meet the retailer: Cary Kelly of Ah Love Oil & Vinegar
Happy week-of-Thanksgiving! We hope you had a restful weekend before the whirlwind that is sure to be this week.
We know it’s hard to concentrate on anything right now that isn’t related to turkey, gravy or pie. But one of our favorite traditions comes in the days after Thanksgiving: Small Business Saturday! We love that there is a day dedicated to celebrating and supporting small, local businesses. To that end, we’re going to introduce you to one of our favorite small business owners: Cary Kelly, owner of Ah Love Oil & Vinegar.
Cary is amazing and truly does it all – inventory, design, decor, marketing and logistics. If her shop isn’t already one of your favorite stops, you should take a long visit the next time you’re at Mosaic. There’s always new goodies to discover! But for now, we’ll let Cary tell you a little bit about her journey as a small business owner:
Glass Alley: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind starting Ah Love Oil & Vinegar?
Cary Kelly: I do love starting businesses, but I don’t think I’ve ever started any that are as much fun as this. Retail has such a fascinating dynamic. When I open the store, I feel like I’m opening the front door of my house and all these people are coming in for me every day to entertain. And I love that dynamic. And the dynamic of listening and watching customers, what they want, what kind of experience they’re looking for.
One of the things I think I love about being in specialty retail today is that online retail is growing, at a pretty steady rate every year. So what it’s done is it’s shifted consumer expectations for what they want in a brick and mortar store. And what they want is experience. That makes it so much more fun to be a retail owner, because that’s what we can provide.
GA: Tell us a little bit more about the process of building a small business – what surprised you? What did you learn?
CK: Probably every small business owner would tell you this. The amount of administration is always so much bigger than any small business owner expects. When people go into a small business, we do it becuase we want to spend all of our time doing something we love. Behind the scenes is all of the administration that it takes to keep that going. Most of us are not gifted, skilled or trained in those areas. And those are always the challenges of small businesses, I think, to learn to pull on all of the other resources that keep the infrastructure going so that we can spend all of our time on the part that drove us there in the first place.
GA: So how do you stay organized, then?
CK: Well, assuming that I do… I would say, number one, good staff. Good staff is probably the number one challenge of small business. Retail, maybe even more so. So far, I’ve been pretty fortunate, but keeping expectations really clear, what is required to work here, what success means. Part of staying organized is keeping expectations really clear and hiring good people. The other one is just being real clear about where I’m not gifted and pulling on external resources for that. So, business consultants to help me do process mapping, because I don’t like that.
GA: After beginning the business, then, what has the jump into Mosaic been like?
CK: Going from number one to number two, every business owner I know who has multiple locations says it never gets harder than from one to two. After that, you sort of create your process and infrastructure and you can replicate it. So on the one hand, that was sort of shocking – two stores was more than twice as much work as one store. On the other side, what was it like to open a store in a brand-new place like Mosaic? It was really thrilling. Seeing my idea replicated in a whole new context was really fun. I had to be creative in new ways, to maintain the brand that I created but put it down in a new spot. Being a part of a brand new development, I find really exciting.
I’ve loved being a part of watching it grow. I’ve loved being a part of hearing customers say over and over again, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing.’ And now after two years, moving into our third year, hearing customers say ‘Yeah, this is where I come all the time.’ Being part of that continuum, where customers discover it for the first time who now come as a regular, that’s fun.
GA: Have you had any “pinch-me” moments yet?
CK: Many. I think, probably, the first time that I got awards from Washingtonian Magazine, that sort of was amazing to me, that I was noticed enough to be pulled out from among my competitors, in my genre. That was sort of amazing. Sometimes, when I stand back, and say ‘I have three locations now.’ That seems amazing. It seems like yesterday I was saying, ‘let’s open a little store and see what happens.’
I will tell you, every single time a customer comes in a store, or sends me an email, or writes something on our Facebook page that says they can’t live without us – I get up in the morning for that. It’s an amazing feeling. And it hasn’t gotten old.
GA: So last question – what do you want people to know for Small Business Saturday?
CK: For Small Business Saturday, I would love for consumers to go out and say ‘I want to support my neighborhood. I want to shop in places where I might see the owner at the grocery store, or at church or synagogue. These are people that live in my community and I want to support them. I want to go to a place that’ s a little unique, that I won’t know exactly what to expect because it’s not the same in every city.’
I think that if consumers can get up in the morning and say, ‘this is how I want to shop, becuase one, my own experience is going to be a little richer, becuase there will be something different there, and two, the altruistic part of it, that I can go out and support people that are my neighbors.’ I think those are the two big reasons for Small Business Saturday.