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So You Wanna Start A Tea Brand with Mary Lewellin from Red Dragon Herbs

 Welcome to our So You Wanna Start A... series, designed to give you a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the journeys that went into creating some of your favorite local brands.

Today's guest is Mary Lewellin from Red Dragon Herbs, a tea brand in the Des Moines community. 

Our favorite piece of advice: "Appreciate your smaller wins too." Mary and her team are energized by the high highs but that doesn't let them forget that a million smaller wins are what made one big win possible. Celebrate the steps that helped you get to where you are today. If you're curious about starting a tea brand, learn a little more from Mary and connect with her using the links below!

1. What do you own and why did you start this business?

I own an herbal loose leaf tea company with my husband Ryan. We started it about six years ago. He has done a lot of traveling and was in the Marines, so while he was stationed, he experienced a lot of tea culture.  We decided to grow herbs and different things in our backyard and thought it would be cool to share that with our community. At the same time, this gave me the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom.

2. What is an early win you had that made you feel like you were on the right path?

Six years ago we decided to apply to our local downtown farmers market and we didn't know what to expect. We had heard from people that it takes a few times to apply before they accept you, but we went for it anyway. We weren't ready, but we knew it was our chance. The farmers market offered us a little over half of the dates, so we were super excited and dove right in. That was where we started the business and we originally thought that's all we would do with it.

3. What's one of the biggest challenges you’ve had?

When we applied to the farmers market, we learned they require insurance. It's important in order to keep your business and customers safe. The insurance companies didn't understand what we were doing. They thought people were eating our herbs, so they were unsure. One of my friends in the community took the time to research it and then explained it to the insurance company. This helped us get the coverage that we needed to protect us from anything that could go wrong at the farmers market.

Another challenge we have is balancing our relationship and family with owning a business. Our advice is to communicate and divide up tasks. 

4. What are three pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring local business owners in your industry?

1) If there's something you want to do, do it. You can think about what you want to do for a long time. Sometimes if you wait around and don't just do it, it won't happen. Go for it! You'll be able to tackle things that come up and learn from other people. People in my community are very encouraging and uplifting.

2) Be reasonable with your finances. We really try to keep things in reason financially. Starting a business, you can decide to invest a lot of money into it or get a loan. But, you don't have to do that. You can provide a really great product to a customer by DIY-ing it. You can invest more into your business as the money comes in.

3) Appreciate your smaller wins too. As entrepreneurs, we get really excited about our dreams. Sometimes our dream is so big that it's hard to see the little things. We try to have a list of our big dreams and goals, but at the same time it's the little wins that get you to the big wins. Dream big, but dream small at the same time!

5. Where is your business heading next and what are you excited about?

We have a few things in mind, and it's like those big dreams. We currently have our tea in about 30-35 retail locations in and around Iowa. That's really amazing and I'm grateful for that. A lot of it is word-of-mouth or people find us at the farmers market and want our products in their store. It's been really nice to have the products in front of customers, where they're able to see and touch it. I think that makes a big difference on the way they purchase the items. We're lucky to have an online purchasing option, but I would like to expand to retail locations outside of Iowa. We ship product all around the country and that's really awesome, but having that more personal connection makes people more likely to take our products home. 

Find Mary & Red Dragon Herbs:

Instagram: @reddragonherbsandteas
Facebook: @RedDragonHerbsandTeas
Website: reddragonherbs.net

Want to be featured in our SYWSA series? Fill out our contact form here to get the ball rolling.

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