Q+A with Old Salt Merchants

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(@oldsaltmerchants)

Have you ever heard of Matcha Tea Salt? Probably not. The first time they sold with us was in December 2018 in Austin, Texas. According to Monique Rodriguez, it was her first show ever and she almost ran out of everything. Her saving grace: her best friend Lina! Even with uncomfortable shoes and no knowledge of how to sell products, she winged it like a pro! There’s no doubt that this is a special company that sells one-of-a-kind high quality salts, sugars, teas, and spices.

Why did you start your company/brand?

My love for cooking began after I spent a year in Milan, Italy studying fashion design in my early twenties. Cooking is my meditation. My obsession with spices is what got me into this business.  The aromas alone transport my imagination to far off places, that I only read about in books. My love for salt is even greater, as it delivers a mouthful of “taste” that makes just about anything you cook better, ok MUCH better! For me, being able to source high-quality BOLD flavors and help my customers expand their palates beyond what they are familiar with is why I show up to work every day. It’s so much fun!

Why did you choose the specific industry your brand is in?

I absolutely love the freedom I have when cooking with spices! Spices, seasoning, and salt are what help me connect the dots. It inspires me to push the envelope, gives me hope that I can deliver a tasty meal, and helps bring people together.  My happiest memories are hosting dinner parties because of the conversations that come with it, the engagement with friends & strangers, and the small influence my food might have on someone’s senses whether it be their palate, their smell, or sight.  If I can help pass this experience onto my customers, then I have done my job.

What does your typical workday look like?

It’s actually never typical. Like any new business, I am constantly learning on the job. The business has been around since 2012 but I purchased it at the end of summer 2018 so I’m having to come up to speed VERY quickly.  The “not typical” doesn't bother me because I enjoy it so much!

Describe a memory or an a-ha moment you had and how you felt?

I just had an a-ha moment this week as a matter of fact. I was on the phone with someone I worked with a few years ago who is a serial entrepreneur and a university professor. I told him about my hectic and ambitious roadshow schedule since last December to meet customers.  I indicated that I am wondering if this is how I should be spending my time and money. His answer was an emphatic 110% YES. He explained that right now I’m at this stage called “ A Thousand True Fans”! After reading the article by Kevin Kelly, it hit me why doing shows like Unique Markets is so important for micro-businesses like mine.  Having a forum to build customer relationships, in person, is critical to our success. I have a niche audience. Having one-on-one opportunities to directly connect with customers will be the most viable way to grow my business, not through paid advertising. There are 6 billion consumers out there and if I can turn 1,000 of those 6 billion consumers into True Fans, then scaling my customer base will only get easier.

What did you do before starting your business?

For the last 13 years, I worked in a corporate setting for a science organization, in Washington D.C. I did everything under the sun from managing their executive office to fundraising.  I worked with many Nobel Laureates and very intelligent scientists. When we would talk socially, the one thing I found in common was we all seemed motivated by eating great food. Some of my biggest champions and most loyal customers happen to be these scientists. 

The two most important things that will always feel like success are, satisfied loyal customers and maintaining products that are of the highest quality and sourced ethically. If these two things go astray, then it’s time to get out of the business.

What is the hardest thing about being a business owner? 

The hardest aspect for me is trying to be at two places at once. I LOVE showcasing our products, especially meeting customers from all over the world. I want to be at every show, every weekend, sometimes three shows in one weekend. But then I take a step back and think HOW IS THIS GOING TO WORK, Monique! So having patience as I try to scale has been one of the biggest challenges for me.

I wish I knew that I would not be taking a vacation for at least the next 5 years. The hustle is real.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

I have plans that involve expansion into spice and offering them in an experiential setting.  Think of a spice bar, like a wine bar, but the aromatics will be off the charts! 

Any advice to someone wanting to take a leap of faith to start their own business?

I saw this on my Instagram feed and I can’t get it out of my mind.  “The Dream Is Free, the Hustle Is Sold Separately”! Everybody’s dream will be different and everybody’s hustle will be different. You are not meant to bear that which you find unpleasant, you are meant to CHANGE it. 

Your biggest inspiration? 

My biggest inspiration is seeing my husband and two college-age children FULLY support me in this dream! They are all so excited to be involved in this business.  They fill in anytime I need help. They help sell at shows, they help count inventory, they produce business models and financial statements, they help with social media.  In fact, my 20-year-old daughter is heading to France his month to help source new products.  

Favorite “Get Sh*t done” Song:  AC/DC Thunderstruck

Dream Brand Collab? GOOP GETS SALTY!

Therese MartinComment