Small business owner finds inspiration in Spain

As Shane Barela sits at the desk at the front of The Scented Leaf, he cannot help but think about the future.

In just a few weeks, Barela will move from his small store at the end of University Boulevard into a new, bigger shop down the street. While the business will morph from just a retail store into a tea lounge, the man behind it all will stay the same. And while a dream is about to be realized, Barela cannot help but think of how it started.

Shane Barela was born in Santa Fe, N.M., and lived there along with five siblings for the beginning stages of his life. At the age of three, Barela’s parents divorced, but it did not change the environment he grew up in. Barela was able to see both his parents and spend time with them, and described his family life as good and loving. From his parents, Barela was able to learn qualities that would be useful to him later on life.

“I think my mom taught me how to be sensitive and caring for people and be very social,” said Barela. “And I think my dad taught me my work ethic and just how to stay on path and work through things.”

When Barela was 10 years old, he and his family moved to Tucson, Ariz., where, with the exception of one year, he has lived since. After high school, Barela attended Mesa Community College in Phoenix and Pima Community College for one year each. He then spent the next two years earning a business degree in marketing at the University of Arizona.

After college, Barela joined his father in the real estate business, buying and selling houses in Tucson. Despite being successful with real estate, his heart was always in owning his own business.

“I always kind of had that entrepreneurship bug,” said Barela. “I used to always get into business as a kid. I used to always have the lemonade stands. I used to have little bake sales. I got into selling fireworks to my friends when I was in junior high.”

Five years ago, Barela purchased a perfume store located in the Tanque Verde Swap Meet. After seven years in real estate, Barela was finally a business owner.

Barela’s initial store was successful and he decided to open up a second location in Phoneix. However after finding the commute difficult, he closed it down a mere four months later.

“It was alright, but it didn’t make sense for the long haul,” said Barela. “However, it allowed me learn to a different area, a different demographic and to see where this business could take me.”

After returning to concentrate on his original store, an opportunity arose that Barela could not refuse. Around two and half years ago, Barela purchased a small storefront on University Boulevard. He opened a second business a short time later, selling strictly perfumes.

However, the move did not go as smooth as planned. The perfume store did not sell as much as Barela had hoped, forcing him to change the store’s inventory. He gained a little popularity from selling oils and oil burners, but it was apparent that something was missing.

However, it was not until Barela and his wife, Adrienne, took their honeymoon to Granada, Spain, that he was able to determine what that missing piece was.

“We were walking down a major street back to our hotel, and in a kind of a spur of the moment thing, I decided to go into this neighborhood and take a different route,” Barela said. “We went down that street and ran into a little shop using the wall of the cathedral to showcase crates of herbs. We walked over there cause the smell was amazing and when we asked the owner of the business what it was, he said, ‘It was tea’.”

After talking with the owner about his business, a light bulb went off in their heads, and the Barelas made a decision that would drastically change their business. They decided to add tea to their little store on University Boulevard, styling it based off the shop in Granada.

“We started getting our team of importers and exporters and whoever could help us with blending to just get familiar with the industry,” Barela said. “When we started getting our crew together, we decided that we had a pretty good staff that knew a lot about tea.”

Just two years removed from introducing tea to his store, Barela has made a name for himself within the Tucson community. As Barela puts the finishing touches on his move, he already has hopes for what it will become. And as his track record shows, he has a history of attaining goals he sets out for himself.

“We want to have multiple locations because we feel like we have a unique idea,” said Barela. “We want to show our ideas to people, so they can get into it too.”

Note: This assignment was completed in my Journalism 306: Advanced Reporting class.

Local tea store plans move, expansion

The Scented Leaf, a popular tea and perfume shop on University Boulevard, is expanding into a new location down the street.

The owner of The Scented Leaf, Shane Barela, signed a lease last Thursday to move the business into the unit vacated by the Red Velvet Cupcakery, which closed last November. Barela said the new place does not require a lot of work and is scheduled to open in late February.

“We saw a great opportunity to move,” Barela said. “It’s a better space.”

According to Barela, the initial plan is to convert the tiny retail shop into a cafe and tea bar, with the hope of obtaining a liquor license. The current location is not ideal for a tea bar, as it is situated between a Starbucks coffee shop and The Auld Dubliner bar. Barela also plans to change the name of the store from The Scented Leaf to Scented Leaf Tea House and Lounge.

The Scented Leaf has become known for selling bags of award-winning teas as well as oils and perfumes. While the new store will stop selling oils and perfumes, customers will be able to buy pots of the same tea that is currently available.

Converting from a retail store into a tea lounge will also allow Barela to create a menu of various food and drink items. The menu is set to include pies, breads, croissants, pastries, creme brulee and chocolates. In addition to teas, the store will sell coffee and chocolate drinks. Also new to the business will be special weekly events, such as Fondue Fridays.

Lynette Leroux, an employee at The Scented Leaf, believes that this is a perfect way to boost business. “We love talking to people about tea and converting them into tea drinkers,” Leroux said. “We’re really excited.”

Barela also hopes to appeal students from the adjacent University of Arizona campus. “When I started selling teas, that’s when the students started coming in,” Barela said. “Perfume never did that for me.”

The tea lounge will offer free Wi-Fi to all customers, allowing students to come by after class and complete homework. Barela also hopes that the store turns into a popular date location, while also providing a healthy alternative to soda and other high-sugar drinks. “Kids need something to balance out soda, so we’re going to try to help them out by giving them something good,” Barela said.

Barela believes that while his main customers are between the ages of 20 and 30, the store has yet to gain appeal amongst students. However, the initial response to expansion has been positive.

“I’m not that into tea, but I’ll try it at least once,” said Adam Bernstein, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering. “I would go there after a date to dinner or a movie.”

The current location will remain open until preparations for the new store are finished.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 306: Advanced Reporting class.

University-based businesses prepare for winter break

While students and faculty alike prepare to take a four-week hiatus from the stresses and rigors of university life and schoolwork, businesses near campus are bracing for a month-long business hit as their main customers head home.

While local Tucsonans shop at stores by the University of Arizona, the majority of the customers at these businesses are students from the college.

The businesses that usually take the biggest hit are located within walking distance of the university’s campus on Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard. As a result of its proximity, these two streets have not only become a popular place for students to shop, but have become a popular social destination for students at the University of Arizona.

“The reason that I shop on University Boulevard is because it’s within walking distance,” said Zoe Webman, a freshman at the UA.

Webman, like the majority of freshmen who live on-campus, does not have a car. While this limits her possible destinations to spend her free time, these streets are appealing because, “We don’t have to find transportation,” Webman said.

Another draw to these streets is a mix between unique shops and corporate chains specifically designed to target students.

“I love shopping at Urban Outfitters, but I also like the little shops next to it,” said Erin Shanahan, a freshman at the UA.

Molly Williamson, a sophomore at the UA, believes that students are targeted as the main customers of businesses close to campus. This makes it an environment specifically designed for college students.

“I really like it because of the environment…there is a lot of live music,” Williamson said. “Also, the clothing at these stores appeal to our age group as opposed to older people. The bars on university and fourth, a lot of students like to go there.”

Shanahan agrees with this assumption, saying, “Tucson is a college town and the shopping is right next to the university. As a result, most of the clothes appeal to younger people.”

Many of the businesses on these streets do not attempt to hide their intention of targeting college students. To them, the proximity of their businesses to campus requires them to sell products that appeal to the college students.

However, if the stores target business from college students, they have to anticipate business hits during the time periods when students are not in town.

Nazari Chappotin, a manager at Campus Candy, which is located right on University Boulevard, said, “We always anticipate lower hours and lower profits during the winter. Since we know this, we have more events going on during the school year as opposed to during extra time.”

Amy Jesionowski, who is the owner of Collette, a clothing store that recently opened on University Boulevard, has yet to experience a winter break. However, she heard from other shop-owners that, “Winter break is worse for sales. I assume business will go way down.”

Characterized by many businesses as “extra time,” the upcoming winter break has forced a lot of businesses to take preventative measures to make sure they cut profit losses during the absence of university students.

“We have it in our business plan that we aren’t going to make money during extra time,” Chappotin said. “That means we don’t expect to make money during the winter and summer.”

Terra Schacht, the owner of The Cereal Boxx, which is located right off University Boulevard, has accepted the fact that her business will lose money over the break. She estimates that her business will experience a 65 percent decrease in profits over winter break alone.

“There is nothing you can do to combat 30,000 people leaving town just like that,” Schacht said. “The only thing you can really do is bulk sales up during the school months. We usually cut costs by closing for ten days during winter break.”

However, for many stores, acceptance is not a viable business plan. These stores become more creative with ways of making sure they don’t lose money during extra time.

“While there may be less shoppers out during holiday season, they tend to be shoppers who are purchasing and our numbers have been better then during the other times of the year,” said Gaby Miller, the owner of Cry Baby Couture, located on University Boulevard.

“We try to be as a prepared as possible with the right kind of inventory that is selling or that will be likely to sell with the type of customer that will be coming through,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, other stores do not need to make any changes to business models, as their inventory appeals to more than just college students.

Shane Barela, the owner of The Scented Leaf on University Boulevard, sells both tea and perfumes in his store. The tea appeals to students, while the perfumes appeal to older people.

“In terms of tea, students are my main customers,” Barela said. “For perfumes and oils, it’s people between the ages of 25-40. I’d say 70 percent women and 30 percent men.”

This allows Barela to not lose any business during “extra time.”

In his opinion, Barela believes that, “Over winter break, college kids go away and non-students enjoy the parking.”

However, Barela believes there might be another reason for the students’ small impact on his store. “College kids are laggers in terms of business,” Barela said. “They are word of mouth buyers, meaning they buy stuff based off what other people say is good.”

Despite this idea that students are “trend” consumers, they still realize the impact that they have on the local economy. They, like owners, anticipate a drop in sales during winter break.

Williamson believes that stores can survive the month-long hiatus, but they need to change their clientele in order to continue to make profits.

“I know the residence halls close over break, so the Tucson communities have to be the ones responsible for keeping those stores in tact,” Williamson said.

And if stores are genuinely suffering, they can remember that is only a temporary problem.

Webman put it best, saying, “Their business will take a hit, but it will only be for a month.”

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 205: Reporting the News class.