Kevin Chee traveled frequently to Japan (pre-Covid, of course) and what he realized then was that he didn’t find high quality. matcha (or green tea) here that are comparable to the ones you tried in Japan.
The 34-year-old wanted to fill that gap and start a food and food business specializing in matcha in Singapore. He even contacted a fourth-generation tea farmer in Japan to get a partnership to bring his tea leaves and powder.
This led to the release of Matchaya in 2015, which started as an emerging store in food carnivals and flea markets selling bottled Matcha Latte, Houjicha Latte and Royal Milk Tea.
An initial investment of A $ 3,000 was invested in the part-time business, which reached equilibrium in three months.
Shortly afterwards, Kevin thought the brand should have a more permanent presence and set up its first tea bar kiosk in Icon Village, although it has since closed.
The following year, he opened his first progressive tea bar at The Cathay, which still operates today.
Since then, Matchaya has established a series of four outlets in Singapore and was also highlighted in 2019 as a “progressive tea bar” to reflect its modern concept, while maintaining the millennial trends of beating and preparation. of you.
Build an inexperienced tea company
Despite zero knowledge and experience of F&B, Kevin, then 28, was deeply intrigued by the tea business and wants to help bridge the industry gap, especially in terms of product and customer experience.
“Everyone sees [Matchaya] as a tea company that innovates tea products so that more people can enjoy tea in a different way. We do not adhere to the rules, but we strongly believe in pushing the boundaries when it comes to product care and experience that adds value and customer. [satisfaction]. ”
The first days of the business, however, were not easy. He relied on a “notion of survival instinct” and did everything he could to make it work, including juggling various hats.
He oversaw business operations 14 hours a day each day, and then returned home in a hurry to continue doing finance, marketing, human resources, as well as research and development (R&D), before sleeping a few hours, and this cycle would be repeat.
“Everyone in our industry understands the hard physical work we go through, but mental stress continues even when we walk out of our stores,” he lamented.
When it comes to product development, the Matchaya team seeks inspiration in “recent discoveries or travels.” Your customers are also involved in the process by letting them know what flavor or form of product they would like to see.
“To perfect the flavors and the recipe, we go through countless R&D steps to develop a product that meets [our standards in terms of] taste, texture and uniqueness. The creative team has to agree on the minimum viable product (MVP) before launching the product, ”Kevin explained.
“As a young company, we believe in launching an MVP before improving the product as we learn from our customers. In this way, we can adapt and grow faster to better meet the needs of our customers. [requests]. ”
Beyond tea drinks and desserts, Matchaya recently launched “tea cups”.
The team has also been doing a lot of R&D for its floral tea blend, its ready-to-drink (RTD) offerings and its soft serving tubs. Kevin leads the charge to incorporate these products into different retail platforms such as RedMart, Lazada and gourmet supermarkets.
As a pioneer matcha specialty store, Matchaya also had to intensify its efforts to educate consumers matcha and its benefits. They invested a lot of time and resources in generating content on their website and social media channels.
With a strong digital marketing focus, they were able to organically grow a strong local and international customer base.
Overcoming the challenges of the Covid-19
From the beginning, Matchaya has been adopting an omnichannel strategy. Beyond their physical tea bars, customers can also participate or shop at the brand through their website and retail distribution channels.
Kevin noted that since the launch of Covid-19, there has been a sharp increase in online activity, which translates into increased brand exposure and a growing revenue stream from all of its channels.
By constantly maintaining an online and offline presence, Matchaya has been able to adapt quickly to the pandemic, which has severely affected his business, as well as many others in the F&B industry.
“Traffic and sales at our outlets have dropped a lot as customers don’t go out as much. Fortunately, Covid-19 has accelerated our growth in our online and distribution channels, where we can reach our consumers. via D2C (direct to the consumer).
“We are grateful to say that our leadership and business acumen are well on their way to expansion.”
In the midst of the pandemic, Matchaya steadily grew its footprint, opening three more stores in Singapore: a tea bar kiosk in Paragon in October 2020, as well as a flagship tea shop in Takashimaya and a progressive tea bar in Singapore. JEM in June 2021.
According to Kevin, three to four outlets are expected to open in 2022. They are still looking for outlets that “make sense in terms of demographics and delivery radius,” that their existing outlets do not at the moment.
He added that they have also received some inquiries abroad and that with the improvement of the situation of the Covid-19, he hopes to have his first store abroad very soon in 2022.
“People are everything”
Matchaya currently manages between 60 and 70 percent of the matcha supplies in Singapore, and the distribution group predicts it will grow by 10 per cent next year.
Commenting on business growth so far, Kevin cited having “the right people at the right time.” one of the key contributing factors.
It has acquired two large working partners, who now form the main management team of Matchaya, helping to scale the business.
“People are the heart of every business, and in our case, we believe that people are everything. We are fortunate to have people with like-minded ideas who join us in building a stronger popular culture. As a company, we are constantly evaluating ourselves to make working here a fun and enriching experience. “
“Make your people happy and they will take care of the rest,” he joked.
It also helps that over time, consumer knowledge about tea, matcha and healthy foods have matured, so Matchaya now has a stronger appeal to them.
However, the F&B market is notoriously saturated and competitive, so what could be the secret to lasting success in this industry?
For Kevin, innovation is his key differentiating factor: in the way they present their products, especially in terms of experience and customer service.
“A good experience [encourages] a customer to return to and, along with excellent products, a customer will become a loyal and supportive customer in the long run. “
He summed up the interview with his personal business mantra: “Work hard and keep going, find the right people and never stop challenging yourself. [to be] the best.”
Featured Image Credit: Matchaya