Years ago, Emese Boone dreamed of opening a store featuring beautiful items from around the world. Box Turtle made its Little Rock debut in October 2000 and, amidst a global pandemic, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. We sat down with the leading lady herself to talk about her journey and everything she’s learned along the way.
Tell us a little bit about Box Turtle.
EB: So, the name came about when I found out that box turtles are found on all seven continents. If you came to the store 20 years ago, you know that it was quite different then. I loved it, but logistically, it was very hard and expensive to bring in beautiful things from around the world. I still make this effort, but we did switch gears early on. Instead of exclusively bringing in items from everywhere worldwide, we shifted to a heavy focus on local artisans. We found that there are so many talented people in our own community, so we chose to show them off. That’s Box Turtle in a nutshell!
What are some lessons you’ve learned as a business owner along the way to Box Turtle’s recent 20-year milestone?
EB: I’ve learned that you can’t do it all, even if you’re a control freak. It takes a team of great people. I’ve learned to let go and realize that everything is not going to be perfect. I’ve learned to let others take the reins so I can spend quality time with my family and for myself.
Despite the economic impact of the ongoing pandemic, Box Turtle’s doors remain open for business. What sort of challenges have you faced along the way and how were you able to navigate them?
EB: The beginning of the pandemic was extremely scary. This business is my family’s sole household income. We probably felt every emotion in those first few weeks: panic, fear, stress, sadness, empathy, etc.
Early on, we immediately communicated to customers our ability to fulfill curbside service and free delivery. We let our staff go on unemployment, and my husband and I probably delivered 20 packages a day. The income wasn’t abundant, but it was enough to sustain us, and the vastly different day-to-day was kind of fun. We found a lot of neighborhoods we didn’t even know existed.
We told our customers that if they would help us, we would help them, too. We offered discounted gift cards, and in return, they agreed to hang on to them until we reopened onsite at some later date. This was just to help generate some cash to help us stay afloat, and boy, did our customers come through. That program saved us in the beginning. I have a very long list of people to thank. It was really wonderful, the outburst of support. I love our customers and still get choked up thinking about it.
What advice would you give to women aspiring to launch a small business?
EB: If there’s a business you want to start, you should really just go for it. When the Box Turtle space became available, that’s what I did. I took out a small business loan, borrowed $60,000 from a low-interest credit card and just jumped in with both feet. You only live once!
At the same time, I would advise limiting that up-front debt and having as few business partners as possible. There’s more risk that way, but there’s also more reward. And there is no better job in the world than working for yourself.
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