Amanda McClements is the founder and creative director of the DC homewares shop Salt & Sundry. With one location at Union Market, and another in Logan Circle, Amanda shares her love of cooking, entertaining, and design through the products she curates for the shop.
How did you come up with the concept behind Salt & Sundry?
I was trying to do all my holiday shopping at small, local businesses one year and realized I couldn’t find a lot of what I was looking for. I started fantasizing about a place that brought together all of my favorite things — a place I could share my passion for entertaining and design. Less than a year later, I opened Salt & Sundry in Union Market.
Once you knew you wanted to launch Salt & Sundry what steps did you take to make that a reality?
I started having coffee and drinks with people whose opinion I trusted and who knew the business — shop owners, real estate brokers, restaurant folks. At some point, my husband called me out and said, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough coffee meetings? The only way to figure out if it’s going to work is to do it.” I wanted people to tell me, “Yes, that will definitely work!” It was somewhat of an epiphany for me that there was no guarantee, no matter how long I stared at business plan spreadsheets and solicited yet another opinion. When you’re someone who overthinks things, it’s very freeing to realize that the only way to know is to do it.
Once I wrestled my own worrywart mind to the ground, I dug in. I worked with a fabulous broker/attorney team to secure the space, navigated the DC government’s web site to get all the licenses (the not fun part), started buying inventory (the fun part), and about a week before opening, started hiring staff who would become an integral part of the business.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that your experience won’t necessarily look like anyone else’s. In the beginning (over all those coffees and drinks!), I looked to others for universal truths. This is what running a business is like. This is how you manage people. This is how you manage finances. I wanted some authority to tell me what to expect. But I’ve learned that while other people’s lessons can certainly inform you, your path, your leadership style, your outlook are going to be your own. And you actually have choice in how you do it.
What has surprised you about starting & running this business?
I didn’t realize how similar shopkeeping would be to my writing career. When I’m scouting great products to sell in the shop, the motive is the same reason I pursued journalism — to share great things. When I’m chatting with a customer about a product, it’s like I’m writing in person.
Do you have a daily routine or certain rituals you do?
I am not a creature of habit, and not having a routine is my natural state. I’d say the only things I do every single day are drink coffee and brush my teeth. That being said, creating some semblance of a routine is one of my main goals right now. I spin my wheels a lot trying to figure out what to tackle next and now, with two shops, where to go next. I’m creating a schedule for myself now. Ask me in six months if it sticks.
What hardships/obstacles have you had along the way?
My own self-doubt has been one of the biggest obstacles. I really have to keep those feelings in check, and remember that the over-thinker in my head can be more harmful than helpful. The financial piece is another constant obstacle. Being relatively new to the principles of cash flow, funding, etc. is scary.
What do you wish you would have known going into this?
To not be afraid to ask for help. I don’t know if I expected someone to give me an award for figuring things out on my own, but reaching out and seeking help when you need it can certainly make life easier.
What have you found works for you as far as organizing your business and time?
The more business owners I talk to, the more I accept that the chaotic pile of issues big and small is a fact of life. Getting organized can feel like a finish line that keeps moving. I keep a daily list in a notebook, and now most of my staff does the same. Physically writing something down makes it stick in my mind, and it’s helpful to brain-dump on paper to free up mental space. On the digital side, we use Wunderlist at the shops to corral all of the to-dos and prioritize them. I can chime in even if I’m not physically in one of the shops. It’s helped us all feel a bit more in control.
Highlight of your career so far?
Finding an amazing team to collaborate with. One of my first hires, Sally, has become not only an integral part of the brand and an incredible design talent, but also an amazing friend. I feel really lucky to have that. I’m so grateful to have creative, dedicated people to work with everyday.
Looking back, what would you do differently?
This question folds in on itself. In the first year, I tended to be hard on myself about looking back and overanalyzing how I could have handled something differently. Now, I’m trying to shift that perspective and realize that as long as you’re doing the best you can at any given moment, there’s absolutely no point in looking back and wishing you’d done it differently. Learn and move forward. So I guess that means that what I’d do differently is not wishing I’d done it differently?
Best advice you’ve been given? Any advice that you’d give other entrepreneurs?
When I came to her for advice on opening a shop, Jackie Flanagan of Nana told me over drinks, “It’s just life. Just try it.” It was such a simple way to distill all the worries and just dive in.
Photos by Jeffrey Martin
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