Created in 2008, Tielka was the first Australian business to supply a collection of Fairtrade organic loose leaf teas to those passionate about beauty and justice across Australia. Now with over 160 cafes and retailers around Australia stocking and serving Tielka, the founder, Rebecca Domorev gives a small insight into the journey of pain and passion it has taken to bring her small business from near burnout back to life.
I’m sitting in front of my computer, Monday 12th May 2014. Outside is a balmy 25 degrees, the sun is shining; a soft sea breeze blows gently from the Coral Sea through an open door. Behind me, encompassed by four sturdy walls and a newly installed ceiling is finally brought together the pain and joy of the last 6 years – our warehouse, our business.
It’s been a tough journey. The climax started in chilly Melbourne around 12 months ago and peaked three months later in August with several weeks of gruelling, exhausting and exuberant growth. As a sit typing, I am for the hundredth time eternally grateful for being plucked out of that August and transported to the place of rest where I am today.
It’s not an uncommon story for small business – at the beginning of 2013 we started investing heavily into sales and marketing and as a spark to a gas leak, boom! Things started to happen. More and more cafes and retailers became aware of and started stocking and serving Tielka tea. As it was, there had never been an issue convincing a café or shop to sell Tielka once they had tried the tea. The difficulty was in spreading the word.
Growth was wonderful. Finally, after 5 years of pouring hours and hours of long days, late nights, and an abundance of tears, hope and faith invested into this creation, it was beginning to look like it would be worth it. And then the big carrot came. A chain of shops decided to sell Tielka products and placed an order the volume and magnitude I could not have anticipated. For a week I was bouncing off the walls, exploding with joy in this flurry of requisition. Everything I had worked for peaked at this moment.
Then came fulfilment time. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced exhaustion like this. What seemed like eternity, but expanded over just a few short weeks, I poured every ounce of energy, time, thought, sleepless night into making this growth a success. Fulfilment was not simple – the prohibitive cost of hiring a larger space in Melbourne with all the necessary fit-outs meant tasks were done in four different locations. The upfront cost of fulfilling this order almost brought things to a halt when a timely family investor offered to help. Life at home was hectic. Dinner became ready-made supermarket meals and when the fridge was empty, I barely had enough energy to drive to our local noodle bar to feed the family.
It was around this time that a small, holiday coastal town called Agnes Water, 550km north of Brisbane came onto our radar. Some friends of ours were planning to move there in 2015 to start a new secondary school. The town of 2000 people had a local primary school, but secondary students were bussed out for a daily 1-2 hour trip to the closest secondary schools. Town growth had always been a major issue – families would leave in droves as soon as their children reached secondary school age.
My husband was struck by this hidden town potential and I too, was intrigued. Tielka was initially birthed from a desire to build a retreat for those affected by burnout. A holiday destination was essential, preferably with temperate weather conditions, an atmosphere of rest and a palatable pricetag. Melbourne surrounds were out. Agnes Water could be the next step in fulfilling the dream of Tielka. We booked flights to check this town out. We would fly there in just three weeks.
As fate would have it, the day after I sealed the final box to be sent to the last of these new Tielka stockists, we flew to Brisbane. I was completely and utterly spent. As I sat in the hire car along the road from Brisbane to Agnes Water, all my energy was focused on relaxing each muscle that seemed permanently tensed. I cast my thoughts over the next four days of rest and anxiety rose. How could I even begin to rejuvenate in such a short time? How would I continue this journey after we get home?
The closer we came to Agnes Water, the more the tension began to settle. As some healing remedy, the approaching atmosphere rested gently above my shoulders and I began to feel some hope that life could be better than what we had left behind.
The little town of Agnes Water captured us within the space of four days. Picture-perfect beaches, glorious sunny days, cool nights and an atmosphere that gently melted away the rush, urgency and stress of life in Melbourne. The recharge was enough to keep me going. A couple of months later, we had sold our house and purchased a new home – a Queenslander – in Agnes Water. In December, we moved our possessions, our businesses and our lives to this new way of living. Tielka would finally have its own space, room to grow and a step taken towards fulfilling the desire it was birthed from.
January we set up. February, March and April were three months of prescribed rest. Tielka chugged along, orders were fulfilled but this was the limit of my tasks.
Now I look back on the last year, once again with deep gratitude. Rested and renewed, I have a rare opportunity to continue building this beautiful business and the promise of a future. I am so thankful for the incredible growth of last August, for the friends that put Agnes Water on the map, for the tenacity of my husband to see this through, for the support of friends and family and for the last three months of rest. Small businesses rarely have this opportunity. Burn out is stock-standard handed out far and wide and too often one step further along the road is more than one can bear.
We’ve been a little quiet on our website, on email, Facebook, Twitter and in print these last 12 months and these are the reasons why. And if you’re reading this now and are going through a similar experience, you’re not alone. Business is an insatiable giant that brings reward only to the rested and the persistent.
See it through.
Indulge in Life.