Nellie’s Tea and Gifts
5 Industry Road, Suite 2C,
The only certified tea specialist in the state of Maine and one of less than 100 certified by study and coursework offered by the U.S. Tea Association nationwide, Marianne Russo opened Nellie’s Tea and Gifts in South Portland in 2003. Her shop offers a wide selection of the highest quality teas and accessories as well as workshops and tea tasting classes to “educate our consumers about the wonderful world of tea, and promote the culture and civility associated with having tea.”
What were your most important needs in getting started?
When I started my business seven years ago, I did it very part time by sharing space in an already established antiques/gift/home decor shop. I was still employed, so I became the weekend coverage person for the shop, which was owned by two young mothers. I just retired from my “day job” last spring.
I needed to learn what it means to be in business. I had no business experience in my past. I had been an R.N. all my working life, had worked as a waitress in my youth, but had no retail experience of any kind. I also needed to learn about tea. There is so much more to it than meets the eye.
What was there about your upbringing that gave you the courage to venture out on your own?
I grew up in a very conservative, traditional family. No one was really an entrepreneur. My dad was a grocery manager. My mom stayed home with us kids. I just had developed this passion that seemed to take on a life of its own and I had the need to see it through. I am not typically a risk taker.
My passion for tea came from growing up in a household with a British father and grandparents, and believing that everyone had that experience of tea as a regular part of everyday life.
What do you think the advantages and disadvantages are of being a female entrepreneur?
I really think women are in general better networkers in the true sense of developing connections with people, not just in a quick intro and “here’s my card” kind of way. I see a disadvantage at times as not being taken seriously as a business, rather a hobby.
What advice would you give an aspiring woman entrepreneur?
I say follow your passion. I truly believe it’s important to love what you do. (Hopefully the money will follow.) I would also encourage women to seek help from organizations who are out there to help with some of the planning and rough spots, something I have not done enough. There are great resources here in Maine, like Women, Work and Community; Coastal Enterprises; SCORE; and networking groups like the Maine Women’s Network.