Get to Know...Ashley Ray of Simplicity and Co. Tea House
We love the courage and grit displayed by small business owners who are following their passions. At 23 years old, Ashley Ray (with her husband, Austin) quit her media job to pursue her dream of opening a loose leaf tea house in Stillwater, OK. We asked Ashley to help us get to know her and Simplicity & Co. Tea House a little bit better:
Name: Ashley Ray
Business: Simplicity & Co. Tea House
How would you describe your business to someone who hasn't had the chance to visit yet?
We're a modern loose leaf tea house in Stillwater, OK. All of our teas are all-natural, fair trade and organically grown. We serve tea drinks and have cultivated a cozy, inviting space for guests to study, read, spend some good time with a friend or just relax. We also offer tea event bookings in our Fireplace Room with vintage teacups, scones and decor. Our goal is to make tea approachable to anyone and bring it back to the modern day. Tea isn't just for grandma anymore!
Tell us the origin story of Simplicity & Co. Tea House.
My husband and I dreamed of a loose leaf tea house in Stillwater because we had to keep going to the city (Oklahoma City) to purchase our loose leaf tea. There's just something about seeing it and smelling it that makes all the difference. We also craved a quiet, calm space to spend time in and read together - all the coffee shops in town always played loud music and had tons of busyness going on. We wanted somewhere really calming and peaceful for people to relax. We came up with the idea during my senior year of college. I worked for Oklahoma State University in media for about 6 months before quitting to go open the shop. I was 23 (years old). I couldn't believe how many people we talked to before we opened spoke so rudely to us and looked down on us. They never thought we could do it. It drove us (and still does!) to push even harder to make it happen - if nothing else just to prove them all wrong! We really believe young people are the future of entrepreneurship, especially in our small town - us and other young families are what's bringing vibrancy back to our Downtown!
What do you love about operating a small business in Oklahoma?
I love meeting people I probably never would have otherwise. I also love meeting people when we're not at the shop that say, "You're the tea people?? I LOVE that place!" It's a huge honor.
What challenges or risks have you faced operating a local business?
Being in a small college town - we honestly don't make big bucks and it took us several years to make it through a studentless summer without taking out more loans. It's awesome to see, as we've become more of a local "standard", how our people have really taken care of us and summer doesn't scare us anymore!
What advice would you give to someone who dreams of starting their own business someday?
GO FOR IT! You'll never start if you wait until you feel ready. The best way to learn is just to do it. It's never going to work out perfectly, or the way you imagine, but it's so rewarding to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Your community will thank you!
What are the most popular items that you sell?
Tea drinks are our biggest selling item - during the summer our top selling tea is Watermelon Refresher and during the winter it's Butterscotch.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
My favorite part of the day-to-day is doing photoshoots and scheduling social media. I also love getting our team together. We're so lucky to have such great people working for us - they're family more than employees!
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Taxes, budgeting and making money decisions. Not my favorite parts!
Who do you admire in your line of work? Do you have any professional heroes?
I really admire what Erica with the Tea Bar in Portland has done. She also started her business at a really young age and has grown it so much. It's so inspiring. Being a young entrepreneur doesn't mean you can't be really successful.
Do you have any favorite moments or memorable milestones since opening Simplicity & Co.?
When we first opened, we snagged a spot in a shopping center that was already set up for a restaurant. We liked the idea of Downtown, but didn't think we could afford rent and a remodel. Well it turns out that the shopping center rent was what we couldn't afford. We wanted out but had NO CLUE what to do. One day, a woman walked in and asked me, "Are you Ashley? I have a spot Downtown for you if you want it!" I'd never met her before but she had a gut feeling about me and asked. We moved two months later and it's been the best thing to happen for our business. We love getting to be a part of the Downtown community and all the events held there. I love that all our business friends are a quick walk away. It's a crazy story and I'll forever be grateful she walked in that day!
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about your business?
People always think we're a chain! I guess because we have such high standards for our branding. It always makes me laugh. Sometimes I think we did TOO good of a job.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to travel and I NEVER wanted to work in an office. I always had tons of crazy business ideas as a kid and my parents always let me try them. Owning my own business wasn't ever even a question.
What was your first job?
My first job was working for a local studio photographer in Downtown Stillwater. (Right around the corner from our shop!) I edited and ordered images for them and eventually got to shoot a little too before they retired and moved. I'm so thankful I've always gotten to do something I've loved!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love to read and visit the library at least twice a week thanks to my three-year-old! I photograph a few weddings a year and love shooting new photos for S&Co. We are huge foodies, so if eating can count as an extracurricular activity - we're into that. We love visiting cities and trying local restaurants.
What motivates you to keep doing what you're doing?
Our Downtown community. We so believe in our town and see the potential it has to grow beyond just somewhere people live for four years while they're in school. I want it to develop it's own unique culture and getting to be a part of that is a huge honor.
In your opinion, why is it important for people to support locally-owned businesses?
The culture of towns and cities is BUILT on small business. You don't visit or go on vacation and eat at chain restaurants. You go and get a taste of the local culture. The same goes when deciding where to live. People want culture, they want relationships and they want to feel they belong. These aren't things you feel at chain businesses. You get that at small businesses. I think it's important to support them so they can stay open and BE THERE for their community!
Photography provided by Simplicity & Co. Tea House
Simplicity and Co. is a modern loose leaf tea house that features over 80 different teas, handcrafted specialty drinks like tea lattes & sparkling teas, and tea by the ounce. They also offer their private Fireplace Room for parties and event rental for up to 20 guests. Stop by and say “hello” to Ashley and the team at their beautiful downtown location in Stillwater, OK and make sure to show them your Keep It Local Card to receive $1 off any tea drink. simplicityandco.com