​How to Downsize your Business and Come Out Ahead

I decided to close Oolong Bar, our second tea shop. At the end of the day, it was a “smart” business decision. It was smart because it was the right thing to do for me and for the business. It is kind of counterintuitive from an outsider's perspective and even from my perspective. And it is a decision that took me a very long time to arrive at. But once I did, it was very clear. I woke up one morning and realized that this is what I had to do. So I started down that journey of closing a business. This is something I had never done before. It was scary and overwhelming and it took a lot longer than I would have liked. I think I came to the realization in October and the lease ended at the end of February. So for four months or one third of a year, I toiled to move the needle forward, so that I would really be out of the building. Aside from a lot of stuff to deal with, I also had an awesome crew that stuck with me until the end. I asked my bookkeeper, who is much more than a bookkeeper, if I should make the information that I was closing public. His answer, “It is a question of integrity. So your answer might be totally different from mine.” And so it was that I made the decision to be totally transparent with the crew and with our customers. I did my best to let everyone know what I knew, when I knew it.

Now that it is done, and the Oolong Bar is closed, there is a huge sense of relief. All of the energy that I used to channel into the business is freed up. Now what? So now the journey of the rest of my life is here. I am present with it. It is so fragile and tender and small enough that I can hold it in both of my hands. It is alive and it pulses with energy. It is a potent energy. It gives me strength. Or as one customer put it, “You are recapturing a part of your soul.”

The path of business is as important as the business itself. One quote I love is that everyday, we step into the dojo (the business arena) and we face ourselves. We are the ones that we must overcome. We are our biggest opponent. We are also our biggest ally. There are many contradictions. Something can be both yes and no at the same time. So this path is a path of discernment. We head down the path, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and it is simple, because the progress is forward. Then suddenly, there is a decision to be made. There is a sliver of a trail that forks off the left. Do we take it? The reality is that these forks and forks upon forks will pop up more times than you can imagine. And the path we take is the path we are on. There is no way to intellectualize it. So we do the best we can. We take the forks that we think are leading to where we want to go, and we also make some wrong turns along the way. Business is an exciting adventure for me. It is a great metaphor for life. We must find our own way. That is one of the most confusing things about it. Because when we start, we don’t know anything. So we try to learn best business practices. A lot of these practices are common sense. And a lot of them will help you establish a business that grows. But what happens when we come to the conclusion that these practices don’t work for us as individuals? You either suck it up and suffer through it, and sometimes this is very important to do, or else you take the other fork and do it your way. It is hard to say which way is the right way.

For about thirteen years, we did our best to learn and implement “best business practices” and then came Covid, the big disrupter. Honestly, like many people, I had no idea what I was going to do. But then I started to get ideas, and I started to do them. They felt weird, but I was like, “that’s ok”. It isn’t really time to be trying to stay in the comfort zone. And now I am doing what I would call best business practices plus.

It is work and we have to put the work in. We do the work up front. I am interested in sales and I try to learn about how to get people interested in tea. It is important to me not only because I want my business to be able to provide my livelihood, but also because tea is fascinating. Tea helps people in so many ways. Good tea is one of life's pleasures and one of my favorite things about this business is helping people come to the conclusion that they truly do love tea. The rest of the world isn’t wrong, but somehow in the US people still haven’t fully embraced tea. From my own personal experience as well as seeing so many others round that corner and delve deep into tea, it has to do with the quality of the tea. Good tea is relatable as something that is worthy of appreciation and worth spending some money on. In fact, tea is one of the few things that I feel comfortable both spending on and encouraging others to do the same. Good tea is always worth it!