SINGAPORE (June 25):  TWG Tea has come a long way since its founding 10 years ago, says Maranda Barnes, co-founder and director of business development and corporate communications. Compared with when it opened its first tea salon and boutique at Republic Plaza, the homegrown luxury tea brand has now expanded to include 70 outlets in 19 countries across three continents. Including distributors and e-commerce platforms, TWG Tea products are available in 42 countries. About 900 tonnes of TWG Tea — including 135 million TWG teabags — are sold every year.

Despite these successes that would be the envy of many F&B brands, the company is not spared from high staff turnover — a struggle commonly faced by the industry. Barnes explains that many of her 3,000-strong staff have joined TWG Tea for a short period, only to leave for seemingly greener pastures elsewhere. This has cost the company time and resources to recruit and train new staff.

“People feel that if they want to advance in their career, they need to leave [one] company and then join another company. [The common belief is] that you will make more [money] if you leave [a] company and enter a new job rather than trying to progress within the same company,” she tells Options in a recent interview. “I feel that is a pity.”

To improve staff retention, the company — which is a subsidiary of massage chair manufacturer OSIM International — established the TWG Tea Institute early last year. Its main purpose is to invest in staff by providing training and learning opportunities, which will be useful for a promotion or a move to a different role. “I want to make them feel that they have a future at TWG Tea,” she says. “I believe very strongly in keeping our staff as long as possible; [those] who love their job and enjoy what they are doing — I want to keep them.”

The impact of TWG Tea Institute has been encouraging thus far, says Barnes. The retention rate of local employees has more than doubled since the inception of the institute’s pilot programmes. And the company has received a significant increase in positive customer feedback in Singapore. Beyond that, the institute has won awards and accolades for its professional development workshops.

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Since its inception, the TWG Tea Institute has already conducted around 300 workshops and training sessions for staff and partners in Singapore. More than 200 Singaporean staff and 60 international staff from more than 15 countries around the world have attended the institute. The average annual training budget for each full-time employee costs more than $2,800 in Singapore.

Barnes: At TWG Tea, we want everyone to have a pleasant smile, present themselves well, have confidence when they speak and use appropriate [tea] vocabulary .

Types of workshops
What kind of workshops and training sessions does TWG Tea Institute organise? Barnes says all TWG Tea staff are required to attend the brand experience workshop, which provides basic knowledge about the history and culture of tea. It covers only the major varieties of tea, without going too much into detail. “We don’t overdo it, as there are many types of tea. We limit it to the first six, which are really important to know,” she says. Participants also get to partake in a tea preparation session using the TWG Tea method.

The main thrust of this workshop is to help TWG Tea staff embody the brand personality. Participants are asked to debate the importance of verbal, vocal and visual skills required of a TWG Tea staff, irrespective of whether one is at the front house or back-end of operations. “At the end of the day, we conclude that all three are important,” she says. “At TWG Tea, we want everyone to have a pleasant smile, present themselves well, have confidence when they speak and use appropriate [tea] vocabulary.”

Barnes assures that TWG Tea is not trying to create “robots” out of its staff. On the contrary, the brand experience workshop is meant to imbue the company’s values of thoughtfulness, gracefulness and willingness — which coincides with the TWG abbreviation, she says. This should help create a “pleasant environment” for staff to work together. “We want them to come to work like it is an exciting thing to do every day.”

on the brand. “We really don’t want TWG Tea to be the brand that is old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy — the kind where you would only bring your grandmother to tea or you would never go with your girlfriend because you don’t want to be caught dead there,” Barnes says.

TWG Tea Institute also organises a leadership course for managers. This is open to all departments in the company — from front house to back-end operations. The workshop aims to train leaders and identify their leadership styles, says Barnes.

“We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Some people know how to manage inexperienced people. Others only know how to manage those who are already proficient. We want to make everyone proficient at the minimum level, so that when new staff arrive they can teach them the basics,” she says.

Other training sessions conducted by the TWG Tea Institute include a sales workshop for all F&B staff, a tea connoisseurship programme for those who intend to learn more about tea and a trainers’ training programme.

Learning the hard way
Barnes recalls how little she knew about tea when she and her husband — TWG Tea CEO and president Taha Bouqdib — founded the company. Bouqdib was focused on developing TWG Tea products and planning the design and layout The TWG Tea Institute invests in staff by providing training and learning opportunities, which will be useful for a promotion or a move to a different role Barnes: At TWG Tea, we want everyone to have a pleasant smile, present themselves well, have confidence when they speak and use appropriate [tea] vocabulary ALBERT CHUA/THE EDGE SINGAPORE of the outlets. That left the responsibility of communicating the brand to its stakeholders with Barnes. “But I didn’t know anything about tea,” she says. “I felt bad for every new employee who arrived at TWG Tea. I could sympathise with their difficulty and stress when they were confronted by a customer.”

That circumstance led Barnes to educate herself by reading extensively and learning about tea from Bouqdib. She shadowed him through many tea-tasting and appreciation sessions. She also learned about the history of tea through stories told by Bouqdib. “It was like an old-fashioned way [through] oral tradition,” she says. Barnes even wrote a book about the TWG Tea brand.

Now, however, the establishment of the TWG Tea Institute should go a long way towards helping new and future staff get acquainted with the luxury tea brand. “If they leave, they should at least know and be able to recommend [several] varieties of tea.”

This article appeared in Issue 836 (June 25) of The Edge Singapore.

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