Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price sipped tea with Ritual Earth Tea Founder Kristy Baker and talked about what drew her to Hartford’s Parkville neighborhood and why she launched her startup.
NAN: You’ve been a creator for many years.
KRISTY: Yes. I spent many years producing different things. I’ve always liked to make a product. When friends told me they would buy some of my jewelry, I created an Etsy page. Soon after, I was beading and metalsmithing and then I got into aromatherapy and I was selling that at local markets. It wasn’t really a business. I wasn’t running it like a business. It was more of a supplemented hobby.
NAN: At what point did it evolve into a business?
KRISTY: I’ve been a hairstylist for more than 10 years. I reached a point where I wanted to do something that fulfilled me a little bit more personally—but I wasn’t sure what it was. I knew I didn’t want to go back to school, I didn’t have the time or resources. But I wanted to do something boldly different.
Every night I would come home from the salon and choose a loose-leaf tea to steep. It had become a ritual. Watching the tea steep, I would try to think about nothing, but it always came back to me thinking: What am I going to do with my life?
And then I read an article about Parkville. I live in Middletown and I hadn’t really heard of Parkville. I’d been to the Arbor Arts Center and a few businesses and events in Parkville, but I didn’t really make the connection it was “Parkville” I just thought of it as Hartford.
The article talked about how new businesses are moving in and changing Parkville, which is really cool. I thought: You know what? I’m going to call some people and try to get a space of my own there.
NAN: How did you go about that process?
KRISTY: Through some connections I’d made at Hartford Denim Company, I got in touch with a landlord who owns a few buildings in Parkville. I told him I wanted space and he mentioned The Dirt Salon. I got in touch with Cynthia Dodd, who was the visionary founder. We met and I saw this space. It was empty, dusty, and dirty—I loved it. And it was in my budget.
When I told Cynthia I wanted this space, she said: That’s great, but what are you going to do with it? I honestly didn’t know. I explained to her that I’m a collage thinker. The way I work, I need to see all the pieces and rearrange them into something. And the first piece I need is the space. Cynthia understood that. So, I took the leap and committed to the space. I had my little home in Parkville, but I still didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with it.
I went home to make some tea and think about it. I knew I could do jewelry or aromatherapy, but I felt the markets were flooded. I was steeping my loose-leaf tea. I looked at the leaves and the list of ingredients and I started thinking I could make this so much better. Then I thought: I’m going to do this! It clicked. So that’s how Ritual Earth Tea was born.
NAN: Once you had your idea, did you formalize a business plan or meet with any startup resources?
KRISTY: I just jumped in. I talked to some people and I did a bunch of research online. I knew the steps I should have taken, but everything was moving so fast because I wanted the space.
I threw together a loose business plan for myself, so I would have something written out. But I didn’t really meet with anybody. The money I used to start the business was from one credit card and all the tips I’d made that season at the salon. That’s how I funded it. Everything has been a learning experience.
NAN: When did you officially open?
KRISTY: I signed the lease in January 2018 and officially opened at the end of April. I spent the time in between preparing the space and figuring out my packaging, which has already evolved.
NAN: How are you marketing?
KRISTY: I’m using a lot of social media and attending local events. I’ve been lucky enough to make connections and place my tea at different locations including Sit and Steep at Tainted every month and VASU Tribe, which are both located in the Arbor Arts Center. My teas area also available at Perkatory Coffee Roasters in Middletown. I’ve gotten a lot of customers from those locations and through word of mouth.
NAN: In what other ways do you collaborate with local businesses?
KRISTY: I met with Hartford Flavor Company Co-Founder Lelaneia Dubay and created a tea blend and aroma mist for their brand using herbs leftover from their infusion process. It’s excellent to work with other local creative souls and utilize ingredients working toward a less wasteful way of business.
I’m also collaborating with local creatives with my Makers+Doers tea collection. Each tea blend is inspired by a local maker or doer. I’ll find a local artist and ask if I can create a signature tea blend based on them. I visit them in their studio and record a live interview. And then we have a party where I launch and sell the tea. That’s been helpful for cross promotion. I’m selling their signature tea, and they can sell it too and keep a portion, which some donate to a charity of their choice. Also, a portion of all proceeds from the Makers+Doers collection goes to the artists.
NAN: What’s your long-term goal for Ritual Earth Tea? Do have plans to have someone distribute your tea and do the packaging or have it sold in stores.
KRISTY: Yes. I want to do more soliciting to make the tea available at other businesses. My goal is to have my tea bottled and sold in stores as a line of iced teas.
NAN: How do you get from here to there?
KRISTY: I’m not entirely sure yet. My plan is to create a well-known name and make enough money. I also need to be able to make each recipe exact and consistent. Because if I use a distributor, I would need to send a recipe to a bottling plant that would make it for me, bottle it, and ship it. It gives them a lot of the control, which is hard for me and also expensive. To get to that point, I need to be 100% confident with my brand and my recipes. I don’t want to say I’m not confident, but I’m wary.
NAN: Have you been able to talk to other local business owners who are doing similar things and get tips or advice? Have you developed any mentor relationships?
KRISTY: I was building a mentorship with Cynthia, and then she passed. I would love to have a main, go-to person as a mentor. But right now, I’m kind of grabbing information from here and there. I’m doing a lot solo but with a lot of input from a lot of different people.
When I first came into the space, I didn’t really know anybody in Hartford—but I knew there were a lot of people here doing cool things. After I got space in this building, I started meeting people and everyone was super helpful. I’ve connected with people from Hands on Hartford, Tainted, VASU, the Arbor Arts Center, IdleWilde Printing Company, and Hog River Brewing Company. And Jeff Devereux from Breakfast Lunch & Dinner, who is amazing with what he puts on with the KNOW Good Market.
I’m kind of riding coattails—and people are letting me. We also tag each other on social media. It’s such a good feeling. People here just want to help each other succeed.
NAN: It’s been a year since you signed your lease. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
KRISTY: I am most proud of my own personal growth. I’ve pushed myself and I’ve been able to do it.
I’m also proud of the fact that people like my product. I know people want to support small businesses. They’ll purchase something, and that makes you feel good as well. But to have someone who truly likes your product, that’s amazing. And I’ve never really felt that way before.
I’ve had repeat customers—people buy a tin of tea and they come back a month later and say: I need more! That’s incredible. And that makes me feel proud.
NAN: What’s next?
KRISTY: This is going to be a winter of learning. I know how to make connections with people and I know how to make a product, but I want to learn more about running a business.
I also want to work on my online business and amp up my visual appeal. I don’t have a ton of online sales. I thought the Internet store would do a lot better than the physical location, which I initially planned as more of a home base for me. But it’s the opposite, which is really interesting.
Right now, I’m having this teetering moment where the business is supporting itself, which is wonderful and I’m grateful. But it’s not really turning a heavy profit. It’s not sustainable enough for full-time. So, I’m working a lot at the salon to supplement. Working on both things doesn’t leave much time in between. I’m trying to find balance.
NAN: Any advice to anyone else starting out?
KRISTY: I definitely went a little backward. I didn’t take a linear path. My advice is to jump right in. It worked for me.
Knowing who I am, if I had sat down and wrote a full business plan and really connected with all the resources out there, I know I would’ve gotten so much anxiety that I probably wouldn’t have done it.
So, know what you need. If you’re the type of person who needs to know what’s going to happen and what path you need to take, then you should utilize every single resource and draw up your business plan. But for me, I know I’d spiral out of control.
It’s like when I used to go cliff jumping. I can’t think about it too much. I close my eyes and jump and hope for the best. That’s how I had to start this business and it’s been working for me.
Learn more about Ritual Earth Tea