At Simpson & Vail, Family is the Hero

At Simpson & Vail, Family is the Hero
Words by Courtney Hancock

Brisk and bright. These two words are commonly used to describe tea, but in this case they describe the balance of business and family achieved by Simpson & Vail.

Bright is typically a characteristic of fine teas. High quality teas are sturdy, and they take time. Simpson & Vail has a century-long history of consistency in the tea industry. It’s sturdy, and they’re definitely not going anywhere. Brisk teas have a lively taste, are pleasing to the palate and have an appropriate astringency. Speak with anyone from the family owned business and you’re sure to feel right at home. Their lively customer service is refreshing. One phone call and you can tell the team at Simpson & Vail prioritizes the customer over everything. You could spend over an hour on their website reading through the 50+ testimonials of repeat customers.

“You don’t have to email us, we’re here and you can just call us.” Says Jim Sr. “We vowed we would never cheat a customer. You don’t need greed to make you happy. We value fair pricing, even if we know we can get more for it, we treat others the way we like to be treated.”

However, things haven’t always been brisk and bright. Jim Harron Senior was in the middle of his son’s hockey season, traveling back & forth too often while working in the textile industry. Ripe for change, another teammate’s dad whom Jim had developed a friendship with pitched Jim a tea company that was for sale. It was 1978, and the company was called Simpson & Vail.

The business was started in 1904 on Water Street in New York City by Augustus M. Walbridge. It was the same year the subway opened, and Times Square was given its name. It was a romantic age for the American economy; entrepreneurs were falling in love with the booming city and commemorating the marriage with the establishment of a corporation. After his 25-year-long love affair with the tea industry, Walbridge sold his company to Mr. Simpson, his accountant, and Mr. Lester Vail, the tea tester in 1929. Hence, Simpson & Vail was born. The company remained in New York City until 1982 when it relocated to Pleasantville, NY and then relocated in 1997 to its current location nestled in a beautiful rock quarry in Brookfield, Connecticut. A whimsical scene fitted “to a tea” for sipping Simpson & Vail teas while being inspired by the fall foliage. Until 1990, Simpson & Vail was one of only 18 loose-leaf tea businesses in the US. For 58 years, bulk tea was the only product Simpson & Vail sold until adding coffee and tea bags. After Jim & Joan Harron purchased the tea company, they expanded the tea and coffee lines from just one coffee and 18 teas, to now 100 coffees, 380 teas (and counting), and over 100 botanical and herbal blends.

Although Jim had no experience in the tea industry, he had prior success in mail-order and textile businesses and was determined to carve out a path for a more family-centric career. It’s the mail-order roots and lifetime of experience that not only saved Simpson & Vail through the 2008 recession, but the 2020 pandemic as well. Jim’s career advice for the modern-day entrepreneur is to “develop your business away from your business.” Meaning, you never know when a pandemic might hit or when you might outgrow the square feet of your store front. “Unless you can export your business, you’re not going to make it long-term.” While Jim is humble about his success in business, he boasts proudly of his most important accomplishment.

“The best thing to happen in the 40 plus years is having the kids run the business now.”

Two of Jim & Joan’s four children are a full-time part of Simpson & Vail now. You’ll be brought to tears listening to the proud father boast about his daughter, who’s passion drove her to develop a real presence for Simpson & Vail in the herbal tea sector. With a line of 100 herbal tisanes, their philosophy is to supply, inform, and satisfy the consumer with the best and most health-conscious products available.  He has high praise for his son, Jim Jr., who has a true love of tea and is responsible for managing the organization and modernizing Simpson & Vail while retaining the old country store atmosphere.

The father of four says, “You have to make up your mind to stay small. Find your niche and make that big.” Simpson & Vail hasn’t just made tea big; they make family the hero. But not just their family, your family too. When you purchase their tea or coffee, it’s not just another yummy beverage. You’re inviting Simpson & Vail into your home, and in return, Jim Sr. invites you into theirs.