Steeped in Dragons' Den dollars, Hamilton tea firm grows up

Steeped Tea, a direct-sales loose leaf tea company, opens their new 20,000 sq. ft. warehouse to accomodate their growing business... with the help of Dragon's Den investors.

It was their biggest tea party to date.

Steeped Tea, a locally-based direct-sales loose leaf tea company, opened its new Ancaster warehouse Friday with many of the city’s prominent business people, and two special guests.

Dragon’s Den investors David Chilton and Jim Treliving, both of whom invested in the six-year-old company on an episode of their hit show, were there to help cut the ribbon.

“It’s one of the sharpest moves of my entire career,” Chilton said, a financial planner and author, of investing in Steeped Tea.

A year ago, the company, owned by husband and wife duo Tonia and Hatem Jahshan, appeared on Dragons' Den and landed a $125,000-for-10-per-cent-of-their-company deal from both Chilton and Treliving.

Since then, Hatem said, the company has grown six-fold – hence the new, bigger warehouse.

“We went from a basement to a 1,200-square-foot space, to 6,000 square feet and now to 20,000 in three-and-a-half years,” Hatem said.

Tonia said the company has over 3,000 consultants throughout Canada and the U.S. and 41 employees working out of their warehouse. When Tonia launched the company in October 2006, it was a one-woman show.

Steeped Tea now operates by the Pampered Chef business model, as Tonia puts it. Tea consultants hold "tea parties" for potential clients to sample products and buy directly.

About three years in, Hatem, who previously owned several Subway restaurants in Hamilton, said if his wife’s company made enough in sales, he’d quit his job and join her.

“And I did it,” Tonia said, with a big smile.

“Now I work for her,” Hatem said, and the couple shared a laugh.

And it was that charming charisma the Jahshans have that caught the Dragons' eyes.

“I believe in the people first and then the product,” Treliving said, who is best known for co-founding Boston Pizza. “They were very well versed in what their company could do... they were passionate and focused, and had everything but some cash.”

Jim Treliving's top tips for entrepreneurs:

1) Make sure you’re focused
2) Know your numbers
3) Be passionate about your business

What happened behind the scenes after the episode aired was the "due diligence" stage, where Chilton's and Treliving’s teams went through their business plan, model and finances to make sure everything the Jahshan said in their pitch was true.

Then came the product testing.

“We got all kinds of samples and brought together all the tea people in our lives and try it,” Chilton said. “All across the board, they said, 'These are the best blends we’ve had...' And I thought more than anything, it was the tea that got me excited.”

Chilton even signed his daughter up as a consultant to see what the training was like. It also passed his test.

“It was very much a reflection of Tonia, very authentic,” he said.

Both Chilton and Treliving said they’re in for the long haul with Steeped Tea. As for next steps, they agree the Jahshans should focus on making their new warehouse work.

“This is where we want to be at,” Treliving said.

Hatem said the way Steeped Tea is growing, there will be a bigger warehouse in about a year.

And that’s the success story the Dragons want to hear.

“This is really what the show and entrepreneurship is about,” Chilton said.

Footage from Friday’s Steeped Tea grand opening will air on a Dragons' Den episode in April.


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