3-Hour-Line To Get Chinese Tea: Insanely Popular, or Marketing Stunt?

At 10:30am on August 12th, it was just around half an hour later than Heytea opened its shop in Joy City in Chaoyang District, Beijing. Customers queued a line dozens of 50 to 60 meters long in this Internet popular tea store, totally blocking the door of a neighboring Starbucks.​

Heavy rain fell on and off. The rain hit the ground. For Girls wearing jeans in line, rains even made their calves wet, but hardly anyone left. The shop assistants in white coat were busy around sending a transparent umbrella for customers without rain gear.​

These queuers seemed to have a lot in common: they were all around 20 years old, dressed in fashion clothes, came in twos and threes, and many were young couples.​

When a girl was asked about why she came to line up, she replied, “I’ve seen it on the Internet before. It’s said to be very delicious, so I just wanna try it on the weekend. But I didn’t think of so many people.”​

Actually, there are more people waiting in line. The area of Heytea in Chaoyang Joy City is 190 square meters. For better management, the field staff arranged four queuing areas. When entering into the interior store, customers still needed to line up for another several bending. Even seen from indoor, the number of customers was also considerable.

In order to divide customers, Heytea chose to open two shops in Beijing at the same time, and also required each customer to buy 3 cups of drink at most. “In the future we hope to control the queue time within 20 minutes”, said Liu Jian, the director of public relations of Heytea.

Debate on real and fake queuing

Whether in Tai Koo Li, Sanlitun or Chaoyang Joy City, almost everyone who saw the long queue would stop to take a few pictures. And for customers holding the drink, their first action when stepping out of the store was also taking pictures. And then, most probably, they would upload these photos in Weibo or Moments of WeChat. “I’ve tasted Heytea now.” More than one person says so on Weibo.

​But in the end, “whether Heytea is as delicious as is said or not”. If the answer is no, thus, in waves of negative voices, there will be more and more people away from Heytea. So “good products and experience” may be the cornerstone for internet popular shops.

It is indeed what Nie Yunchen has always attached great importance to. According to reports, Nie still drinks not less than 20 cups of milk tea every day, looking for innovative ideas. In order to ensure the quality of tea, he also makes customization and plans to further explore the upstream of industrial chain, changing tea trees and customizing some flavor. As for production process, he divides the production of a cup of tea into ten steps. He divides the process so carefully that even pouring tea, adding sugar, shoveling ice and so on are completed by different people respectively. Thus, the speed is accelerated and the taste is standardized. At the same time, he is also exploring his own style in shop design and other aspects.

Another problem that Nie pays attention to is the long-time queuing

At the beginning of this year, when Heytea opened its first store of Yangtze River Delta in Shanghai Raffles City, the media reported that it took up to 7 hours to wait in line for a cup of milk tea and some touts even charged 70 to 80 yuan for a 20-30 yuan tea.

​As news that Heytea hired people to wait in lines and deliberately created hunger marketing kepts popping up, Nie had to hold a press conference one month ahead of schedule. He explicitly denied the suspect of hiring people to queue. “When we only had one store, there were five or six people queuing up in front of store. Some people said that we hired them to queue up and some even said that we couldn’t survive for half a year. Voices were like so from Jiangmen to Zhongshan, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Now we have 14 stores in Shenzhen, and every shop has a very good turnover. No one said so anymore. ”

​”We tried queuing management machine, but when people received their number, they went shopping directly. Sometimes, they didn’t come back even a long time later the tea was finished, which affected the taste.” Heytea staff told us that shortly after, the traditional queuing method resumed.

​They also tried takeout. In a short time, 1000 orders were made. Since 12:30, staff kept on working on these 1000 orders and consequently, they couldn’t meet the needs of customers in the store. Other people took it as “hunger marketing” and criticized us again.

The future of Heytea

​Heytea wasn’t so popular at the beginning. Born in 1991, Nie Yun-Chen just started his business 5 years ago. At that time, he also experienced the time of no business and had no idea about how to do marketing to retain customers. He just constantly improved his products until one day, when his classmate called him up to help buy several cups of milk tea because there were too many people in line. Only then did he realize that the number of people in line was more and more.

​In Nie’s view, the most basic way to solve the problem of queuing is to open more stores. Heytea plans to have 10 stores in Shanghai, 20 in Shenzhen, 20 in Guangzhou and 5 in Beijing by the end of the year.

​Despite the dramatic increase in the number from 50 to 100, Heytea has no intention of expanding the region. It main objectives in 2017 is to seize the markets in the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta and Beijing and then it will consider develop into the other regions. Because only this way, it could truly build “brand potential energy” in core markets.

​Nie himself works on opening new stores in every city. His strategy is to open three stores in the best known and most suitable business zone in the city. When the brand potential energy is accumulated, then new stores will be opened in office buildings with numerous 20-30-year-old white collars. “That’s why we won’t open our stores next to Starbucks,” said Nie Yunchen in an interview at the end of June.

​But interestingly, the store in Chaoyang City is located right next to Starbucks, and many analysis often compare Heytea with Starbucks, which makes such location attract more concerns. In this regard, the staff explained that, “it is because at that time this was only available space. It was not selected intentionally.”

​At the press meeting in June, Nie said that the key work in the future would be “nationalization and internationalization.”

​He remembered when he just started his business, he encouraged employees in the store. “The store we are now going to open must be done well, because it is an experimental plot and the first store of this brand. In the future, it can be expanded to the whole country.” He clearly saw the mocking expression on staff’s face.

“That’s why we don’t say too much. But deeply in our hearts, we all want this brand to be national and international. The tea culture itself should be defined by the East, especially by China. So we have the right to voice and confidence to go to the whole world on the basis of tea culture. ”


This article originally appeared in China Entrepreneur Magazine and was translated by Pandaily.

Click here to read the original Chinese article.