weekly to return because they shatter, double up the cups on the "Japanese" cast iron pots (one line of which has the Chinese five-toed Imperial dragon on it, all this asian stuff is the same right?), double up the plates for aesthetic effect, glass pots that shatter, tea sets that have been collecting dust for months.
-Do not take no for an answer. "Make sure everyone leaves with something."
It started simple enough. I applied to the Teavana store in the mall, was quickly given an interview and offered the job. I was told it was a sales position, that there were quotas to meet but that people often missed these quotas so I shouldn't have to worry about it. We would all help each other out and the General Manager (GM) at the time told me that she had a very laid-back, positive store and that they would get me up to speed. I was trained by a great bunch of people. I enjoyed learning what Teavana had to say about the teas, the products that I was previously unfamiliar with, etc. Some weeks went by and things were going well. I genuinely liked the job. We had a meeting about the new line of teas coming out, we all tried the new teas, learned about new products, and that was the last time I saw that GM. I came in on a Saturday and she had "resigned". The details as to why I never really found out.
Running the store that day was a new District Manager (DM). He started off by not explaining the situation in any length. He said there would be a lot of changes. He spent the day insulting all of the employees, micromanaging, hovering behind our backs, taking over the register to write emails, rolling his eyes at things we would say to him, talking about how horrible some employees were doing to other employees and taking 30-45 minute long smoke breaks. He was extremely flamboyant in an obnoxious and abrasive way. If you were anything less than his level of enthusiasm, you were clearly not taking the job seriously enough. He told my sales lead to tell me to "pep up" or I'd be sent home. He went to the length of calling additional employees in to replace me but never sent me home. Nothing much constructive came from his visits other than insults and comments about what we were doing wrong. After a weekend with him, 3 employees had quit, with one leaving the store crying. One night I was left there alone with him. He left the store for a smoke break and didn't come back for 2 hours. He left me in the store alone as a trainee. No lunch break, no chance to use the restroom.
Being new and not attached to the old manager, I stayed. I worked 35 hour weeks on top of going to school full time and doing local volunteering. I would come in early when they called me in, I felt since everyone else left it was the least I could do. My sales were never through the roof but always good. The DM stayed for a couple of weeks. By this point it was me, the new GM and about 4 other employees who remained as the core staff. Another employee and I had now been there the longest (he was there for about half a year) and we figured we were up for sales lead positions since we knew the closing duties, had shown a lot of independence being left alone in the store, knew the products well and were now the only "seasoned" people there. We were also informally offered sales lead positions by the new GM. The GM and DM began hiring a slew of new people for the upcoming holiday season. They decided to hire all new sales leads. So now, on top of being consistently ridiculed, we were personally training people whose position it was to 'manage' us. The DM eventually left so that a new trainer could come in. The DM was there to get our sales back up to par but we hardly made plan even when he was closing. On several nights he noted how dead the mall was and how few customers we got, yet the lack of sales was always the employee's fault.
While all of this was tiring and aggravating, I figured he was just one guy. He couldn't possibly represent the company as a whole. I didn't understand how such a pushy and visibly rude guy would be promoted to DM, but later it all started to come together. We were told there would be a company trainer coming in to train the slew of people who were just hired. The company said she was "highly" recommended and would turn the sorry store around.
I can hardly formulate a sentence appropriate enough to describe just how horrible this woman was. She was pushy, abrasive, and downright rude to the customers. She had a raspy smokers voice and would try to intimidate customers into buying whatever it was she thought they'd be interested in or were looking at. On many occasions I would be at the sample cart and customers would walk out of the store and ask me on the way out about who she was and who they could complain to about her. Some of the new employees either left crying or stop showing up. She had plenty of "sales tricks" up her sleeve to tell us about (see above). Among many other things, she rearranged the store and hid the drink menu so customers wouldn't know the prices of the drinks. She would humiliate us in front of customers and other employees, etc. I've never been treated in such a way by a manager in all my life. She would often ask us if we were just plain stupid or trying to sabotage our own sales. She pulled me into the back room one night and laid out to me just what she thought was wrong with me. My time at Teavana was waning at this point, this much was clear.
Once she left, I figured things would get back to normal. Instead, now that we were under the watchful eye of the horrible DM, things became competitive. The GM would plant herself and the sales leads behind the tea counter for the duration of the day so that they got more sales. The register was located behind the counter, so once people got tea the GM and sales leads could easily steal our product sales. Zoning schedules went out the window, work schedules were not made until the Sunday before that work week so she could use our sales to schedule us. The GM would tell the sales leads to tell us to re-read company policies, sit in the back and re-learn the manual, etc. The GM would never confront us herself, but always tell someone else to do it.
The GM was the buddy-buddy type and not in a good way. She picked favorites and would turn everyone against each other by obviously talking behind the backs of other employees (sometimes in earshot of the person she was talking about). She befriended us all on facebook and stalked us, when I blocked her on facebook her husband tried to friend me on facebook as well as other employees. She hired her friends, she held private video game parties for her favorite employees at her house. She helped the "sales" of her favorite employees and used the "sales" of her least favorite employees as an excuse to fire them or give them fewer hours. Just before leaving she noted that the store room was "too full" and took merchandise home to "store in her garage".
Dealing with her games and nonsense was the icing on the cake for a mess of a company that clearly only cared about meeting outlandish sales goals than treating their employees with any respect or treating their customers as human beings as opposed to idiots waiting to be taken advantage of. Teavana came to represent many of the things I hate about the mall and consumer culture: corporate greed, lack of respect for hard-working employees, deception, lies pertaining to health, and deliberate exploitation of the average consumer's lack of tea-knowledge. The store is a massive Titanic that will sink. They paint a picture of fair-trade, altruistic good-making with a contrived facade of "Eastern Culture" PR nonsense. All of this effort seeks to mask a shoddy tea company selling sub-par products that cares nothing of their employees or their customers. To Teavana, their failures will never be their problems or the problem of their fleeting demand as a company, but be the fault of their employees.
Throughout all of this I forgot what this is about. I forgot what we were actually selling or what it meant to me (or once meant). It's really about tea and how delicious it is. How sensual tea can be, how it relaxes the soul, how it brings people together. That's all we're actually selling there, not weightloss solutions, not kitchen decorations and not medicine. Tea has shared history in our society and the variety of cultures that encompass our communities. Teavana is not about any of those things. It's about making money and squeezing the most out of every customer that makes the sorry mistake of walking in.
So all this being said, so long Teavana. Fellow tea lovers, you may spend your money however you like, but I would encourage you to not spend it at Teavana.
Edit: I keep editing this to add small details that I remember as I mull over my entire experience in my head. Thanks for your comments!
Last edited by SeaBones
on Dec 21st, '11, 22:17, edited 3 times in total.