‘While I’ve never worked so hard, I’ve also never been happier’

Small Business Inside Track Q&A Nicola Kearns, Niks Tea founder

Nicola Kearns: ‘There is so much help available. There is no need to go it alone totally.’

Nicola Kearns: ‘There is so much help available. There is no need to go it alone totally.’


Nicola Kearns is evangelical about the reviving, energersing and soothing properties of a good brew. She set up Niks Tea in 2012 to share her passion.

What is special about your business? I have developed a new range of bespoke leaf tea and herbal tea blends that particularly appeal to the Irish palate. They are available pre-packed for retail outlets and in biodegradable silk pyramids for foodservice customers.

What sets your business apart in your sector? We are the only Irish loose tea business offering a ready- packed product for retail customers that includes green tea, Rooibos, fruit teas and a herbal sleep remedy. We are leading the market in sophisticated tea drinking by offering quality loose teas that typically pack a superior flavour punch to mass-produced tea bags.

What has been your biggest challenge? Branding. We have rebranded four times to get it right and, most recently, to comply with new health-claims regulations. It’s a huge learning curve from dealing with packaging dimensions and colours and logo development to accommodating all of the information that needs to go on the pack from ingredients and allergens to brewing instructions. It’s a big investment to create a brand.

What has been your biggest success? I could say receiving the gold and bronze awards in the Blás na hÉireann Irish Food Awards or reaching 400 stockists, or getting listed with the multiples or launching a premium range of tea bags. But I just see this more as fulfilling the vision of where I want Niks Tea to go rather than as a success.

The real success for me is that, while I’ve never worked so hard, I’ve also never been happier. I’ve managed to maintain a great relationship with my kids, to make time to see family and friends and to cycle, play golf and tennis and train for the Athy triathlon [TriAthy] at the end of May.

What key piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business? Make sure you are really passionate about what you are doing or producing. You spend so much time on your business that you really need to want to know everything about it and to be enthusiastic. Contact your local enterprise office. There is so much help, training and mentoring available. There is no need to go it alone totally. I should have done so from the beginning.

Who do you admire most in business and why? Richard Branson. He wasn’t afraid to do something different. Calling a company Virgin in the 1980s was pretty out there. He gave entrepreneurs a coolness and still does today. He hasn’t lost his family values and seems grounded for someone so hugely successful. I really like that understated quality.

Closer to home my mum. She is in her late 70s and still running her own accountancy practice. She has been my most influential role model. She was ahead of her time. I worked for Mum doing payroll and bookkeeping since I was nine – manually with no software I should add – so I guess I’ve always been destined to run my own business.

What two things could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment? Doing something about employers’ PRSI would help when taking on staff. The internship system could be improved and that graduates and those seeking to upskill should receive a contribution from the company and the Government for as long as the internship lasts.

In your experience, are the banks lending to SMEs currently? Yes, if you have a good relationship with your bank and have a vision and a well-documented plan for the future of your business.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? I rushed the first early drafts of branding and made silly, costly mistakes. Now I’ve learned to be a bit more patient, to wait and get it right before going to print. I also tried to do too much myself early on and didn’t manage my time well. I have become much better at delegating and outsourcing on things such as deliveries and packing. I’m much more patient and I set more realistic timelines now.

What is the most frustrating part of running a small business? It’s when financial or other constraints out of your control impede your progress.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it? It’s hard to put a value on the business just now as we’re still building the brand and market share.

That said, if current prospects come to fruition throughout 2015, we will be in a strong position by the end of the year. I think it will be another two to five years at least before the business reaches a real saleable value.