Since you named me as one of the people you're responding to, I figured I owe you a response. I'm afraid I haven't had that much time today to go through everything you've laid out, but I'll address one of your points first. Regarding the "Star of Bulang", I think in the first case it was entirely reasonable for hster to mistaken the cake you at Verdant are selling, because the cake that Mr. Duckler eventually showed us does not contain in its name "Star of Bulang" at all. It's no wonder it was mistaken - one cannot find the right cake with the wrong name.
Now, as for your discovery of this 600 RMB cake, I looked at this vendor who is supplying this cake of yours. There are two things worth considering here. The first is that the vendor who is selling this is quite questionable - you neglected to mention that the vendor, aside from the wrapper, lists no info regarding the cake at all. More importantly, this vendor clearly prices his teas above and beyond market rate.
The reason I say this is because we are lucky this vendor sells a well-known and well benchmarked cake. http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a1z ... 5491757409
The Haiwan Laotongzhi, nongxiangxing (year unstated, but no earlier than 2004, the first production). This is a very widely available cake, found easily on Taobao from hundreds of vendors. Your vendor here, also at 600 RMB, is the single highest priced
Haiwan Laotongzhi I can find. Most other listings sell it for 200RMB or under. That I think is all we really need to know about this vendor and the prices that they represent.
I can't find another example of the 2006 Bulang that you possess, but I do find two vendors who sell the 2007 version. See below:http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?id=1717 ... 1059540180http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?id=1536 ... _460374723
Sold for, respectively, 48 and 70 RMB a piece. Not quite 600, I'm afraid. Of course, they're not the same thing, but as the business development director of Verdant, I think you'd agree it's marketing suicide to use the same design for a cake and sell it at 10% of a prior year's price.
As for the second Bulang, the Bulangqing. I did, in fact, see the 300 RMB cake, but let me show you somethinghttp://search8.taobao.com/search?spm=a2 ... c-50103377
This is a search for simply "Tiandiren" and "Bulang" under tea cakes in the puerh section, as I had no idea, when hster first mentioned this, what bulang exactly you folks had. Aside from the one cake that is listed as Laobanzhang, which sells for 288, and a few items that are above the weight of a normal cake (a bundle of cakes, and a huge brick) the ONLY item that is over 200RMB is your Bulang cake. Everything else falls into the 100 or under category. In social sciences when presented with a scatterplot of data, if you see a clear outlier, you discard it. It could be a vendor or two who prices their things way above normal market rate, which is not unknown on Taobao, or just an anamoly. Given that if you search for Tiandiren puerh generally, you get the same results of a flood of under 100RMB cakes, one can reasonably conclude that the 300 RMB cake is one or two vendors having a fantasy of what they can charge, rather than what they are worth. Not dissimilar, I might add, to the vendor above who prices his Laotongzhi at 600 RMB. Nobody will bite at that price when there's a wide selection of sub 200RMB cakes floating around.
Now, nobody knows exactly what you folks paid. For all I know, you're losing money on your cake and you actually paid $1000 for each. What I can say though, is that Yongming and Tiandiren generally produces very low-market, mass produced puerh of inferior quality. There's nothing wrong with selling these cakes as what they are. There is, however, something wrong when the vendor chooses to represent these factories as "workshops" and disguise their origins so that price comparison is impossible. If you think you're charging a fair price, then you should not be afraid of letting people know what you're selling. If you're the only one in possession of the tea, you do not have to fear competition. If you can easily find other, alternative sources for the same tea at a fraction of the cost, however, then the customer should have a choice of whether or not to continue to patronize your shop for this particular item or not.
As for the 3-4x markup being reasonable, I've held that view for a long time since the days when I first started blogging and in discussions with folks back then about prices, because I was in Taiwan and they were in the US, so we were comparing prices of what I found on the ground versus what was being sold online, chiefly through Hou De & Co back in the day.
Now, I'm not sure why you assume that you can only get the Tiandiren Bulang at 308, when very clearly there's another person willing to sell it at 220 (and recently sold 7 of them at that price, I might add). If you are an importer and are buying in any volume, discounts are quite normal, even on Taobao. I recently bought 11 cakes on there for myself that I got 20% off for from the listed prices. I'd assume you can do just as well, if not better. Shopping in person can further lower the price. Taobao, if anything, represents the high end of the price spectrum when it comes to puerh tea. If something is generally listed there as, say, 200 RMB, I'm pretty sure any savvy shopper walking around a good tea mall can get a 25% discount off that in half a day for something not too rare or special. Tiandiren is not speical.
So in that sense, if we work from the basis of 220 RMB, the price of the other vendor's cakes, and we generously call it $40 USD. Even if one were using a Taobao agent, which charges 10% service charge, we're talking about $45 a cake. 3x that is only $140. Profit on the cake is not too bad, although the real problem, of course, is that if your customer finds out that this is actually something they themselves can buy through Taobao for $45, they might not buy it from you.
Hou De seems to be able to sell some pretty high end puerh for prices that are about the same as your Star of Bulang. Their 2005 Chenguanghetang Yesheng (Yieh Sheng on his website) is sourced probably at around $80 or so, and yet he seems to be doing ok selling it at $165. Maybe you should lower your overhead?
In sum, I suppose we differ in our views. In response to sherubtse's point, I think good customer service really boils down to two things: 1) adding real value to what one sells, and 2) solving problems quickly and well in the process of ordering/purchasing. It seems like Verdant might be quite good at 2, but I'm less convinced of 1.