As I walk into Valley Brook Tea to check in with owner Yunhan Zhang on a spring day brimming with the energy of a city waking up from its pandemic doldrums, I can’t help but smile at the message written on a sidewalk promotional sign:
“Be friends and get oolong.”
I’m Jonathan Padget, and the wordplay appeals to the writer in me. More importantly, though, it encapsulates the kindness and determination Zhang has shown since he opened his doors on Valentine’s Day 2020 on the block where I live in Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood.
It hasn’t been easy for Zhang to persevere, but he’s still here, thanks in part to a recent shipping deal worth over $91,000 for the Postal Service.
Last year, when Zhang faced citywide pandemic business closures within a month, he focused on online sales for his Chinese family’s teamaking company.
Eventually he was allowed to reopen, at reduced capacity, but much of the foot traffic on the block had disappeared — without tourists in nearby hotels and with residents hunkered down at home.
Even more discouraging, by year’s end, he had shipping difficulties in the mix as well.
As a member of the Link team at postal headquarters, I knew from weekly stories that employees could make a difference for USPS and local businesses through lead generation programs.
That’s why I used Submit a Lead — the option for employees who aren’t eligible for Business Connect, Clerks Care, Customer Connect, Mail Handlers and Rural Reach — to pass on a sales tip.
Maryland District Business Development Specialist Andrea Burrows and Senior Field Sales Representative Jarvis Johnson followed up with Zhang, ultimately closing a deal that represents $91,680 in new estimated annualized revenue for the Postal Service.
“The referral worked out very well for us,” Zhang tells me during my latest visit. “I can see all of my shipments in one place, and it’s a convenient way to manage our shipping needs.”
He’s happy, too, to have his monthly fee waived because of the USPS referral, and to be getting more affordable rates for heavier packages.
“This is very important for an individual small business like us,” he says.
Lou DeRienzo, small-business senior sales specialist at USPS headquarters in Washington, DC, says Zhang’s success demonstrates the value of the employee lead programs.
“Our employees — in every role throughout the organization from coast to coast — know their communities and are eager to help their neighborhood businesses thrive with help from the Postal Service,” he says.
Zhang reports that foot traffic is increasing, giving him hope that the darkest days for Valley Brook Tea are behind him.
He anticipates continued online growth, and his eyes sparkle as he shares ideas — such as YouTube videos about using traditional teaware, live-streaming content about tea, perhaps even riffing on TED Talks with a series of “Tea Talks” — that will build a devoted customer base.
I’m thankful that Zhang is my neighbor, that he’s made it this far in trying times, and that Submit a Lead helped his business.
I believe in the Postal Service’s role to bind the nation, and I see that happening when Valley Brook Tea gets community support and encouragement to prosper.
“Be friends and get oolong,” indeed.