Part of our Customer Spotlight series, featuring brands on the Crisp platform and their growth stories.
Before founding Zest Tea, James Fayal learned two important lessons as a financial analyst: how to sustain long hours at work, and how to use data to grow a business. Recognizing the need for a healthier way to stay focused throughout the day, James launched Zest Tea’s line of high-octane teas in 2014. Today, it’s a thriving brand at 4,000+ retail locations nationwide. We sat down with James to talk about how his analytical approach to growth has helped Zest Tea succeed.
Creating a new brew
Back when he was crunching numbers as a venture capital analyst, James recalls drinking “sludge coffee and terribly sweet energy drinks” to get through the day. Seeking a lighter and healthier alternative, he decided to make one himself: a highly caffeinated tea designed to sustain energy and focus. With three times the boost of regular tea, Zest Tea’s brews are packed with amino acids like L-Theanine to moderate caffeine’s effects and avoid added sugars or artificial ingredients. It was clear James was onto something, but having seen countless startups go fast and burn out, he was committed to a steady and strategic growth model. “In venture capital, I saw too many people jump too quickly and burn out before they could develop their idea’s potential,” James reflects. He was determined to launch his business differently.
James’ first choice was to start with bagged teas. While he originally had iced teas in mind, he knew ready-to-drink brands were particularly hard to start from scratch: the product would be difficult to send directly to consumers and require major manufacturing capabilities. So he started with bagged and loose leaf teas, which he could make on a smaller scale with a reasonable budget. The business grew steadily by word-of-mouth for a year before James left his day job. A year later, he was hiring employees, and the year after that, Zest Tea was ready to enter retail stores.
“You need data to figure out if you’re attracting the right type of customers who will actually stick around.” — James Fayal, CEO & Founder, Zest Tea
Growth shouldn’t be a spike-and-crash
From the beginning, James was cautious and deliberate about his company’s entry into retail. First, he made sure the product had been validated in the market, in addition to what his research deck showed. After 150% per year growth and a thriving DTC channel, Zest Tea was ready to make the move. James’ next challenge was to do so profitably. “The second you go into retail, you’re going to spend money. It’s not a cash flow sales channel,” James advises. He’s right: it takes investment to develop the scale and distribution offered by the retail channel, and being smart about this can be key to running a profitable business. This means managing costs, inventory, and promotional spend wisely.
But as the Zest Tea brand grew in retail stores, it became harder for James to run a data-driven business. “You get spoiled with data in DTC and then you move to retail and realize…. ‘I don’t have any data’,” he recalls. “I won’t know anything for six months.” Using his analytics background, James resolved to build reports himself — which kept him in the role of Analyst instead of focusing on his responsibilities as a CEO. “As an emerging brand, our goal was to get an understanding of how our activities were translating to the shelf level. That was incredibly difficult data to manage,” he reflects. That’s when he decided to look at Crisp.
Steeped in the data
Now, Zest Tea uses Crisp to make important decisions about their thousands of retail locations, from big-picture trend lines to day-to-day operations. Particularly important to James is a data-driven promotional strategy. Just like with tea, he doesn’t want the boost that comes from promotions to be a spike-and-crash. “You’re encouraged to do all kinds of retail promotions as a growing brand…but what’s the long-term effect coming out of those promos?” James wonders. “You need data to make those decisions — to figure out if you’re attracting the right type of customers who will actually stick around.” Once they’ve designed the right promotion, the team tracks fill rates at each distribution center to prevent out-of-stocks.
“With Crisp, we have the data access of a much larger company.” — James Fayal, CEO & Founder, Zest Tea
Zest Tea also uses Crisp dashboards to eye long-term trend lines and manage their product mix accordingly. In one example, the team spotted that a slower moving SKU was actually a high performer in the Northeast. Instead of cutting the product, they focused their growth efforts in a regionally specific way. “Who knows how long it would have taken us to find that out otherwise, but it was rapidly available to us via Crisp,” James explains. In addition to saving the team dozens of hours per month combing through raw data, James says that Crisp has democratized data access across the company. Now, every team member is armed with sophisticated insights to make better sales, marketing, and operations decisions. Given how expensive and time-consuming data analysis can be, James says this wouldn’t normally be possible for an emerging brand: “With Crisp, we have the data access of a much larger company.”