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Dessert by Deb's Toronto Tea Festival Debut!  February 2020

Dessert by Deb's Toronto Tea Festival Debut! February 2020

Hello Dessert by Deb Sweet-Tea Pies!  Given how Toronto Tea Festival 2020 happened one month ago, I figured my post on my first experience as a vendor was long overdue!  Dessert by Deb made its Toronto Tea Festival debut on February 1st and 2nd, 2020 at the Toronto Reference Library and I look back on this moment in time with so much love and so much pride.

The road to get here was long and challenging and worth every penny and ounce of effort.  Because the road to TTF 2020 wasn't just about tea and products and showing up for the weekend all dressed up.  No, this path unfolded in what could only be described as a miraculous chain of events, events that ultimately changed me as a person forever.  In hindsight, my desire to get my toosh into Toronto Tea Festival was the catalyst to a quantum shift that occurred in my life that has steered me in the direction I'm heading in now, and I promise that these stories will be told in the near future as I reveal Dessert by Deb's next adventure throughout the course of the year.  For today's post, I'll be talking about the lead up, the prep, and the actual weekend so you can get an idea of what it's like for someone behind the table!

The Decision of Champions 

I made my decision to apply for Toronto Tea Festival at the end of summer 2019 and knew that my deadline to submit my registration for the early bird rate (yes, there's an early bird and a "regular") was October 31, 2019.  If you submit registration at any point after that date (assuming there are spots still available), the rate jumps.  Pricing aside (which I will get to below), the decision had to be, "do I want to do this festival?"  Because not every single Toronto/GTA/GTHA tea business decides to become a vendor. 

I had to connect to my why.  And ultimately, I knew, in my gut, this would be my moment.  My moment to unleash the avalanche of joy for what I do in front of the home crowd, to show and welcome tea lovers into my world beyond a computer or phone screen so they could be happy too, and for people to see ME.  Because when you look at my business, this is authentically me.  My favourite colours, my favourite flavours, my inspirations, my wacky ideas, my hands illustrating those designs, blending those teas, snapping all those orange pieces (yes, I do that by hand), and the products I personally love to have in my own life.  I knew that I could confidently stand in my why and in my truth and CRUSH IT.

Show Me the Dollahs

First step: make the decision.  Do I want this?  Yes?  Good.  Now, how much is this going to cost?  And how am I going to pay for this?  This is not a secret (because anyone can access this information on their website once registration is open which is abooout first week of September) so I'm just going to put it out here: my early bird rate to do the Toronto Tea Festival was $750 (+HST).  And I am going to leave it at that because the story of how I found the money to pay for it is part of a much larger story of mine that involves the quantum shift I mentioned at this beginning of this post and I want that story to stand on its own.  All I will say is that right around this time last year I was suffering from my 3rd brush with depression from the summer into September when I ultimately hit another bottom and right at the beginning of October was when my recovery began.  Coincidence that the early bird expired at the end of that month?  No, no coincidences, just miracles.

Road to Toronto Tea Festival!

Off to the races!  Prep for the Toronto Tea Festival began in earnest in December (yes, during the holiday season!) when I began brainstorming, recipe development, and recipe testing for my winter collection.  I wanted the Winter Snow Bunny collection to be a showpiece at the festival along with the other bestsellers from the other two permanent collections, so while many folks I'm sure were taking some time off during the holidays, I was working away so that I could shoot out of the gate in the new year to begin the long process of blending, labelling, measuring, packing, heat-sealing, and assembling among the many tasks that needed to be done during the month of January! 

Those things included ordering supplies and inventory to top up, designing and ordering my retractable banner, making sure I had all the necessary marketing materials for the show, deciding which teas and products I wanted to feature and sell, doing a run through of set up before the actual show (i.e. putting together the retractable banner at home several times so that assembly at the show would be seamless on the morning of because hey, no one likes to feel panicky!), and also deciding which new products I wanted to take for a test drive at the festival. 

Remember, I work a part-time day job at Lemon Lily Tea, which is where I also do all my blending, so this was a juggling act that I had never experienced before and it was definitely challenging.  There was one point where I went 13 days straight without a day off (I was either at work at Lemon Lily, at Lemon Lily on my own time doing my own blending, or assembling, packing, working on holiday orders and subscription boxes, etc.) and while I'm damn proud that I was able to manage it all to the best of my ability, this process was an eye-opener for me and one of my biggest takeaways was this: I needed to change my physical state if I wanted to succeed moving forward.  Because I don't want to just "manage", I want to feel GOOD.  I'm very blessed to have a friend who is a personal trainer whom I can seek guidance from to start this process of getting my body and energy level to where it needs to be to sustain this level of output. 

I HAVE to think long-term.  I'm 34 and I'm anticipating doing this for many, many years to come and it would be incredibly short-sighted and irresponsible of me to knowingly put myself in a position to burnout when I have all the resources in the world not to.  My body is the vessel that is propelling my vision and work forward so it's imperative that I take care of it and keep it feeling good as much as possible.  Both the lead up and the actual weekend of the festival tested me mentally and physically and while I've made big strides in my mental preparation, I know I have work to do in both areas to be stronger, healthier, and better!

Tea for Days - Toronto Tea Festival 2020

FESTIVAL WEEKEND!!  The weekend was finally here.  I did an energy meditation both Friday night and Saturday morning before the show to calm the nervous jitters and away I went.  (For those who are interested in the meditation I did, I'll be writing a different blog post on that in the near future as I learned it from Gabrielle Bernstein and it's very effective for me!)  

Vendors were allowed to start load-in at 7:30am and I, being the early riser that I am, arrived at the Toronto Reference Library loading dock at 7:30am sharp with my family in tow to help me.  It was really important to me to arrive early as I was a vendor newbie at the festival this year so I had no past experience to go by to gauge how long certain things would take.  Giving myself more time for load in and set up would obviously place less stress on my shoulders!

Show Time! 
 

Doors opened at 10am and it was show time!  Given how I'd already been to the festival several times over the years as an attendee, I was more than familiar with the flow of traffic, the crowds, and the atmosphere, so my job on the other side of the table was simple: to keep my energy up (hello venti sized iced tea and snacks!), keep cool (it can get hot and stuffy), smile, and HAVE FUN!  It was my opportunity to yak about my business and products for two full days to people who love tea as much as I do, it doesn't get much better than that!

So, what meant the most to me during festival weekend?  How folks showed an immense amount of love and appreciation for my work and how people just GOT me.  Yes, I explained what my business was about and yes, I directed everyone to the "sniffer station" to smell all the teas, but aside from that, everyone just embraced me and had fun WITH me. 

It's one of the best feelings in the world to see everyone's eyes and faces light up when smelling a tea and getting excited about my inspiration behind it ("this one is inspired by my favourite matcha cream puff desserts at Tsujiri".  "Oh my god, I LOVE that place too!"), to see people point and squeal over my illustrations ("oh my god, BUBBLE TEA NOTEBOOK!"), to see someone come back to my table with 4 of their friends in tow, and to be in the energy of such joy.  I was absolutely overjoyed that the stationery and accessories flew off the rack because this stuff doesn't really get much love online, it gets the love in the flesh and up close in person.

What teas ended up being the best sellers from that weekend? These ones below!  They were most popular on BOTH days and the majority of these sold out on both days as well.  When I got home Saturday night I quickly got to work on packing more pouches and assembling more sampler sets (I had all but 3 remaining by the end of day Saturday, just like at Hamilton Tea Fest!) as I deliberately left "emergency" tea knowing that I'd most likely need to top up and I am very glad I made that decision.  I stayed up until 1:30am squeaking out as much inventory as possible and went to bed, hoping it would be good enough for the next day.  While there were definitely folks who wanted certain ones after they had sold out AGAIN on Sunday, I think I did okay in gauging the amounts I needed for my first Toronto Tea Fest.  Inventory is definitely an area that I'll be adjusting and tightening up moving forward so that I'll have more of certain ones available and less of others.  

I LOVE that so, so many of you love my orange-y themed blends and that the winter Snow Bunny collection got a lot of love!  I'm extremely excited to work on more orange blends in upcoming collections, as well as matcha ones and more coconut and chocolate ones.  You all just get me, I love it!     
We Close A Chapter & Begin a New One 
 

By the end of Sunday I was losing my voice, I was buzzing on adrenaline, and my feet were screaming in pain and I didn't care very much because I was just so happy.  So happy and driven and inspired to do it all again for next year.  I've spent the last month reflecting on the experience: what I loved most, what I'd change and improve, and what ideas and products I want to bring to the festival next year.  

Takeaways and words and nuggets of wisdom:

  1. Start squirreling money away for next year's registration, like, NOW.
  2. The tea festival is a fantastic opportunity to test drive new products because feedback is really important and you get plenty of it.  For example, I took my new tote bags out to play and I'm so pleased people bought them and were so smitten with them!  What did folks ask me?  "Ooh can we get even bigger ones?!"  Hell to the yes, I will get on it, thank you!
  3. IT. GETS. LOUD (!) Because of the buzz, you're going to have to talk over the humming of the crowd and project a lot so no joke, hydrate like your life depends on it and bring throat candies!
  4. Don't underestimate the power of your setup and retractable banner to draw attendees and customers in, particularly new ones (I say new ones because obviously your friends who come out to support you already know you!).  Even though attendees are tea lovers and enthusiasts, don't take for granted that each and every single person will come by "just because".  People don't have to do anything.  I had many people tell me that they were drawn to come check me out because they saw my banner and setup and thought it looked like a happyland! and wanted to see what I was all about and ended up staying to listen to my story and they had fun getting to know me, my products, and ultimately gave me business. 
  5. The same way people consume your products, people consume YOU.  YOU are a representation of your brand, your vision, and your business as a whole so your appearance and energy MATTERS.  It's not shallow, it's the truth.  Because who's more likely to attract customers, the person who's slovenly and grumpy, or the person who's smiling and approachable?  Even if you're uncomfortable or having a not so great day, being of service and putting out an energy of appreciation will help turn things around.  There was actually something that happened during the festival Saturday morning in regards to my personal life that could've thrown me off my game for the rest of the festival, but knowing what was at stake, I quickly recovered, shoved the matter away to deal with after the festival, smiled, and gave my all to everybody that came by.  Had I allowed my attitude and aura to become surly, the energy backlash would've been obvious and the weekend definitely would not have panned out the way it did.

To friends and customers: thank you immensely for your business.  I am going to work my toosh off to bring you even more fabulous goodies for next year's festival!  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, for making my debut as unforgettable as it was. 

Debra Wong

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