Small Business Profile: Ana Maria Muñoz, Owner of Port of Raleigh
Hi Ana Maria! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Ana Maria Muñoz. I’m a wife, mama, and owner/buyer/janitor of Port of Raleigh - a modern home & lifestyle store in Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I studied fashion merchandising at Cal State Northridge and got a B.S. in Family & Consumer Sciences with a business minor in marketing. While in college I worked as a sales associate at Nordstrom because I thought that I wanted to become a fashion buyer. After a Junior year semester exchange at the University of Rhode Island, I went back to LA to intern with a boutique fashion PR firm and then worked at a fashion trend forecasting agency. These three experiences gave me so much insight into the ecosystem of retail, trends, and media. After graduating I went on to work for TOMS Shoes (back when they were only shoes!) where I managed the shoe-giving side of the business. It was fun and good work but not as creative as I wanted to be. I left to work as a Marketing Director for One Colorado, a high-end commercial property in my hometown Pasadena. I loved it because I got to work with all of the tenants - corporate and independent - while creating engaging community events in a place close to my heart.
While there, my then boyfriend now husband was offered a job in London and he asked me to go with - of course I went! While in London I got really into blogging and photography and since I couldn’t work, I set up my own online store, The Pond Market, selling vintage finds from flea markets around London and Europe. After a year we got an opportunity to move to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, once again for his work. I closed up the online vintage store and focused on a new idea: a ring protector for my engagement ring. It’s a classic story of “I wanted it but couldn’t find it so I invented it”. I made and sold Ring Cozy via my own web store and found fairly good success with it.
Flash forward to being back in the States and moving to Raleigh, it was time to close up Ring Cozy (for many reasons too long for this already long answer!). All of this to say, every job that I was employed in or created for myself was a learning opportunity and stepping stone into what I do now and may do in the future.
What led you to begin Port of Raleigh?
I’ve always wanted to own a store but it always felt like a very distant goal. When we moved to Raleigh and began searching for home furnishings for our own place, I realized that there was an opportunity to bring the type of retail concept and designs that I had become obsessed with while living over seas.
I was 6 months pregnant when I took the first step into what would be Port of Raleigh. We opened the store later that year when my daughter, Hazel, was 6 months old. It was crazy timing but the two main driving factors were: 1) I wanted to be the first to do my concept in our growing city and 2) I figured it would be better to start early so by the time Hazel was 3 or 4 years old, the business would be more established and I could be more flexible (time wise) with her. She’s having a blast growing up with the store.
What made you move to Raleigh and how does your neighborhood/community play a role in your business?
Moving to Raleigh was purely a lifestyle choice. We didn’t know anyone but we knew what we wanted out of a home and that we were ready to start our family; Raleigh had it all. Our immediate community is Downtown Raleigh and in addition the two reasons above, I opened Port of Raleigh because I wanted to invest in our own neighborhood. I believe that vibrant neighborhoods need a little bit of this and that between retail, food & bev, and services. It’s been amazing to get to know our community via the store and make personal connections while sharing something tangible. Our community is our biggest support and inspiration.
How do you source the items you have in your shop? Is there a certain criteria you look for?
I source our merchandise from a variety of countries and work directly with designers, brands, reps, and distributors. And yes, I definitely look for designs that meet certain criteria. First and foremost they should feel fresh and modern. Then I look to see if they’re design-led and functional, artful yet simple, and intriguing for today yet timeless for tomorrow. I do allow some room for novelty and extra playfulness but I keep that very tight. I mainly want to share quality things that have longevity, physically and mentally.
What are some brands/makers that you are excited about that we should know of?
I’m really excited about Kroft Studios. He’s a designer in Toronto making beautifully fresh, simple, and functional furniture like the Stir Stool. I also love Tantuvi and am so excited about a dhurrie rug we just bought for our own home (it’s being woven in India as we speak!). Arati’s designs are the perfect blend of traditional craftsmanship with modern design sensibility.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
A big portion of it used to be from travels but since the store keeps me pretty grounded these days, I rely on my own intuition a lot more.
That and stalking modern Australian design and architecture Instagram accounts! I realized their unique aesthetic while visiting Melbourne and Sydney five years ago and have been obsessed ever since. So much of their aesthetic embodies the warmth and friendliness that I know modern design can bring when you mix materials and keep things simple yet intriguing. Living today, with designs of today, in perfect harmony and comfort - that inspires me. I’d love to see if Port of Raleigh can play even the tiniest role in bringing that approach to the USA.
Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local?
Small independent stores make neighborhoods vibrant, interesting, and impact community well-being on so many levels. I get it, Amazon is convenient but from a community standpoint, Amazon and similar shopping options do little to nothing for your neighborhood’s sense of vibrancy and connectedness.
Independent stores are part of an important community ecosystem where not only goods are purchased, but community is fostered. It’s important that people engage all of it holistically. In fact, everything I’m wearing in my photo was purchased locally from independent stores. Top: Gypsy Jule; Jeans: Uniquities; Socks and Shoes: Vert & Vogue; Bracelet Port of Raleigh by WKNDLA.
Even when shopping online, seek the small shops first - you’ll make someone’s DAY when that order comes through, I promise.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I love seeing how happy people get when they find the perfect piece for themselves or their home. Objects can have transformative energy; we all know how we feel when we wear the right pair of shoes or jacket, right?! I believe that home goods have the same effect and that they’re equally as important because we live with them and use them daily. For example, if you love the mug or fruit bowl in your kitchen, then you’ll probably enjoy your entire kitchen a whole lot more. I love bringing objects together that can help enhance people’s everyday.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with running your shop?
The main thing that comes to mind is some days feeling like I need two or three of me. When you run and do everything from bookkeeping to social media - depending on what’s going on that week - you can feel pretty stretched thin. I learned a lot from our first two years and I’ve come into 2018 feeling really confident about working smarter to not get so overloaded at once.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
We are all so much more alike than not, so when we share, we connect. And when we connect, we grow. I’ve learned so much throughout the years from attending female-led panels, business groups, and creative social events. In my current stage in life I value real conversations even more, be it with a college student who’s interested in entrepreneurship, or a fellow mama who feels like a hot mess on most days, too.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
I am always amazed by anyone who can take any interest, skill, or talent, and become best at it; meaning be so good at it, that you get paid to do it. I just had a conversation with my friend Leslie Medlin about Geronimo Balloons - talk about forging your own path!
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating/running your business?
Free local business counseling was great for writing my business plan and dialing in the details. Besides that, technology has been most helpful. For example, It’s so cost effective and fast to set up shop with an iPad, apps, and a cash box compared to the giant POS systems and inflexible service licenses retailers had to use in the past. Let’s not forget Instagram. Without it, it would be infinitely harder - and expensive - to let people know we exist.
How do you manage your time?
I’m constantly working on time management because both my daughter and my business have ever-changing needs. The only truly predictable schedule is when the store opens and when it closes. If I don’t get certain work done before or after, then I have to fit it in between customers and other in-store needs and it can be challenging to deeply focus on something. To really focus, I work best in the morning but then that means I’m not spending time with my family. I remember reading an interview on OK REAL where a woman said “you can have it all, just not at the same time” - yep, pretty much!
How do you deal with moments of self doubt?
I try to remind myself of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and how all my past learning curves have brought me to where I am today. Knowing that doubt has been there before but I pushed it aside to keep going makes it easier to know that I can do it again. And again, and again.
What are some of your favorite places in Raleigh?
Too too many but for the sake of brevity and variety: North Carolina Museum of Art, NC State J Hunt Library, Brewery Bhavana, Boulted Bread, Lake Johnson, and State Farmer’s Market. Come visit!