Bob Krul: Every Day There are Opportunities

WINNIPEG, Canada

The last drink one might imagine as a favorite of hockey players is a cup of tea, but Bob Krul has made a few inroads since he got seriously into the tea business in 2003.

Bob KrulHis two sons were teenagers then, playing junior hockey, and they sipped their dad’s favorite brew between periods in a specially designed tea traveler.

Krul says “Some of their teammates also got the habit, realizing the value of tea as a stimulant. It improves awareness without taxing the heart like other caffeine beverages.”

It was Krul’s work with a major chemical company that brought he and his wife Cory to Winnipeg in 1980. He later got involved in a very successful company that made adhesive tapes used in construction. When that business was sold in 2003, Krul took the plunge into the world of tea. It has since become a family affair.

Cory operates Cornelia Bean in one of Winnipeg’s oldest residential neighborhoods. The store sells a wide variety of specialty teas, along with carefully selected coffee and chocolate. They have been blessed with a large and faithful clientele, including many international visitors.

Krul is best known in the tea industry for his BrewT (brew tea) infuser which is used to make tea and coffee, plus a variety of cold beverages. He first saw one in Taiwan in 2005 and quickly began marketing it in Canada with some modifications.

Nowadays the infuser retails for $24.95 but the big boys in the world of loose leaf tea are also moving in. Krul says DavidsTea is bringing an infuser on the market for $19.95.

Tea operations today are big, professional and they are good, says Krul. Retail chains have buying and marketing skills that are unmatched from the past.

CTC BrewT is launching a new infuser for specialty products, called a Brewtesso. He also says other devices like the teapresso are helping to broaden the market.

With great passion in his voice, Bob Krul talks about high end restaurants in more than one major Canadian city. The restaurateurs have become believers in the wisdom of going beyond tea bags to satisfy their patrons. He says “they’re suddenly realizing the potential in charging $4.50 for 20 cents worth of tea.”

He points to similar success with the Sun Life Building, a major office tower, in Montreal which is the workplace of more than 5,200 people. The BrewT is now used in three major concessions in that venue.

As for the future, Krul says at least one more technical advance will be needed for the next breakthrough, which may well be ice tea aimed at the young crowd who now knock back Slurpees and Big Gulps.

“I know if we can find a way to speed up the serving process, we can turn the kids on to tea, because they’ll quickly realize that it’s healthier for them,” he says.

Ultimately, in terms of his own business, Krul knows that “the money is on the table”.
“As a wholesaler, I’m buying a pound of tea for seven dollars, and selling it for ten. That’s not enough to sustain a business long term,” says Krul.

“I see tremendous downward pressure on the future success of small entrepreneurs,” says Krul. “It is very challenging to make a success every day for everyone that comes through the door. But there are many good reasons to try. The market is changing each and every day and there are opportunities around for those with a special touch,” he says.

Our talk returns to Bob’s love of hockey. When the NHL returns to Winnipeg after a 15 year absence in September, the Krul family will be among the season ticketholders. I’m betting that his mind is already thinking of ways to get more hockey fans to enjoy tea.