First, AWESOME community you have here!
Second, I come bearing a long story about the company you may know called "Teavana". I worked with Teavana as they opened a new store, and it was a long journey that left me very distressed about the company. I decided I needed to write up an account of what had happened at my store, because it created a ball of emotion in my gut, and figured you guys might find it a good read. I'll warn you now, its LONG. But its has a lot of little stories, so I hope interesting as well! It obviously is biased towards my personal experience, and I know not all stores run like mine did. I know Teavana offers great careers to some awesome people. But my experience taught me to distrust the entire company, and after the owner of all the stores confronted me in the end, I figured it was serious enough that I could post about it. Hope you enjoy, I look forward to comments :]
To give my full experience working at Teavana, I think its important to know the “whole picture”, and so I’ll start my story before I even got the job. I worked in a mall for about three years, with an awesome staff at my store. My manager was a great person, friendly, understanding, awesome sense of humor, crazy and fun loving. She got the job done and we had a lot of fun doing it. She found that Teavana was opening in the mall, and was given several interviews for the store manager position. In order to become a manager, you are flown to Atlanta, Georgia, the hometown of Teavana, for corporate training. You meet the owners of the company, a husband and wife who started it all, and from what I was told, it was a lot of work, but very satisfying. The husband and wife maintained strict standards – even though the company was growing fast, they wanted to know every single manager. The wife had the deciding factor in everything the stores sold, from tea to teawares. If she disapproved of it, she wouldn’t let the stores sell it. It seemed that this spoke of the personal aspect of Teavana – it wasn’t just a corporation, but a store that expanded rapidly and was trying to stick to its principals during that growth.
I loved working for my manager at “Candy Store”, so I told her I would gladly work for her at Teavana. I wanted her store to be successful, and I wanted her to be successful. The assistant manager at “Candy Store” also went to work as Teavana’s assistant manager, and we had another coworker join us as well. Training was hectic, and started about a week before the store opened. We were trained by one of the two “corporate trainers”, who go around and open the new stores/visit poorly performing stores to revamp the staff. We had Eugenia, a big girl who had a lot of personality. The first step was to learn about tea – what it was, the different types, etc. The training involves learning the differences between the types of tea, and each one is given three main selling points. Whites have highest antioxidants/great for complexion/may prevent forms of cancer, whereas oolongs as great for metabolism/good for skin teeth and bones because of fluoride, and helps in digestion. Basic points to explain for each. This was my first inkling of how Teavana worked – it applied health benefits to each tea, but if you read up on it, all teas have the same properties, just in different amounts. They are from the same plant, after all. Teavana isn’t selling tea, but the health benefit marketing behind it. You don’t drink an oolong for its notes of complexity, you drink it for weight loss. You don’t drink green tea for its rich history, you drink it for your immune system.
After learning the types of tea, we learned the top three teas in each category. These are specifically based on price. We learn the three best “quality” in each category. When asked why we needed to know those three, I answered jokingly, “Because they cost the most?” and everyone laughed. The trainer then went onto explain that it’s more so because the higher the quality, the higher the health benefit. The most expensive white tea would give you the best benefits in comparison to the others. This is where we learned Teavana’s technique of “Top-down-selling”. You always start by offering the most expensive tea, and work your way down. If they come in looking for a cheap herbal blend, you start with a white tea to blend it with. In other words, you aren’t even supposed to sell herbal teas or rooibos if you can, because they are a much lower price point. We didn’t really learn anything about these types of tea, other than to consider them “mixers”. You weren’t supposed to sell them on their own, and if you did, you were supposed to sell in large quantities to make up for the low cost. Try ordering just a couple ounces of a rooibos or an herbal tisane and see for yourself.
After being drilled on this, we moved on to tea preparation, or teapots. The first thing we learned about is the cast iron pots, or “tetsubin”. We spent the most time on this, because it is the “best” way to make tea. There were eight key points for these pots, though some escape my memory since I’ve left the store. It’s main points were its extreme ease of use (just pull out the strainer and you’re good to go) and the fact that it builds up a patina (layer of minerals) so it makes the healthiest cup of tea. They also have the most expensive pricing. Pots are $70+ for smaller ones, $150+ for biggest ones, and all cups/coasters/trivets etc. are separate and cost at least ten bucks a piece. A typical set would cost a couple hundred dollars, so that’s why half the store is devoted to them.
From there, we learned the other pots the store carries. Pay attention to how the store is laid out from the point of the cast irons. We literally started with cast iron on one side, and as you walked along the wall, the different prices of pots would gradually lessen until you reached the other side, where the cheapest pots were. When someone looks for a teapot, you start with the cast iron, and work your way down by showing them every single type until you hit a price that’s agreeable. While cast iron is debatably the “best” way to make tea, the next step down according to Teavana are ceramic Juddith Webber pots, which certainly aren’t. They are ceramic, do not include strainers, and when heated become extremely hot to the touch. It’s apparent from this that Teavana is about sales, not getting what’s best for the different customers.
After this, we learned the “sampling” method. Think of it like a triangle – sample, cast iron, tea counter. You offer a sample to someone, bring them in to the cast iron (one of which always holds a “rare” tea sample) and then sell them a pot, then bring them up to the counter to buy tea. You know how booths in the mall call out to people as they walk by, and harass them to take a look at their products? A Teavana is store is the same exact thing – just a glorified sales booth. Selling tea has to be the most dishonest part of this job. I’ll insert how we are supposed to sell the tea:
“As you can see, our tea is sold by weight. We do offer several sized containers, but the best value tin is this one here (show the one pound tin). It’s airtight and light tight, and will keep your tea fresh for a year. It’s an additional seven dollars, but completely reusable. We’ll put a label on the front of the tin indicating the type of tea and its brewing instructions. When I fill this up for you today (as you start to fill it up) you will be saving 10% for getting a pound of tea.”
Basically you mislead the customer into thinking they have to buy a tin to put it in, and do not offer to put it in a (free) bag under any circumstance, unless they ask for it. Sure these tins are airtight/light tight, but they also dent easily and become useless when the lid won’t fit on anymore. I speak from experience. An old coffee can works just the same, FYI. You also start by selling the whole pound. This can range from $28 to $200, depending on the tea. You don’t stop there, you keep going. You can “overcome” objections by using their techniques of mentioning the pound discount, the health benefits, etc. You can sometimes sell those pounds, but mostly to stupid people willing to buy anything, thought this seems to be Teavana’s target demographic.
So back to my story, our store opened with big expectations. We are somewhat near a really big volume store (in the center of the big city), and for whatever reason our sales goals were the same as theirs. I’ve worked in this mall for three years, and I can speak from experience when I say that there is a HUGE difference in the two places. Also, our store was located at the beginning of the “new wing” the mall is adding, with upscale stores. But this wing doesn’t open for another two years and after my store is one or two more and that’s it. We were in the dead zone of the mall. So we opened on a Wednesday with maybe a $3,000 goal. I can’t imagine we made it past the first thousand. I did sell a cast iron pot with my second customer, so I was optimistic. The next few weeks weren’t so great. We were scraping by with very low sales, and so we redoubled our efforts and kept trying. At this point, I was just a sales associate. One of our key-holders quit within the first few weeks because of the lack of hours. Our barista had to quit, and slowly but surely our staff dwindled down. We were lucky to have two sales an hour, because the mall was simply dead during the day. Our district manager started sending her friends by the store to spy on us, and reported back to her with what they thought we were doing. Several times these “reports” just didn’t make sense, because the people they’d describe didn’t resemble us, and so it led us to believe these friends weren’t too perceptive. They did catch the other key-holder reading a book, and so she became the scape-goat by upper management.
Each week we were graded on an A-F scale, and you were supposed to have a B or greater at all times. It was pretty random, if you lucked out you’d get an A, if not, you’d get an F. Some weeks I’d luck out with a few good sales, some weeks I wouldn’t. I didn’t worry about it – I was a sales associate, and this wasn’t my career. I purposely avoid becoming management because I need my free time for school, not to devote to a company I can’t imagine working for forever. But my managers were being put under a lot of pressure. The key-holder that was caught reading a book was fired, because “she had three F’s in a row”, while the real reason is that our district manager needed a scape-goat to blame all our failures on. I was asked to step up and be a key-holder at this point, and since my manager was a friend, I agreed. Within just a few weeks, our staff was down to four people. Manager, assistant manager, myself, and a sales associate. Ironically, the four of us all came from our previous store. The last sales associate quit, and we were all pulling long shifts, alone.
We were trying to hire new people, but it turned out really hard to find anyone who seemed worthwhile. For several weeks, I would work open-to-4 by myself, or 4-to-close by myself, because we simply had no people. I was still working my other part time job (I never left it) so I was pulling about 65 hours a week between the two, on top of being a college senior full time. I was dedicated. I know the stores sales weren’t what they needed to be, but by god, I was giving it my all. We lucked out with a few new people, who seemed eager and competent. A couple stayed through training, though one woman put in her two weeks after just a few days. She was an older woman just looking for a part time job to supplement her full time one, and as she put it, “I didn’t realize this job would be so stressful. I can’t make my goals, and I don’t like feeling like a failure. With my experience, I can get a job anywhere in this mall, I’ll work for Sears and deal with no pressure.”
We did expand our arsenal of employees, who did become competent. But then we were put under a microscope again by upper management, and our original corporate trainer came back to retrain us and find out what was wrong with the store. She did coach us a little, but spent her time just shifting around merchandise. She was a fun girl, with an awesome sense of humor, but used that to her advantage. I almost thought I could consider her an acquaintance outside of work, but I realized she was being nice to try to exploit my friendship. She asked why I was upset one day, to which I explained that my friend was recently diagnosed with something she will have the rest of her life, and it will be a hard and painful recovery to get back to normal, not that there ever would be a “normal” again. She acted nice, asked about her, and as we were leaving, she started to ask questions more related to the store. She tried tricking me into admitting I didn’t sample as much as I was supposed to, or that I wasn’t doing the entire sales process. With my defense down, she managed to get me to admit I was disheartened by the stores lack of performance. I assume what she really wanted was a confession that my manager was doing a poor job, but that simply wasn’t the truth.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Corporate trainer Eugenia left, and things kept getting worse. We’d receive more and more phone calls from our district manager, and it was apparent our jobs wouldn’t last. The Vice President came to visit our store, and he agreed that it was mostly the malls fault, since our mall was dead. He told us to just do what we could, and wait it out. This apparently didn’t sit with anyone else in the company. The other corporate trainer, an incredibly rude woman named Nancy, was sent to our store. This is when things got really ugly, really fast. She acted rude, and would watch us as we interacted with customers. Immediately after each sale, she’d critique us, and not in a constructive way. Everything we did was wrong. For example: One woman came in, and wasn’t sure what she wanted to get someone for a gift. She wanted a gift set, something that had everything her friend would need to get started with tea. Of course, I started with the cast iron pots, and worked my way down. The woman eventually just said outright that she was only spending X amount of money, because that’s how much she had. I then took that number, figured out that she could get a cheaper pot (the cute and inexpensive Beehouse pots) and a tin of our popular matevana/rooibos chai blend, with a measuring spoon and some sugar. It came to five cents under her total allotment, and we were both happy. I got as much money as I could out of her, and she got a nice and complete set. Go figure, right after the woman left, I was ripped apart. How dare I take no as an answer to the woman not wanted a cast iron pot! How dare I accept only a half pound of tea, because at the whole pound they save ten percent. Couldn’t I at least had added some mints for herself? The next few paragraphs highlight my few weeks working with Nancy:
First – drinks. If you’ve visited a Teavana, you may know that they serve cups of tea to go as well. It’s a neat idea, mall employees love it, and go figure – Teavana looks down upon selling cups of tea to go. As Nancy puts it, “When you sell a cup of tea, you satisfy the need to buy tea. We do not sell cups to go, we sell tea to take home. Do not offer if, and talk your way out of it whenever possible.” A $3-5 dollar cup of tea is generally less expensive than the minimum 2 ounces of tea, which is why its looked down on. My manager at my “candy store” came over a lot for cups of tea. He’d spent hundreds of dollars in our store, always willing to try what we’d offer him. He went over one day to buy just a cup (he’d get it instead of coffee from Dunkin Donuts) and Nancy waited on him. When he asked for a cup of whatever tea, she ignored him and brought down the tea to show him. Having already bought some, he told her again he just wanted the cup. She started explaining the pricing, and how it’s better to buy it loose to brew at home. He again explained that he already had it, and he just wanted some to take home. After a heavy sigh and rolling of her eyes, she agreed to make it for him. He’s since vowed never to spend any more money there.
Second – attitude. Nancy brought a new way to sell tea – the spiel I wrote down earlier. It was a new wording, and as such she tried to teach it to us all. I worked one night with Nancy and another sales associate girl. The sales associate was being taught by Nancy the new way to sell tea, and I was told to man the sample cart. So I did. A few minutes later, after no one had even walked by, a friend came by who always bought a cup of tea from me. She walked in, I turned, and saw that my coworkers were not taking a break from their training to help my friend, so I came around the counter and did it myself. I made her tea, chatted her up a bit, and sent her on her way. Immediately after, Nancy told me to follow her out back. I did, knowing I was somehow in trouble. This is the conversation that ensued:
Nancy: What just happened right then, that cannot happen again.
Me: What? What happened?
Nancy: You didn’t do what I told you to. I don’t work in that kind of environment.
Me: What are you talking about? What did you tell me to do?
Nancy: I told you to sample, and you didn’t. I don’t know how you think it works here, but when your superior tells you to do something, you do it. I don’t work in the kind of environment where that doesn’t happen. If you can’t understand that, we’re going to be having a different kind of conversation.
Nancy seemed to thrive off being rude. After she’d say something rude, she continued her work and hum to herself with a grin on her face. She harassed my coworker to fill in shifts that she couldn’t, so bad that my coworker just walked out and never came back. She told another girl that she was incompetent and contributing nothing because she wasn’t selling tea correctly… even though this girl had not been retrained with the new way to do it yet. Last, she was simply misleading. She would tell her bosses that we’d say one thing, when he hadn’t said anything. She told us that when scooping tea, make big scoops, and always go over how much was asked for, because most people will say its fine when you ask if the overage is okay. While it isn’t illegal, she was certainly unethical.
Third – the assistant manager. We knew that our assistant manager was bound to be on his way out. It was apparent when corporate *BOO* Nancy didn’t say anything to her, ever. Not even when he did things wrong, which she seemed to love correcting. She said she’d fire him, yet left when he was due to come in. When he walked by later on, she ignored him completely. On this note, I’ll mention that she did talk to me about working at the company even with the changes. I told her the truth. I was upset that some people were leaving or had left, and I would miss them, but I had put a lot of time and energy into running that store and wanted to make sure it stayed successful. She told me that was fine, they wanted me to stay. Oh how that changed.
The next and perhaps most important part of this story is that my manager found a new job. She put in her two weeks notice. I was ecstatic for her, because it was better paying, a lot cooler, and sure to be less stressful. This also prompted the OWNERS of the company, the husband and wife, to decide to visit our store for a week. I expected them to have a conversation with me about my plans with the company – if I wanted to stay despite being the last person from the original staff, what they would expect from me, and stuff like that. No such conversation occurred. I introduced myself, but other than that, they simply ignored me. Strike that – I was talking to a customer about something while having a cup of tea in my hand – and the owner, a man named Andy, came over and took it out of my hand, and walked away. He later mentioned something about us not having them on the floor… which is fine, but everyone else always did it and he didn’t correct them.
In any event, the husband and wife continued to ignore me, but I didn’t mind. They were supposedly the nicest people, so I figured I just interpreted their silence towards me wrong, since I was nervous about being fired. This all changed one Sunday morning. I was set to arrive an hour before the store opened and prep for the day. I did, and soon after so did a new woman who was just hired. Nancy had gone on a hiring spree, and was continuously forgetting who was coming in and when. I didn’t know what to do with her, so I tried finding her a training manual, and that wasted some time. Our new manager (though at the time, just a manager in training) came in shortly after, and distracted me some more. I was making the samples, but the two main samples were leaking. They are held in machines that have nozzles, and the nozzles just kept leaking despite my repeated attempts to fix them. It happened every couple weeks, and usually just needed the nozzles to be taken off and firmly put back on. But it wouldn’t stop leaking. So I decide any sample is better than none, and switched what samples went in what machines. In doing so, I had to take off the labels, indicating what type of tea was in it, but knew it wasn’t a problem since we got a box of new labels just the other day. So I do that, and go figure the labels are gone. Nowhere to be found. I keep working on fixing the leaks as we open, and my coworkers man the floor. Shortly after, Andy and Nancy Mack (not corporate trainer Nancy), owners of Teavana, came into the store. They noticed the sample cart was not filled automatically. They asked, and I explained the entire situation. They didn’t seem pleased, but said nothing else.
I kept working on trying to fix the sample holders, and the owners/new manager started having a discussion outside the store. Nancy Mack came in to help me figure out why they were leaking, and we found out why – behind the nozzles (when you take them off) are two pieces, a rubber O ring, and a little plastic stopper. Both plastic stoppers were missing. Nancy Mack asked me where they were, and I said I didn’t know. She told me that they couldn’t have just come off, and asked who washed them the night before. I told her I had, since I had. I told her I’d check the sink again, and she left to go talk again with her husband. I told her that I was sorry for the mistake, and was very embarrassed over the whole situation.
I look around some more, but of course it’s not in the sink. I have no idea where it was. I was checking under the sink, behind the fridges, figuring they had to be somewhere. I washed them per usual last night, and there are grates in the sink so they can’t go down the drains. The owner, Andy Mack, came back and asked me where the plastic stoppers where. I said I didn’t know. He got angry, and told me I was lying, and that he was “sick of the bullshit”. He said that he knew our current manager was leaving, but he owns the store and wants to take it in a new direction. He accused me of deliberately sabotaging the store, and that he didn’t understand how the plastic pieces could go missing, and that he “wanted them found”. He left, and I stood in the back room, alone and stunned. The owner of the entire company, a “great guy” who was very friendly, had confirmed he in fact did not like me despite not knowing me.
I took a minute to think, and decided to look one last time. Looked in the sink again, not there. Looked around the floor. Nowhere to be found. I was accused of stealing them, which I did not. I thought to myself – if I wanted to sabotage this store, I’d do something a lot cooler than steal a little plastic stopper. It was hard, but I knew my time with the company was over. I went into the bathroom, and took down a letter an old coworker who moved away left us, offering us a place to stay where she lived if we were in the area. I figured I was the last person it applied to, and it was no longer needed. Thinking about how much time and effort I put into that store, I pulled out my keys, and took off my key to the store. My last thought was that I had just taken out a loan for school the day prior… and I really needed the job. But I knew that even if I stayed I was probably a target to get fired, so I might as well just quit knowing I did it for the right reasons. I took my key, walked to the front, and gave it to the owner, telling him I wasn’t comfortable working there anymore, and that I wished him the best of luck. He asked me to step out back with him, so I figured I could give him that since I was leaving without a two week notice.
He gave me a rundown of what I assume was my “you’re fired” speech. He accused me of stealing the plastic stoppers again. He told me that they had confirmed what they thought was true – that I was trading free to tea to mall employees I worked with at my other job in the mall, for free chocolate (I work at a candy store as well). He accused me of giving my coworkers at “candy store” free tea, in exchange for free chocolates from “candy store”, which I also work at and get the chocolates for free. I told him how ridiculous that was – why would I steal from one job to trade/steal at my other, when I got both products for free? He didn’t care, because they had “traced” cups going over to my other store. Not sure what that meant, but whatever. He claimed that “half the mall” was getting free tea (not true) and that several managers had approached them about it. Right.
So I again told him that I wished him luck with his company and this store, and I hoped that he could revitalize the business and make it successful. Clocked out, wished the new manager the best of luck, and told my coworker that I was leaving. She was 50/50 on leaving herself, and so I told her to just come visit me down the hall sometime. As I walked out, Andy the owner again called me over, wanting to check my bag. He found a notebook, three pens, and an iPod. I felt humiliated, having gone through that in front of a store of customers, some of which were regulars I’d gotten to know. I felt extremely distressed, having given so much to that store and company, having sacrificed so much to just keep it running, and ended up with such an ending. I called my manager on my way out of the mall, and she said she planned on just giving them her key that day too. Despite having given her two weeks, the upper management was now ignoring her and acting as though she were a sales associate, and ignoring her. She felt she had put in enough. We wished each other well, and I spent my Sunday home, and for the first time in months, completed an assignment on time!
I thought it ended there, but it didn’t. The assistant manager got his old job at my candy story back, so we were still working together. The owner of Teavana stopped in our store one day, and told him he wasn’t allowed in Teavana unless he were buying something, otherwise security would be called because he was there to “demoralize” the staff. That was pretty rude, but whatever. I also found out that Nancy had told people I had stolen money, because there had been sixty dollars missing one day. Go figure, they found it in the safe. Also, those plastic stoppers I supposedly stole? Found out from my coworker that we never had them to begin with. That’s right. Before we even opened the store months ago, those pieces were never even sent to us. If you actually washed the sample machines thoroughly and took off the nozzle (which I always did), the suction left and it took time to build back up and prevent leaks. Go figure, it leaked because I had actually cleaned it properly.
Now that is a lot of story to have read, and if you did, thank you for your time! I know a lot of my story was anecdotal and certainly biased in my opinions, but I think it’s a fair representation of how my store ran. I truly believed in both the company and the store, and expending long shifts and lost many hours of sleep for it. I felt passionate about it, and as the company described, it wanted people who went above their training, who had an “active interest” in tea. I did, because it was an interesting and very rewarding hobby. The training manual offers a letter from Nancy and Andy Mack, who say, “We are looking for people with great integrity, leadership drive, and who are plain old hard workers.” I had the most sincere integrity, and one of my biggest regrets is that I wasn’t able to give a two weeks notice when I quit. I didn’t want to be a key-holder because it meant more responsibility and time, which I did not have, but I did it for the sake of the store and my managers. I’m pretty sure that somehow fits in with leadership. I dedicated my entire life for several months to this job, giving up any social life I once had, and am only now getting back in touch with my friends and family I had missed out on because of how busy I was with trying to make the store successful. I’m damn sure that I was a good and hard worker. I don’t mean to depict myself as a model employee, because I had faults like any employee does, but I gave it my all.
In conclusion, I would encourage you all to not frequent the Teavana Company. It is a company that bases its sales process on misleading you into what it considers the “best”. It is a sales intense store, which contradicts with the natural essence of tea – a relaxing and heartening beverage that soothes the soul. It seeks to build its image as the worlds premier retailer in tea, but uses average grade quality teas. Teavana faces a big challenge – how does a company market fresh and loose tea to a country where soda is the more poplar drink, and to people who didn’t even know tea was such a diverse subject. In order to do this, Teavana markets the hell out of its products, partially by making unsubstantiated claims about its products. It offers an unfriendly work environment. While it carries some great looking products, I would recommend anyone who is drawn in by the stores zen allure to step back, and look into the products on their own accord. Take a look online at some tea retailers. Read a book about it, and don’t be afraid by the big and overwhelming idea of tea. I started off overwhelmed, but don’t worry about learning about it all at once. It’s just tea.