On Opening a Store at the Age of 20

Emily Gaus, manager at House Of, speaks on taking charge, navigating Nashville, and the effectiveness of confidence-charged Beyonce power anthems.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  •  A hard copy of Beyoncé’s self titled album and a print out of the lyrics of “Formation”
  •  A highly functional alarm clock
  • A pair of chunky black boots that scream “I mean business,” but also “I have fun”

This is a starter kit in the works- stayed tuned.

This probably all started during a hazy Harry Potter marathon while I was somewhere on the couch buried under the wrappers of Christmas caramels. I got a call from Elizabeth Gortmaker, the head of the Entrepreneurship Center at Belmont, and at the time, the boss of my boss. I had the thought that one usually has  when someone of authority uses the call feature of an iPhone to contact me, “Am I in trouble?” I couldn’t tell you what I might have done, but that’s where the mind goes, right?

Elizabeth was calling to ask me to represent our student-run boutique at an accelerator program presented by the Nashville Fashion Alliance. You may be thinking, “What is an accelerator program?” And I was thinking the same thing, all the way up until I walked through the doors of  said accelerator program about a month later. This accelerator was offered for individuals in the fashion community who needed support and intel on building a business around their design endeavors. The first night of the accelerator program, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, out of panic I scheduled a meeting with Elizabeth for the same day to explain to her how much I had no idea what to expect. Expecting the event to consist of 100 folding chairs, a speaker behind a podium, and to be over before 8:00 o’clock, I did not eat beforehand Walking into the event, I was greeted by an intimate 12-person table, a dynamic and active environment, and word that we would be staying until at least ten. I required a shameless late-night Taco Bell trip that night, and I assure you I never arrived hungry again.

As I attended these weekly meetings that served as dynamic brainstorming sessions, our business was in the process of completely shutting down in order to build another in its place. It could be completely daunting trying to juggle the on-the-ground tasks of managing a retail store that was in transition with the abounding vision that I and many other people had for a previously static environment. Tasks both menial and gigantic fell onto my plate, and boy, was it a learning experience.

Instead of boring you with the process, let me get right to the take-aways.

No one’s going to do it for you. When you throw wrappers down the crack of your bed and the wall in the real world, you’re the one who’s got to pick them up. In the beginning, I found myself waiting around for someone with more authority than me, someone older, or someone more qualified to step in and really take over. Sometimes that person doesn’t show up. Which leads me to my next point.

This is where the Beyoncé comes in. Convincing others to get on board with you, takes getting on board with yourself. This is not something I’ve had much trouble with in the past, but these were uncharted waters in my short life. If you have not discovered the joy and wonder of bada** girl music and power posing, all it takes is standing in front of a room full of wildly intelligent, creative, and successful professionals from an industry of which you are not entirely a part and trying to sell them on you and your idea. You better believe in you.

Speaking of those creative, intelligent, successful individuals, it may be a cliché but there is some serious growth potential when you’re the dumbest person in the room. I got the opportunity to work with executives, industry experts, and some of the most forward thinking minds I’ve encountered, and besides being able to experience how these people operate, it is work to keep up, contribute, and as my good friend Van Tucker of the Nashville Fashion Alliance once advised me, “Square your shoulders, girl.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell and comfy cozy when this is not the case. Being around these types of people is intimidating, but striving can only improve you. Minding the gap leads to closing the gap.

Nashville is a city of streets that don’t run parallel, highways that make no sense, and tourists abundant. I’ve been here two years and more than anything, this process has made the city feel like home. It’s really easy to feel like a tourist in this city, it’s hard to navigate, it’s crowded and busy, and day-to-day I am confined to a few square blocks that make up my beautiful but small college campus. Opening this store has introduced me to individuals from all over Nashville and shown me the uplifting and ever-supportive community that awaits if you just ask. It’s taken me on adventures across town to colorful, dreamy houses that hold workshops, it has shown me companies that are changing the world right under my nose, and it has showed me friends out of the most unlikely people. Becoming invested in the community makes the community want to invest in you. And that is when everyone wins. I hope that’s what you find here.

-Emily Gaus