Year of the Phoenix
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Year of the Phoenix

Early on in my career, as a public relations associate in Mumbai, I remember being nominated to attend a day-long conference which was centered on ‘The Future of Work’. Floating desks, digital nomads and work from home were vague ideas, that at best, made for interesting conversation starters – I was initiated into a workspace where meetings over many cups of coffee were sacrosanct and where it was believed you could only build a client relationship if you shared common space before you shared ideas and goals. This was 2007.

Cut to a year after the pandemic and the world of work has been pushed out of its cushy beliefs and unchallenged practices. WFH is no longer alien, the internet is as essential as a roof over our heads and work-life balance as it was earlier called, has now become just about balance.

We are right now, living the Future of Work – excitedly soaking in the new normal but also groping in the dark at times; signs that we will come out stronger, better and ready to scale new heights. I guess as humans, our biggest strength really is our adaptability. It may well be the closest thing we possess to having a superpower.

At Sublime House of Tea, 2020 was the year where we were pushed to the brink. Those who had known the brand pre-Covid, loved us for the experience we had to offer – a treat to the senses at bespoke stores in the city, a sampling of our handcrafted brews that were seldom found on a supermarket shelf and a promise of superior quality with every tin of tea that found its way to our customers’ kitchen shelves. With the onset of lockdown, it suffices to say that our core was shaken. We found ourselves at the deep end and sinking was no option.

Leadership matters – with Uzma Irfan, our founder who led with grit, courage and a much needed aura of optimism, we realigned our goals took on the pandemic head on. We were here to stay for the long run and reminded ourselves that we still had our customers out there who wrote us emails, left us messages and called us asking about where they could get their next tin of Sublime. Our resolve to stay ahead of the curve only got stronger.

What we were forced to cut back on with the stores being shut, we did our best to make up on the internet. Yes, we are in the business of tea but prior to that, we are in the people business – our team in house and our customers. Our team had to stay motivated to give their best to our customers and it amazes me to look back and say with pride that despite the barrier of the internet, we pulled through. The retail and logistics teams went out of their way to fulfil orders on time, seek real time feedback and improvise as we took the next step forward.

Looking back at March 2020, we were caught in a tailspin and new product launches were the last thing on our mind. By June, we shook ourselves out of our comfort zone again and took the bold decision to unveil a collection of honeys. With crossed fingers we launched our range of Hive to Home honeys. We spread the word prudently via WhatsApp and they sold out before the bottles were packed and ready to ship. Attributing it to beginner’s luck, we ventured with our second consignment, then a third and so on. The response was heartwarming – months of effort that we were ready to postpone due to Covid, had come to fruition and those who tried it were coming back for more. There was no sweeter reassurance!

This renewed confidence gave us the impetus to expand our line of tea ware, grow our gift offerings and add new tea blends to our portfolio. It’s been a rollercoaster to say the least – some misses but mostly hits and a learning to last a lifetime.

Would it be fair to say 2020 has given us more than what it took away from us? I’d say yes.

Some of our glory moments from 2020 that come to mind and kept us going when the chips were down – we served the highest number of customers ever that year, had the maximum number of product launches that year and opened two new storefronts at Falcon Towers and UB City to serve more tea and honey aficionados.

It continues to be a churn and some days we do miss the comfort of the old times, when tactility brought about a feeling of togetherness. However, it also gave us 300 plus days to reinvent, innovate, create and most importantly, taught us that we need to survive before we thrive!

It was really the year when Sublime House of Tea 2.0 came alive. A month into 2021, this sentiment has more vigour and we are only just getting started. As Barack Obama said, ‘The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on.’

Medha drives product development and growth strategy at Sublime House of Tea. When she is not tasting tea or thinking about how we can elevate the Sublime experience, she enjoys long leisurely walks, a slow, home-cooked meal and learning French.

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