There are a pair of entrepreneurs on the Outer Banks that will be the first to say, “You CAN go home again!”
This couple was destined to be together since the day they met in college through mutual friends in 2007, and then passing mix CDs through their post office boxes.
He introduced her to bands like Bright Eyes and The National and she introduced him to groups like The Flaming Lips and Bon Iver. A year later, they were married.
Fast forward to 2018, and the dream of owning her own tea shop comes true, in of all places, Arkansas.
Then the siren song of Mother Ocean started to pull the pair back east.
“I grew up here on the Outer Banks and was so excited to bring the tea shop back home after opening it in Little Rock five years ago,” said Abbi Siler.
“During the pandemic, we kept coming out here for our annual beach stays and I looked at Abbi and said, ‘What if we moved back?’,” Jordan Siler said. “I knew she always wanted to be here and I was ready to start the record shop after talking about it for years.”
Abbi’s Teas & Things just wrapped up its second season on the Outer Banks, while Sudden Light Records is now in its second year. Both are located upstairs at Jockey’s Ridge Crossing in Nags Head across from the big sand dune.
Their shop is exactly as it sounds: All things tea and records. Abbi hand-blends small batch loose leaf teas and Jordan offers a variety of new and used vinyl records, players, used cassettes, CDs, and 45s.
Our Five Questions with a (pair of) Greater Outer Banks Entrepreneur(s) this week features Abbi and Jordan Siler.
What was the number one driving factor in starting your business?
Abbi: For me, I had just lost my dad in the summer of 2017. It was a significant loss for me.
I was working for a large corporate advertising firm as a digital director – long hours, lots of clients, and a large team to oversee. I was burnt out and I didn’t really like who I was in the corporate world.
Being a woman in leadership is hard and required a persona that didn’t match the person I wanted to be.
The last conversations I had with my dad were about my dream of owning a tea shop and he wanted me to do that before life slipped away. It took another six months and a big push from my mom to make the leap.
I am so glad that I did. The tea shop has been the most fulfilling thing I have ever done in my life.
Jordan: During the pandemic, I was working 60-70 hours a week as a store manager at a large retail corporation. I had climbed the ladder and was on my way to another promotion, but I was really unhappy.
Watching Abbi build her business over the last five years really inspired me and we had always talked about adding a record store to her shop which has been my dream since college.
I remember sitting at SmacNally’s in Ocracoke on one of our visits in 2021 and asking her if she wanted to move back.
We’d lived here almost a decade ago and moved away to be closer to my side of the family which was in Arkansas. She said yes, and then we saved and started figuring out a way to make it happen.
What makes you stand out and/or makes you unique from other similar businesses?
We think what makes us stand out is each other. We both love what we do and we love talking about what we do with anyone who cares to listen.
Abbi blends her own teas and sources all of her ingredients herself. She’s always coming up with new teas. Jordan has such a depth of knowledge for music and can hunt down just about any band you’re looking for unless it’s simply not in pressing. He’s always listening to new things and introducing folks to music.
We’re pretty niche, but people who love tea or records instantly respond to the space when they come in. Our favorite compliment is “it’s so cozy in here.” A description that’s followed the shop since the beginning.
What resources were most valuable in getting started, and resources that have helped you stay successful?
Friends and family of course were great resources, but for both of us our greatest support has come from complete strangers who just love what we are doing and support us by shopping in person and/or online.
The shop has brought so many people into our lives that we never would have known otherwise.
As far as getting started resources, I recommend for people to save as much as you can. The upfront costs of starting a business can be hard but if you’re smart and take your time – it’s possible!
What lessons have you learned, both positive and negative, in running your business?
Abbi: We both smiled at each other about this question. So many lessons. Starting out, my biggest lesson was cash flow and learning how to manage a business.
Since moving back home, we’ve had to really learn about misogyny. I’d always been on my own at the shop. My name’s on the door and on the tea.
I never really had to make space for myself in my own shop before, but after adding Jordan to the mix it has been interesting to see how people dismiss the tea side of the business.
The assumptions people make about our dynamic, about me.
Jordan: Yeah, that’s been really interesting, and frustrating. Men really talk down to her and often cast her business in the light of just being a hobby when in reality she’s the main reason we are where we are at today.
Sometimes they will ask us weird questions like “Who sells more? The tea or the records?” as if we are in competition. We run everything through the same register.
We’ve started asking back “what would you think?” and every time they say the records. But, it’s pretty equal most days and in the off-season it’s her tea.
Her side of the business keeps us going in the winter months, for sure. Not to mention, her business mind. She’s incredible, and I feel so lucky to be her partner.
Abbi: I think that’s just part of being a woman business owner, but it’s definitely been an adjustment for both of us.
How do we respond without being defensive? How do we make sure we are both feeling valued and contributing to this beautiful concept we are building together?
It’s made us all the more determined to make it work and I think it’s really brought us together in a deeper way.
We’ve had conversations about things we’d never thought about before. Jordan often wants to speak up and I have to remind him we really need to pick our battles.
Some people just aren’t worth the effort to explain it.
This dream we are building together is bigger than someone’s misinformed opinions about it, ya know? The people who get it, get it and those are the people who have and will keep our shop going.
What are your plans for the future (expansion, multiple locations, new offerings etc.), and what special events do you have coming up?
We have a ton of fun things coming up! Record Store Day: Black Friday is coming up on November 24th. This will be our 3rd time hosting this national event on the Outer Banks.
Our last event in April had over 70 people in line when we opened the doors at 9am.
We also host a variety of exclusive listening party events. We just had one for Duran Duran’s Danse Macabre and they sent us a ton of posters, stickers and slip discs.
We had one for the Barbie soundtrack this past summer and people wore Barbie costumes. It was a fantastic turn-out. Abbi even made up a Barbie tea blend that’s been one of her bestsellers this year.
Abbi will be doing the Dowdy Park Holiday Markets again this winter and she just put out a bunch of new fall tea blends at the shop. Her Holiday Spirit & Twinkle Tea blends will be available from Black Friday though the end of December. These make great holiday gifts!
As far as future plans, eventually our hope is to be in a bigger space. It’s hard finding commercial space that has natural foot traffic out here.
We love our cozy little corner of Jockey’s Ridge Crossing, but we definitely would love to find a larger space so Abbi can expand her tea offerings like she had in her first shop, but we’re happy with taking our time – saving and growing.
When the time is right, we’ll know.
Abbi’s Teas & Things and Sudden Light Records are located at Jockey’s Ridge Crossing in Nags Head, 3933 S Croatan Highway in Nags Head. They are open year round ,Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can find them online at www.abbiteas.com or www.suddenlightrecords.com, @teasandthings and @suddenlightrecords on Facebook and Instagram.
Five Questions with a Greater Outer Banks Entrepreneur is a series where we get unique perspectives from across the spectrum on what it takes to launch, operate and succeed with a small business in northeastern North Carolina. If you would like to participate, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.