Hot Biz How-To: La Tienda
Tim Harris and his family opened La Tienda, which sells gourmet foods from Spain, in 1996.
Based in Toano, it started as an e-commerce site and now includes a Williamsburg retail store that stocks Manchego cheese, paella fixings and other imports.
Why did you choose this field?
We lived in Spain as kids in the ’70s. My father was a chaplain at a Navy base in Rota. So we couldn’t find the food here – we really missed the ham; they have a great dry-cured ham, the jamón serrano and ibérico – and the Internet came along and it seemed a great way to cost-effectively market and it took off.
How has your business grown since you launched it?
We started in my father’s basement, and now we’re in an 85,000-square-foot warehouse. We have served 600,000 people and have grown from my father, my brother and myself to 34 employees. And now we have two locations in Virginia and two small offices in Spain.
Describe an industry-specific challenge.
I didn’t expect that our clients would be mostly Anglo-American foodies. In the beginning we started the business to service the community from Spain and were pleasantly surprised when food enthusiasts in the U.S. were interested in Spanish food. But they didn’t really know the product. We’ve had to spend a lot more time explaining what we’re selling and how you use it. We have to provide a lot of how-tos and recipes. It’s been a lot of fun, actually, so I don’t know if that’s necessarily a challenge.
Another surprise: Everyone said the print catalog was an anachronism and was going to disappear, and in fact we are printing and sending out more catalogs than ever this year. Because people still like to sit down with a catalog. I think it also provides legitimacy, some reassurance that the business is not some fly-by-night Internet company.