In operating a bubble tea business, you’ll bring the Taiwanese drink to the attention of customers in a retail environment. The drink is incredibly popular throughout much of Asia, but still in the introductory stage in America. Here, it’s finding increasing acceptance with a trend-seeking millennial audience, particularly in university settings. Among its many other names, bubble tea is sometimes called boba tea or boba juice, pearl milk, or bobi.
Learn how to start your own Bubble Tea Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a bubble tea business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Bubble Tea Business
- Form your Bubble Tea Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Bubble Tea Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Bubble Tea Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Bubble Tea Business
- Get Bubble Tea Business Insurance
- Define your Bubble Tea Business Brand
- Create your Bubble Tea Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your bubble tea business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Bubble Tea Business Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
What are the costs involved in opening a bubble tea business?
Depending on your location, and the product mix involved, you could spend as little as $15,000 or as much as six figures on startup costs. The low cost can involve adding used equipment to a section of an existing store that might sell pastries, cookies, smoothies, coffee, books, gifts and souvenirs, etc. Here’s how your costs might break down.
Rent -- $50,000 a year, or more - Remember, you’ll want to find a location where your audience hangs out. That might be a college campus environment or a similar young and vibrant setting. Rent tends to be pricey in such locations. Do you want a kiosk or a pick-up or sit-down setting? Will you be serving other foods or beverages? All of this will impact your rent.
Equipment -- $10,000 or more - The basics include gas or electric stove, blender, stirrers, shaker cups, sealer machine, refrigerator and ice maker. Most of this equipment can be bought online at sites such as Boba Tea Direct. Or search online for used equipment.
Ingredients -- $2,000 or more for a starter supply - This includes tea, milk and fruit and flavor powders. You’ll pay additionally for whatever ingredients or supplies are necessary for sale alongside bubble tea, if any.
Logo development, signage and marketing materials -- Up to $10,000 or more - This might include everything from creating your logo to buying store signage and producing business cards, fliers and other sales and marketing literature.
Licensure, certification and liability insurance -- $750 or more, est. - Depending on your location and products sold, you’ll probably have to have a business license and a health permit at the very least. Visit the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) website to find out the licensing requirements in your state.
Staffing -- $25,000 or more - Initially, this might simply reflect what you -- as your sole employee -- need to take out of the business. You’ll spend less than this if you have a working mate, savings or second source of income. And you’ll spend more as your staffing needs increase.
It’s also possible to buy a bubble tea franchise and get most of your startup needs supplied as a package. However, you could spend well into six figures in franchising fees and costs. You’ll find examples of such opportunities here and here.
What are the ongoing expenses for a bubble tea business?
Once you’ve established your presence, your ongoing costs will include ingredients and store staffing and operational costs. These variable costs will follow and reflect the amount of business you do at your store.
Who is the target market?
Depending on your location, one major segment of your audience is likely to include early adopters. These are people willing to try new products or experiences. Their word of mouth could be very valuable to you. If you’re establishing your business in a location where most prospects will be familiar with bubble tea, your customer base might consist of people who want to judge your tea and overall product mix against the competition.
Regardless of your location, customers will expect a pleasing and relatively low-cost break from their day.
How does a bubble tea business make money?
You’ll make a bubble tea drink for a cost of roughly 75 cents and sell the drink for a few dollars. Depending on your competition and pricing sensitivity, you could make a markup of 350 percent or better on the drink. Additional revenue might be derived from the other foods, drinks, or merchandise you sell.
How much can you charge customers?
What do the coffee houses in your geographic location generally charge for premium drinks? This is a good indication of what you might be able to charge It’s likely to be in the range of $3 to $5. Set a price point and see what the response is. And be sure to keep an eye on the pricing of direct (other bubble tea retailers) or indirect (coffee houses, smoothie shops, etc.) competitors.
How much profit can a bubble tea business make?
A 350 percent markup on a beverage is not unreasonable. Gross profit margins in the 75-80 percent range are not rare in the food and beverage retail industry.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Think what else you can make with the same or similar equipment purchased for bubble tea. You might also consider adding smoothies, coffee or ice cream to your menu. Or buy cookies, pastries or other dessert items for resell from nearby vendors. How about adding t-shirts, mugs, posters, music or other merchandise that might appeal to your same customer base? Try additional products for a while and see if they sell. If they don’t, adjust your mix.
Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your bubble tea business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from BILL and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
Federal Business Licensing Requirements
There are federal regulations regarding what can and cannot be added to, sold as, and processed with food. Attached is a resource from the Food and Drug Administration detailing the process of starting a food business: How to Start a Food Business
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a bubble tea business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Certificate of Occupancy
A bubble tea business is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a bubble tea business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your bubble tea business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
When selling food, you will need licensing from a local health department; all establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspections
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
FInd out what types of insurance your Bubble Tea Business needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Bubble Tea Business.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a bubble tea business
The product’s novelty can work to your advantage. A certain market segment is always on the search for new products and experiences. Share with local customers and local media this story of how bubble tea might have been invented. Also, be sure to make free samples available. The drink could be such a novelty in your location that the media will run stories before you open for business.
How to keep customers coming back
Your marketing efforts might be as simple as the distribution of fliers in your marketing area. Begin a Facebook page for bubble tea aficionados, and show the beverage and your store on Instagram. Film a video on YouTube or Vimeo showing how to make bubble tea. Consider serving the drink at city festivals, fairs, and other occasions when you can spread the word. If you do so, be sure to distribute fliers and business cards to invite customers to your primary location.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
If you have retail or food service experience, you might be a natural for this business. You should also have the ability to creatively market a new concept, since many of your prospective customers will be unaware of what bubble tea is.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a bubble tea business?
Your typical workday could consist of a range of activities including:
- Taking orders and payments
- Crafting bubble tea drinks for your customers
- Cleaning your business
- Promoting and marketing your business in the community
- Meeting and serving customers and cross-selling other food or non-food items in your store
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful bubble tea business?
You must find a location with ample foot traffic and a young, educated population. It’s also important to find competitively priced ingredient vendors so you can maintain the highest possible margins. You should also have a strong customer service outlook. Your customers will return for you and the atmosphere you provide as much as for the bubble tea you sell.
What is the growth potential for a bubble tea business?
As of this writing, the bubble tea business is still in its youth in America. It’s particularly popular in young-adult setting such as Austin, Texas and parts of California and the Southeast, but it’s unknown in significant portions of the nation. As word gets around on social media, your audience will find you if you’re based in a location where millennials are predominant. College campuses are among the best locations to open a bubble tea business.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a bubble tea business?
Get the word out. Especially if your market is relatively unaware of bubble tea. Let people learn what the beverage is, how it’s made, and how great it tastes. Also, try to pair bubble tea with at least one other complementary product. This will help you bring customers in the door and cross-sell.
How and when to build a team
While you’ll probably start as a sole employee or with family and friends, you’ll see the need to hire as soon as you can. The last thing you want is for customers to warn others away because of long lines or order mixups due to understaffed operations. Begin by hiring part-time crew members and addinig hours to meet traffic flow and revenue gain.
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