Eli and Allen Teas for All Tastes

WICHITA, Kan.

The number of dry tea merchants has grown significantly in the past five years with independents and chains stocking small store fronts to earn big dollars. In contrast, tea room expansion is flat but retailers with two entrances report profitable synergy.

That is why Bob Boewe, owner of The Spice Merchant, is moving again. In the last 32 years Boewe has moved from the back of a 400 sq. ft. store to the front of that very same building, to a 3000 sq. ft. renovated, historic building closer to downtown. But today, Boewe is moving sideways. Down the hall, Boewe and his wife and partner Sue, are opening Eli and Allen Teas for All Tastes, expanding The Spice Merchant’s current offerings of tea and tea accessories, spices and fresh roasted coffee.

Spice Merchant Entrrance“This new direction is going to be better,” Boewe said. “We just know from going to World Tea Expo for the last I-don’t-know-how-many-years… the tea business is just growing and growing and growing.”

Teas are expected to account for $15 billion in U.S. sales this year. More than 10% (approximately $125,000) of the Spice Merchant’s annual revenue is earned selling tea and tea accessories.

“In the past we have not divided out tea accessories from the regular household kitchen or coffee accessories, but we know from the amount that we continually reorder we’re selling a lot of the tea accessories,” he said.

Last year (July 2011-June 2012) store sales were up 7.5% from the prior fiscal year totaling about $1.2 million which includes sales of coffee, tea, spices, and accessories. This year, Boewe expects the expanded tea business will increase tea sales by 25%.

But the anticipated increase in sales was not the only reason to expand; there’s fun in selling tea.

“I got a sweet letter from a lady who had been a long time customer. She was planning on having a tea party with her granddaughter. I found an idle tea pot with some parts missing, that was perfect for a kid’s tea party. I gave her some blooming tea to go with it. So this letter talked about how the party was a great success and thanked me for helping her with it. People remember that kind of thing and they tell their friends,” said Boewe, adding that traffic also comes from bus trips to the nearby theatre as well as from the spice business where customers end up falling in love with teas.

Spice MerchantPrior to renovating the 1,200 sq. foot room, Boewe ran a deli, which closed eight years ago. The space was then rented out as a meeting room. Now the transformation includes brightly painted walls, new fixtures made from reclaimed buildings in India and Nepal; stained glass windows, Indian wall hangings, and vintage European wall posters.

Customers coming to Eli and Allen can sample teas — bags from Metropolitan Tea and Stash — and buy baked goods made by a neighboring bakery. The predominant offerings are the store’s private label loose teas including black from Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Tanzania; blends like Darjeelings and Assams; and a popular Taiwanese Ruby 18.

There are about 20 different choices of green teas covering Oolongs and Jasmines; and some Japanese and Chinese greens. In the flavored category, Eli and Allen stocks B&E out of Chicago, selections from International Tea Importers, East Rise Tea, G.S. Hayley, and ABC Tea. There are also herbals and selections of fruit teas from Dethlefsen & Balk.

“Past history, hopefully, is good for future sales,” said Boewe of the new business.

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