Ashleigh is from Northern Ireland and has lived in Malaysia for the past nine years.
She originally moved here for her husband’s role, but now Ashleigh is part of it herself Talent Pass program, also known as Residence Pass talent.
An initiative to facilitate the entry and stay of selected foreign talents. Eligibility criteria include a minimum of three consecutive years in Malaysia, a valid work ID and a monthly base salary of RM15,000.
You may be wondering what Ashleigh does to be eligible for the program.
The woman has had a distinguished career in sales, working for big names such as Coca Cola and L’Oreal, as well as the Royal Mail in London, before emigrating to Australia.
While all of this experience has fueled her passion for online marketing strategies and content development, Ashleigh is now applying her skills in her own business. Tea Bird Tea.
flourish in business
Ashleigh’s foray into entrepreneurship didn’t start with Tea Bird Tea, but with its predecessor, Balcony Bloomer.
The company was founded in Australia as a take-home range of herbs and vegetables in a bag, with a focus on plants with medicinal uses. It wasn’t until customers began inquiring about growing their own tea that Tea Bird Tea came into being.
But after moving to Malaysia, the business took a back seat. Aside from still settling into a whole new country, Ashleigh had just given birth to their daughter.
But as someone who can’t sit still, the entrepreneur eventually turned to Village Grocer in Bangsar for a loose-leaf blend brand. She was confident that her bagged herbs would be particularly popular with moms and nurseries.
True to their beliefs, business took off and the company expanded to around 50 stores in the first few years.
“When we started out we knocked on doors until we got reviews and then we harassed each other until we ended up on the shelves and then we sampled and tracked until we took over the store fronts because we were super creative and joyful about that what we do,” Ashleigh said.
Sourced overseas, made locally
While Ashleigh initially focused on loose leaf offerings, she has since switched to tea bags for convenience.
However, because the brand believes in the importance of maintaining the original shape of the loose leaves, they use pyramid teabags made from cornstarch that are heat-pressed sealed, meaning no teabag strings, metal clips, glue or ink-printed paper labels invade brew.
“We are currently sourcing packaging elements overseas and our raw materials for the tea blends come from Sri Lanka, China and India, and some new secret ingredients will come from Malaysia,” Ashleigh shared.
However, the production and packaging takes place right here in Malaysia. Tea Bird Tea has a factory in Melaka.
The plan is to move the machine to a new facility in Kuala Lumpur over the next six months for customers to tour and see where everything is produced and packaged.
An underlying motive
Before discovering her passion for sales, Ashleigh had studied art at school and university, but decided against studying fine arts.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find a job or make a living from selling art because at the time (1999) it was all about websites and digital marketing was picking up steam again after the initial dot-com boom in the UK,” she said .
Still, art is one of her many passions, so it’s no surprise that Ashleigh designs many of Tea Bird Tea’s packaging herself.
In fact, packaging Tea Bird Tea was her way of bringing her art into people’s homes. Today, however, this art has become synonymous with Tea Bird Tea’s trademark.
“I had no idea if customers would like it, but suddenly I had a much bigger audience and the feedback has been really special over the years,” she said.
She even designed a tea chest for the Raja Permaisuri Agong – or Queen – of Malaysia during the pandemic.
The tea on the sale of tea
In Ashleigh’s own words, “Tea is arguably as popular as the word ‘OK’ is understood in every country in the world.”
But Malaysia’s tea-drinking culture might differ from that of Northern Ireland and Australia. Most Malaysians may prefer afternoon tea teh or the Oor maybe even bubble tea.
Ashleigh herself said that in Northern Ireland most people drink tea to warm up. But here in Malaysia, many drink it to cool off.
“It’s ‘the same but different,'” she said. “It’s still a hug in a cup no matter where you are in the world.”
In any case, it’s not like she has to take care of every single Malaysian. Ashleigh just needs to reach the right audience. As the company is based in Bangsar, its customers may tend towards the affluent crowd.
Ashleigh also mentioned that she has many families and older, empty nesters who are loyal customers.
“They’re looking for quality, taste, value and aesthetics, and they’re often more focused on their everyday health needs and exercise than younger people,” she said.
“However, we have seen a shift, with a younger audience enjoying tea and being more health conscious than my generation ever was.”
However, just like Ashleigh was amused by friends Those who swear by supplements and protein powders may be skeptics who find tea and its benefits amusing at best and pseudoscience at worst.
Ashleigh is aware of this and has even accepted it as an integral part of running the company.
“As an entrepreneur you learn early on that everyone has an opinion on what you do or how you could do it better – that’s perfectly fine, everyone should have an opinion,” she said. “More opinions and more discussion is the way to find solutions to everyday problems.”
Still, she argued that tea and its health-promoting properties have been well-researched, documented, and experienced for hundreds of years.
“But we’re not saying don’t drink anything else or your life will change forever. We say that if that’s what you do for yourself, making small changes every day will make you feel better overall,” she concluded.
In her opinion, health requires a 360-degree analysis. People should gather all available information and use it as they see fit.
While Ashleigh hinted at the prospect of exciting new projects for Tea Bird Tea, she couldn’t reveal much more.
However, she shared that the company is focused on expanding into Singapore and Thailand, as well as further into the UK and US.
Rebuilding a brand in a new market and country is not easy, but Ashleigh did it.
“Anyone can open a door, but going through it and making it work is a whole different part of the story,” she said. “FMCG is quite competitive, so you have to build good relationships and be willing to get involved.”
However, building good relationships doesn’t mean that suppliers are a placemat to be passed over. As Ashleigh put it, when it’s not profitable or people aren’t making their payments on time, maintaining those relationships isn’t always worth the effort and time.
“Suppliers who choose not to work with you because you don’t give them free stock to sell might have big names, but they would likely cause bigger problems down the road,” she advised. “Your miss is your grace, as my mother always says!”
On the subject of good quotes and mottos in life, here is one from Ashleigh that has helped her through the many challenges of running a business and in a foreign country at that: “Smile, go ahead and embrace the unknown.”
- Find out more about Tea Bird Tea Here.
- Read other articles we have written about Malaysian startups Here.
Selected image source: Tea Bird Tea