Watch Ellis Island Tea Make the Leap

How does a determined business owner turn a promising product into a behemoth brand?
Maybe there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are a few common factors that often come into play — starting with a can-do founder spirit, product quality, marketing, and distribution.
Enter Nailah Ellis-Brown, founder of Ellis Island bottled tea. After eight years of building her brand, Ellis-Brown still thinks of her brand as her calling.

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“There is no Plan B.” she told MSNBC. “Quitting is not an option. It’ll take me dying to give up on this company.”
That’s the kind of determination that gives a business founder the strength needed to keep trying new options until they find the one that works.

A Great Story and an Attractive Look

A great story can go a long way to getting customers interested. In Ellis-Brown’s case, her exotic tale begins with a recipe handed down from her great-grandfather, Cyril Byron. He developed the drink in the 1920s as chef on the Black Star Line ocean liners founded by Marcus Garvey.
That story then needs to be incorporated into the larger message, or ‘position’, to market the drink. So Scott Miller and Craig Binkley joined forces with graphic designers at local Detroit firm, Skidmore Studios. They came up with a twenties-style travel poster look. The label they designed pulled the whole message into an eye-catching design that summed up the product position as “unhurried,” “island,” and “craft:” The smooth hand-crafted taste, the island hibiscus flavor, and the unhurried glamor of the 1920s ocean liner travel all suggest a kind of drink very different from others now on the shelf.

Access to a National Chain Retailer

The next step for Ellis-Brown was distribution. The bottle won’t sell if the consumer doesn’t see it. Producers from MSNBC’s “Your Business” brought buyers from Sam’s Club and HMS Host to the table. Those buyers loved the product and they made a commitment to give her a shot on their shelves.
From that point on, it’s up to Ellis-Brown to deliver the numbers. If Ellis Island Tea can’t sell enough bottles to justify her shelf space, she’ll lose their support — and will be back at square one. That goes for any product in any brand. The key for any business owner is to prove their product by delivering big numbers of sales.

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