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Success in a cup of tea

Posted on September 28, 2013

Juliet D. Herrera
President and General Manager
Serenitea Cha Kitchen, Inc.

WHILE FILIPINOS have always been big coffee drinkers, it was only recently that tea, specifically milk tea, started to be part of our country’s beverage culture. One of the people who introduced this to the country was Juliet Herrera, 28, who wanted to present something new to a different market.

Ms. Herrera graduated from the De La Salle College of Saint Benilde with a degree in Business Administration majoring in Export Management. After graduation, she and her partner Peterson Chen wanted to go into business. They decided to visit Taiwan to look for possible opportunities and it was there that they discovered the milk tea craze. Believing that the Filipino palate was thirsting for something new, Ms. Herrera and her partner decided to bring the concept back to Manila.

Even though they did not have much experience, they made sure they did extensive research while in Taiwan. In 2008, with capital that Ms. Herrera and Mr. Chen borrowed from their parents, they set up Serenitea Cha Kitchen, Inc. and opened their first branch in San Juan.

Like many fledgling business people, Ms. Herrera was apprehensive about the venture. “We were the first to introduce tea to a coffee drinking country,” she claims. Customers were slow to try the product in the beginning but as word of mouth spread and local media began lauding the delights of milk tea, Serenitea started becoming the beverage of choice for trendy drinkers.

Ms. Herrera relates that part of her uncertainty at the start was that she didn’t have any formal training or experience in a business. “My college education did not prepare me for this,” she explains, “all our decisions were based purely on instinct.” Recognizing the need to understand business operations better, she enrolled at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business to learn more about organizational and departmental efficiency.

One of the reasons behind Serenitea’s popularity seems to be its positioning as an innovative, healthy and casual teashop targeted at young professionals. “We were the ones who pioneered the brewing of tea with the use of an espresso machine” she claims, “you can taste the difference when tea is freshly brewed, which is why we only brew upon order.”

She notes that this is one of the primary differences between Serenitea and its competitors, which pre-brew their drinks for faster streamlining. Ms. Herrera also introduced the concept of preparing different kinds of tea mixtures to be able to create the freshest and highest grades of hot and cold tea drinks. Most of the ingredients they use are imported from Taiwan.

Another factor that makes them different from other tea outlets is that customers can customize their teas. Serenitea encourages their customers to personalize their tea orders according to tea selection (e.g., best seller, caffeine free, light, slush) and a choice of sinkers, like pearls and jellies that enhance the drinking experience. Customers can also choose the sweetness level of their teas. In addition, Serenitea offers snacks in a relaxing and comfortable environment, similar to that of coffee shops. It is also the first tea company to offer home delivery service.

From the one branch in San Juan in 2008, Serenitea has grown to 27 company-owned branches in Metro Manila, with five more to open by the end of the year. In 2012, they decided to open the company up to franchising with the first franchise shop in Cebu.

Ms. Herrera is planning to start expanding the business even further. She visits Taiwan three times a year to do more research for the business. There are plans to award more franchises and to reach more areas outside Metro Manila. “We hope to saturate nationwide, in addition to Cebu, we plan on having one in Mindanao next and to expand internationally in the future.”

Serenitea will also start introducing more drinks and expand the menu further, such as seasonal drinks that will be sold only for a limited time. Ms. Herrera is also exploring the possibility of bottling their drinks to reach a wider market and enter into a new category.

For her success with Serenitea, Ms. Herrera was given the PLDT Next Generation Award in 2011 and was also included in the Go Negosyo Young Entrepreneurship roster.

Ms. Herrera’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is simple: “Don’t be afraid to take risks because you’ll never know what’s out there. If you have a great idea, just do it. Be patient, honest and humble. Also learn to accept advice from others.”

The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc. with the participation of co-presenters the Department of Trade and Industry, Philippine Business for Social Progress, Philippine Stock Exchange and the University of the Philippines. Each of this year’s finalists will be featured in the following days by BusinessWorld.

The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2013 will be announced on Oct. 16, 2013 in an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2014 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2014. The Entrepreneur Of The Year is produced globally by Ernst & Young.