I always knew that I had it in me to start something of my own, but I just wasn’t sure of when that right time would be.
When I was a child, my Oma, who was a philanthropist, would volunteer her time to local charities and non-profits such as the Store House, Meals on Wheels and the Santa Fe Opera Guild, hosting a variety of fashion shows and events to benefit each organization. She was always creating opportunities, so whether it was a fashion show with local celebrities or a market with artists selling their goods and other vintage wares, there was always a sense of artistic appreciation and community that was being impressed upon me at very young age.
In my adult years, I attended college in L.A. and was constantly exposed to the vast world of fashion and design that exists there, with various opportunities at my fingertips. Upon my return to New Mexico, I began working at larger businesses while simultaneously doing design gigs for smaller local businesses. I was a rookie at the time, and the willingness of these local businesses to give me a chance is something that would to inspire my own business practices at Spur Line Supply Co. years later.
My original side hustle — Spectacle Caravan, a mobile pop-up shop featuring local vendors — was my first experience with a crowdfunding campaign and business. I would show up at every place I could shake a hand and tell my story. I pitched and got rejected, but also realized that I don’t take “no” very well and worked to fine tune my pitch and request face-to-face meetings – where I was then well received, and my crowdfunding campaign became a success. I vividly recall the night before the first day at the Albuquerque Railyard Market, when I was nine months pregnant, painting the interior of the Airstream until dawn, wanting desperately to go to sleep, but knowing that my efforts would make something worthwhile.
Spectacle allowed me to test the market, not only for what I was selling but for forging relationships with vendors and nurturing them. How it all eventually came to fruition was a seemingly natural and beautiful process, and I didn’t know at the time that I was creating relationships for a venture much larger than 30 feet long. It was all these early experiences, combined with my ability and desire to visualize spaces, that brought me to my latest brainchild, Spur Line Supply Co. Back then, I never thought that brick and mortar was a possibility, and was totally dedicated to the future of commerce being mobile.
Months later, I read an article about the Sawmill District in Albuquerque, and how it was growing and looking for community partners for a developing food hall. I passed along the news to Lauren Greene, owner of a restaurant called The Grove Cafe & Market, who reached out to the developers, and a relationship was forged. Shortly thereafter, I was spearheading a local pop-up collective event. Being the ever-supportive mentor that she is, Lauren stopped by to visit the event and told me about another new space in the Sawmill District that I might be interested in checking out.
Never one to pass up on an opportunity, I made the call and arranged to meet the district’s brand manager at the space. I was told I had three days to put a proposal together if I was interested in going up against the other three business owners who were vying for the space. I said OK and went home, with a baby in one arm and a computer in the other, and got to work.
My second outing away from my nursing newborn was to the boardroom of a very successful hotel chain, where I pitched my soon-to-be business partner. I talked about the prospects of Spur Line and its potential benefits to the community and got him to visualize it. No one said they were looking for a store, but I knew that this is what they needed. I was offered the opportunity to make it happen right there and immediately said yes.
In retrospect, I might have liked to go home and think it out before responding, but that would be unnatural for a person whose determination and zest had gotten her that far. I tend to just jump at opportunities and not even think twice — and that's not always a positive thing. If I could do it over again, I would have been more forward in negotiating certain aspects of creating the space. I should have taken more time to ask questions and truly understand the elements of our partnership. However, if I didn’t say, “Hell, yeah!” I would have never had this chance.
My ability to pivot has been essential for my entrepreneurial success. My capacity to be inventive around business growth stems from a childhood where creativity was imperative. Learning how to make do with less-than-stellar means forces innovation and a way to find solutions without incurring a great cost. This flexibility not only means that I now have a brick-and-mortar store that I had never imagined – but I have also gone into business with a partner, which is something that I told myself I would never ever do.
Partnerships are never easy, and I have learned that keeping an open and direct line of communication, whether it’s with my staff or investors, is paramount. Though I am financially supported, I constantly have to sell my vision and mission a million times over. Funnily enough, for a person who doesn’t like to hear “no,” and has a clear vision of what I want, I have learned that I am better at making decisions when I have a cohort, and I’ve learned to lean into my staff and to confer with them more often than not.
Now, one year in, I am starting to discover a lot about myself. I own my role of being an “ideas woman” and realizing that my genius is coming up with these ideas, and that I now have a team that can help me to strategize and implement plans to make my ideas a reality. I am in the business of invigorating the local economy and making my community rich by supporting vendors and artists who are true makers. If we can continue to help local vendors flourish and make it their livelihood, there’s just so much that can happen.
The brick-and-mortar store showcasing local New Mexican products has been in business for just over a year, but its concept has been vibrant in my mind for a long time. Personally, I do this for the future of my children; but business wise, this is about the community. People say that loosely, and I try not to say “it’s about community” – because it can sound forced or lame – but it’s really what drives me.
Tess is the founder and owner of Spur Line Supply Co. in Albuquerque, NM. An Albuquerque native, Tess moved to Los Angeles and studied visual communication and fashion merchandising and has worked in various roles in retail for over 15 years including starting Spectacle Caravan, a mobile boutique, which is now housed in Spur Line Supply Co. She now resides in downtown Albuquerque with her two daughters and admits her every move is powered by coffee.
Narrative written by Sara Magaletta in collaboration with Tess Coats