5 Key Lessons From Bigelow Tea Founder Ruth Campbell Bigelow
At Bigelow Tea, tea is all we do. So, every cup counts and that means never compromising. As a family-owned company that has been blending teas for three generations, Bigelow Tea has come a long way. And if you were to rewind back to the very beginning in 1945 to when our founder, Ruth Campbell Bigelow, created “Constant Comment®,” you would know that our unwavering commitment to flavor has remained steadfast. Ruth will be forever remembered as a visionary whose passion for quality and family continues to fuel the Bigelow Tea mission today. How proud she would be to know that the business continues to be family-owned and operated and is now America’s number one specialty tea company with more than 150 varieties . As we reflect back on Ruth’s legacy, here are five key lessons she taught us.
Believe in your product – and yourself!
When Ruth started Bigelow Tea, the going was tough with a capital “T.” After weeks of trial and error blending black tea with orange rind and sweet spices in her New York City brownstone kitchen, she emerged with the first cup of “Constant Comment.” But, then, she had to try and sell it – one store at a time. If most of us found ourselves in that position, it’d be easy enough to give up. But Ruth didn’t. She kept visiting store after store. One day, she visited a place that had begun to successfully sell her tea. The shopkeeper shared with her that he had been opening up a container to allow his consumers to enjoy the tea’s amazing aroma. “One whiff and they were sold!” he said. Ruth immediately started including in each case an “extra” little jar of “Constant Comment” labeled “open and whiff.” Shops across the country placed this whiffing jar by their cash registers. This would prove to be a defining moment that helped grow the tea company into the success it is today. Thank goodness for Ruth’s tenacity – and that little jar!
When things get hard, keep the courage and determination.
It took determination, grit and hard work for Ruth and her husband, David Bigelow Sr., to achieve their version of the American dream. In those early days – as any entrepreneur knows – life was hectic. One evening, Ruth was sharing her discouragement when her sister said, “Remember… Mama moved the pony stable.” As a child, Ruth’s family had a pony named Bottoms, who lived in a sturdy stable outside of the Bigelow’s home. When her father announced one day that the family was moving to the other side of Providence, RI, the children lamented that Bottoms would never be happy without his stable. Though she knew it would be a great deal of work, finally, Ruth’s mother said, “The stable will come.” The move commenced and they all paraded across Providence. It took four rented horses and six hired workmen to move the stable while Bottoms trotted behind them. Well-wishers, advice-givers and hecklers followed. On the Bigelow’s first night in the new house in Providence, Bottoms had his familiar stable. As Ruth relived these scenes, the significance of her sister’s comment was clear: if she wanted to do something badly enough, she could. Whenever Ruth was feeling defeated, she would remind herself, “Mama moved the pony stable.” This always gave her the courage and ingenuity to carry on.
Always pay your bills on time and when you get knocked down, get right back up!
In 1955, Ruth and David Sr. eventually moved the company from New York to Connecticut. And it was here where they showed even more resilience and strength, because soon after, back-to-back hurricanes hit! The river where the new factory resided rose more than 35 feet and flooded the building and all the tea had washed down the river. While it took tremendous effort to get everything in order again, the Bigelow family was determined. With the help of their creditors who extended them whatever they needed, the Bigelows were back in business in just a few months. The family learned two important things that they still adhere to today: always pay your bills on time, and when you get knocked down, get right back up!
Stay true to your values and mission.
Bigelow Tea has been – and always will be – based upon strong ethical business practices and is dedicated to only the highest standard of behavior in all areas. It’s our mission. We support our communities, and as a good corporate citizen, we remain committed to protecting the environment by continually striving to improve the environmental responsiveness of our packaging. Ruth instilled these values from the start, and today, they shine on in her granddaughter, president and CEO Cindi Bigelow. As a Certified B Corporation, Bigelow Tea’s purpose goes beyond profit and the company is committed to good citizenship, ethical business practices, accountability and transparency, protecting the environment, sustainability and supporting our communities.
Do the right thing and good things will follow.
One of the most important things that the Bigelow family, as well as everyone at Bigelow Tea, tries to do is make a difference. This happens in many ways. It was a philosophy started by founder Ruth Campbell Bigelow. Today it is ingrained in the culture of the company. It is simple “do the right thing and good things will follow.” This pertains to all aspects of our business. It starts with producing only the finest tasting teas hand-picked from mountain grown gardens. Every new tea created must be personally approved by a member of the Bigelow family. We at Bigelow tea are serious about protecting the environment, giving back to our community and taking care of our employees and their families… for future generations.
So, tea lovers, brew yourself a mug of delicious “Constant Comment,” take a moment just for you and ponder the life of and lessons from this tenacious, generous and pioneering woman who created the first American specialty tea. Be sure to tag #TeaProudly on social as we all collectively toast to Ruth Campbell Bigelow!