Organic growth Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

Not all tea is created equal. That’s the message Ahmed Rahim is trying to send at Numi Tea Inc., the company he founded with his sister, Reem. Rahim, who serves as the company’s CEO, makes sure his message is clear to both consumers and his staff by communicating through every possible medium — marketing materials, PowerPoint presentations, the company Web site and even the packaging of the products.

“People get it if they see it over and over again,” he says. “They might not get it the first time. It might not be clear, it might be subliminal, it might be in their subconscious somehow, but if you keep mentioning it on every piece of information you have ... if you’re drilling the same point over and over again, eventually people are going to get it.”

Plenty of people have indeed “got it,” as Numi has grown into a $15 million, 40-employee company.

Smart Business spoke with Rahim about how he sparks fresh ideas and why it’s important that his employees share his commitment to organic teas.

Q. How do you get your employees to take ownership?

Set clear goals. It starts by hiring the right people; that takes time. It takes some trial and error, but once you hire the right people, you need to set these monthly, quarterly, annual goals.

Once they’re set, if you’re hiring the right people and they’re professional at what they do, they should be able to run with it, be accountable for what they do.

Q. How do you make sure you have the right people?

Company culture is very important. They have to clearly understand the company values. One, they can mesh with the culture of the people and the brand. Two, they really get and hear and believe in the values.

For example, with an organic tea company, they’re not putting a product that is very low quality or very low value in their bodies. They really walk their talk when it comes to sharing the values of the company — of organic, sustainable.

The last thing is having the experience in the marketplace that you’re in, or at least the type of consumer packaged goods that Numi’s in. You want to have someone who has the experience and motivation and leadership to join the team and lead their force in growing the company.

Q. How do you set clear goals?

At the beginning of a quarter, a manager would meet with a subordinate and say, ‘What are your goals? This is what I would hope to have as goals this quarter.’ It’s a team effort of combined thoughts and visions of where we need to grow and how we need to grow the business. Both people sign off on that with appropriate timelines and clear targets.

Those targets are really what are going to move the business forward. It’s not about your everyday tasks but what’s really going to move the needle of the company, what’s really going to take it to the next level.

Those (types of goals) are really what’s set. It’s only five to 10 of them every quarter, but they’re really big ones: accounts we want or reducing your cost of goods by a certain percentage or a certain amount of growth numbers for a quarter.

It’s really striving for excellence and not just striving for mediocrity — not just doing things you’re supposed to do every day on the job but things that move the needle.

Q. How do you take the company to the next level?

You look for things that are new, things that are not on the market yet — things that consumers are looking for or that you would hope they are looking for. Everything is perception, and you create the perception.

I don’t think anyone knew they would need e-mail as much as they need it today. It’s the perception of that type of fast communication that has created a higher demand for it.

It’s thinking outside the box. Tea is tea; everyone knows tea. But how can you make tea unique? Whether it’s through flavor profiles, using herbs or ingredients nobody’s ever used before in the marketplace ... or like our flowering teas. They’re new; they’ve never been on the market before.

That’s something you can create through perception. At the end of the day, it’s still tea leaves. But it’s tea leaves that are presented in a whole different fashion.

Q. How do you know if a product will catch on?

You don’t know unless you’re following the leader. But when you are the leader, you’re taking the chance. You’re creating things you want your customers to want.

So you’re the one who is creating things and taking a big chance. Will they want it? Is this what they’re looking for?

It goes back to creating that perception of what you are as a company and what you are in terms of creating new products. It’s not always easy to say, ‘This is what the customer wants,’ because you have to create it.

HOW TO REACH: Numi Tea Inc., (866) 972-6879 or www.numitea.com