On the trails of Kusmi Tea
BY SANDY STRASSER
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2016)
The teahouse Kusmi Tea is a tea dealer you can't avoid. In the beautiful boutiques, which match the corporate identity of the brand, you find the most diverse of taste creations - not only in the whole of Europe but even internationally, for example in America, Canada or China for example. The shops are mostly designed in the typical Kusmi style. This is where puristic white and transparent elements meet on colourful tins. The roots of Kusmi Tea go back to the year 1867. Founded in Russian St Petersburg, the company has been based in Paris since 1917. A moving and, at the same time, sad story which finds its happy end.
As the son of a Russian farming family, Pavel Michailovitch Kousmichoff, the later founder of Kusmi Tea, leaves his home village at the age of 14 and travels to St Petersburg to find work. He finds a job as an errand boy in a tea shop. The manager of the tea shop soon discovers the amazing abilities of the boy who never went to school and could neither read nor write, and decides to support him. He familiarises him with the current trade and business practices and introduces him to the secrets of Russian tea mixtures.
As a young man, Pavel marries Alexandra Egorovna in 1897, the daughter of a significant paper merchant. As a wedding present, he gets a tea shop with a small flat in Sadovaïa Street, which is on the first floor of the building - the birth of the teahouse P.M. Kousmichoff. Two children result from their marriage. The son Viatcheslav is born in 1878 - daughter Elisabeth is born two years later. Father Pavel creates the recipe, which later was to become the Tsar’s tea, ‘Bouquet de Fleurs’, for her.
In 1901, the family already possesses 11 tea shops and a large building in which they all live together. Meanwhile, the company is one of the three largest teahouses in Russia, which means enormous affluence. Six years later, Pavel sends his son to London in order to become acquainted with the tea there. During the course of this, Viatcheslav opens an English branch: P.M. Kousmichoff & Sons at 11 Victoria Street. At this time, the city is the international centre for tea trade, which makes it possible for him to become a great expert in this area. Following his return to Russia and the death of his father in 1908, Vietcheslav takes over the management of the family business. In the course of his glorious history, the tea house would own up to 51 shops spread throughout all large Russian cities.
In 1916, Vietcheslav, who predicts a catastrophe, transfers part of his fortune to the London office of the company and a year later founds the shop Kusmi-Thé in Paris. While he spends the largest part of his life in Paris, his family is still in St Petersburg. Without knowing how right his predictions would be, he sends his family to spend the summer in Caucasas. At exactly this time, the revolution breaks out and Vietcheslav is forced to organise the flight of his loved ones to Constantinopel first and then to Paris in 1920. That's where the married couple live the life of the rich with their three children Constantin, Nadia and Vera. The children are taught by private tutors and devote themselves to sports and music - Constantin and Nadia learn violin and Vera piano. She visits the Parisian Conservatoire a few years later, where she meets the Russian pianist, composer and conductor Sergei Wassiljewitsch Rachmaninow - the beginning of her career as opera singer.
In the years between both world wars, the company grows and opens offices in New York, Hamburg and Constantinopel. Vietcheslav Kousmichoff sets up his headquarters in Berlin however, as there is a large Russian community there. Directly after the war, in 1946, he dies and leaves his son Constantin as the successor of the family company, which has been weakened by the years of war. Constantin however, does not have the same sense of business as his father and grandfather. He is a man who loves life and spends money with full hands: an artist and tea lover, but without a feel for numbers. In 1972, on the edge of bankcrupcy, he sold the family business for a very low price. In the years following, the Kousmichoff company does continue selling tea but with a rather so-so success rate. The new owners of the company luckily have a feel for the art and different aromas of tea, their ability to lead a company however, leave much to be desired.
In 2003, the Orebi brothers, who originate from a long line of raw material traders, buy Kousmichoff. After trading with cotton in the 19th century and non-ferrous metals in the first half of the 20th century, in 1962 the family begins trading cocoa and coffee, which of course leads to an interest in tea. They take on the challenge of continuing the tradition founded by Pavel, Vietcheslav and Constantin Kousmichoff, and support the international presence of the brand Kusmi Tea. Today, the brand is known worldwide, and not only among tea lovers.
We spoke with Gaël Donat, Digital IT Manager at Kusmi, and wanted to know how the passion for tea was successfully transferred from stationary trading into the digital age.
What fascinates you about the historical origin of Kusmi Tea?
Gaël Donat: The P.M Kousmichoff teahouse was founded in 1867, by Pavel Kousmichoff himself. An immediate sensation, Kusmi Tea soon becomes the favorite tea of the Tsars. In 1917, the Kousmichoff family flees Russia in the wake of the Revolution and sets up shop on Avenue Niel in Paris. I find it both impressive and exciting to work for a company that seeks at all costs to keep its DNA while being innovative and disruptive in many ways, as we can see it through the KusmiKiosk, our new 100 percent digitalized shop.
You appeal to tea lovers the world over with your products. How did you set up the digital information world surrounding your product range? What is the DNA behind this?
G. D.: Our product catalogue is a precious good, we have decided to centralize the management in France since the beginning for all the languages available online & offline.
With continued success over the previous years, the demand on your online shop has increased. What challenges have to be risen to?
G. D.: We should keep optimizing our informatics infrastructure. Since the launch of our new website last year, we use Amazon’s Cloud technologies to deliver our catalogue to our customers in a more consistent way. We should also work on delivering the same level of customer-brand relationship on our website and on our mobile app as the one we create in our shops, by enhancing for instance our customer service.
How did you proceed on the search for appropriate technology?
G. D.: Technological watch is clearly part of our job, and we really are capable of quickly switching to a new technology that seems to perfectly fit our actual needs.
Gaël Donat spent 13 years working with consulting companies in the financial industry. He currently has worked in e-commerce as Head of Information Systems at Kusmi Tea since 2011.
Even a pleasure online
In addition to Kusmi Tea, there are other well-known brands from the tea world which belong to the parent company Orientis, such as Lov Organic or For Life and also a range of online shops which attract tea lovers all over the world. Due to the rapidly-growing success of the past years, Orientis suddenly faces completely new challenges. The most diverse of data sources from the most diverse of systems have to be brought together in order to be able to provide the product ranges multilingually, and in an appealing way. Starting as a pure IT project, marketing quickly intervened with the request for the use of a PIM system. The goal was to find a system which technically pools all sources of data and allows marketing, and even functionally allows the product information to be enriched with minimal time expenditure, to translated and validate, in order to be able to distribute the perfect product information in the correct channels of output. After all requirements were formulated and a number of systems were evaluated, Orientis decided on Akeneo PIM, as this represents itself as being highly flexible, and as having excellent usability, above all because of the perfect ability to intergrate into the existing Magento online shop environment. On the basis of the many internal, technical projects, the company decided to contract an external service provider for the project. A reliable and experienced Akeneo partner was found in Synolia, who was responsible for the important workshops on data modelling for the development of the individual extensions. That's how the project was successfully implemented within the shortest time. That’s why there is an Akeneo PIM in the Enterprise Edition in use at Kusmi Tea and Orientis, equipped with automated workflows, individually tailored to the rights management on cooperation with the most diverse of internal and external units, for the optimisation of the product introduction time and business rules which guarantee the correct allocation of data to its corresponding channel of input.
At the end of the four-month project, the system at Orientis is now live and all colleagues in marketing are delighted at the new quality of their work on the product data. For this year, the company plans to expand their PIM in another project with additional functionalities and therefore provide the tea lovers of this world with better and more appealing information.
Akeneo is a continuously-growing French company with branches in Germany and the USA. With over 25,000 active platforms in 165 countries, it is the international market leader in Open Source PIMs.
Picture credits © Lilly Roadstones/Getty Images