Welcome to my first small business spotlight!
My husband and I moved to Pasadena just over a year ago (read all about it). I struggled with figuring out a way to connect to my new surroundings and get to know other small businesses in the area. After chatting with Lori, my friend and fellow photographer, about her spotlight series she started in her neighborhood. I immediately knew that I needed to do this. What a great way to connect with business owners and utilize my photography skills to highlight these entrepreneurs.
I had walked by this adorable storefront on El Molino multiple times and decided that I’d reach out to see if Little Junebugs would be my first small business spotlight. I emailed Courtney and the next day we met to chat about the shop and what it’s like to be small business owners. Courtney is full of energy, buzzing around the back art room cleaning up craft supplies, counting out book covers for a non-profit craft event, wiping down the tables for afternoon art goers all the while conversing with me about Little Junebugs and her business partner Brian.
Q: Little Junebugs will be celebrating its 2nd birthday this summer. Tell us how the idea for your business became a reality.
Courtney: First of all, I cannot wait to be 2! It’s such a big milestone. It’s especially symbolic for me, because Little Junebugs was created with three founders, and there have been a few points where we thought we would have another partner come on, but somehow, Brian and I have lasted with just the two of us. I am amazed and incredibly proud of that!
As far as how we began, well, it was always a dream of mine to own a toy and book shop. When I turned 30, the urge just couldn’t be suppressed any longer. Andrea, a founding partner, and I started putting some ideas together. The original thought was to find financial investors, but one day I decided to show the business plan to Brian and on a whim, asked if he might want to be a small investor. He shocked me and said he wanted to be “all in”. Brian has always been a big supporter of my creativity and we had talked in the past about creating products together, so it was an easy coming together. Andrea and I took him to the space in Pasadena that we had found, and he fell as in love with it as we did…then it all happened fast! A month later we had keys to the space and I was decorating, creating, and loving life!
Q: Starting a new business is very exciting but at the same time challenging. What was one thing that you didn’t expect when starting off?
Brian: I didn’t expect it to consume me. I have a career in film which already takes up a lot of time, so I looked at this as more of an investment. But that changed as soon as I was building shelves and spending the first month at IKEA and Fry’s lifting heavy boxes into a car that was suddenly too small to hold all of the stuff we needed to build and run a brick and mortar store. Another thing I didn’t expect was peoples’ reactions to the fact that I was now a small business owner.When I would casually mention the store and that I was an owner, people immediately had questions and their interest was piqued. Lastly, I didn’t expect to become such an expert in glitter and glue removal. Just kidding, I still can’t get glitter off of me – I think there is still some from our grand opening!
Q: What is some advice you would give to someone wanting to start a new business?
Courtney: Well, you can do crazy amounts of research and planning, but there is no guarantee how your first year will go. We had an amazing start and then a hard, bumpy road up until recently. Our neighbors went out of business six months after we opened and that hurt us. Our partner decided she had to focus on her family and we didn’t do as much social media as we should have last year (that is endless!). So we learned how to deal with struggles, all the while maintaining a crazy work ethic and a positive attitude. I would tell anyone starting a new business that make sure you have enough capital to cushion your first two years (this is a must!) and also, that it is A LOT OF WORK. But…worth every second!
Brian: Whatever amount of money you think you need, double it. Or at least over budget for everything. And make sure you have a group of friends who are willing to help you at the drop of a hat.
Q: Giving back is a big component of your business model and your personal philosophy. Tell us about what organizations you partner with and what kinds of projects Little Junebugs has been involved with.
Courtney: I never, ever expected to become so involved in philanthropy when I opened Little Junebugs. Before Junebugs, I occasionally donated to St. Jude’s and worked with Milk & Bookies (a nationwide charitable organization that inspires children to give back, using books as its currency). But then I was overwhelmed with gratitude for having my dream come true with this business and I kept finding ways to give back. And honestly, now I am kind of addicted! We currently are community partners with CoachART, an incredible non-profit organization that provides free lessons in the arts and athletics for children with chronic illnesses and their siblings. We host CoachART kids every month and will be doing a week long camp this summer. I LOVE being a CoachART mentor! I am also on the creative team for Milk & Bookies’ Annual Storytime Celebration and Little Junebugs sponsors the crafting. Little Junebugs also has worked with Pablove, Book Roots and will soon be working with the Juvenile Arthritis Organization.
Brian: Milk & Bookies, Book Roots, CoachART, and The Pasadena Ronald McDonald House are just some of the organizations with whom we’ve partnered. We try to find projects that speak to underprivileged children because Courtney and I were lucky enough to come from families that, while not wealthy, gave us a wonderful childhood filled with whimsy. Charities that promote reading, especially the reading of actual books, are really important to us. We’ve helped raise 300 copies of Harry Potter for Book Roots during a boo drive last year. We work annually with Milk & Bookies for their huge Story Time Celebration that brings in celebrities to read their favorite books to 300+ kids at the Skirball Center. We are always open to working with more organizations, too!
Q: Courtney, tell our readers about Brian…Brian, tell us about Courtney. What do you most love about your business partner?
Courtney: I can tell you that I am really lucky to have Brian as a business partner and a friend. He is never, ever in a bad mood and is probably the only person, who is not a character in a cartoon, that has as much energy as I do! Brian is really optimistic and supports every idea I have for this business and everything I create. Our customers get really excited when he is in the store and the kids love him.
Brian: Courtney is a relentless worker and her creativity knows no end. She is the engine that powers the Little Junebugs empire and the store is just a real-life version of what’s going on in her brain. And I truly mean that. As business owners, we sometimes deal with less-than-favorable situations, but she is able to get through anything with a smile on her face and an energy that leaves most people at a loss for words.
Q: So you guys are real life best buds who happen to own a business together. How is that? Would you recommend starting a business with a friend to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Courtney: I actually think it’s made our friendship stronger. When we first started, for the first six or seven months, it was all fun and inspiring and we were really proud, but it was still easy. Now, at almost two years of being business partners, we have experienced panic, a lot of stress, and problems we did not foresee. But we stuck it out and we are more inspired, positive and hopeful than we have ever been! As far as what is right for other people, I say that a male/female dynamic is probably easier than a female/female partnership because he doesn’t get as emotional as I do. It’s hard because we used to hang out every week and just talk about life, friends, and our families. Now, most of our play dates are filled with store talk, but I don’t mind. We are building something incredible together and the first few years are supposed to be all-consuming!
Brian: Starting a business with anyone will inevitably change the relationship. Our friendship was strong, and we benefited from a closeness that was able to survive a complete shift in focus. When we would spend time together, the first thing to discuss would be the business. And as we navigated the ups and downs that come from starting and running a business, we would sometimes lose sight of the friendship and have to remind ourselves to talk about our personal lives and all that is going on outside of the business. But I do recommend starting a business with a friend because you are able to lean on each other during hard times and share in the joy that comes with good times.
Q: Little Junebugs is located on the block of El Molino between Colorado and Green, which is home to several other small businesses. How do the businesses collaborate to help bring in customers?
Courtney: Our neighbors are the greatest! We are really lucky to be part of the Pasadena Playhouse District. Everyone really bands together for events like ArtWalk in October and Make Music Pasadena in June. And whenever anyone has an individual event coming up for their business, everyone else jumps up to help in any way they can.
Brian: There is a unity among small business owners because they’ve all been through the ups and downs of opening and running a business that has the odds stacked against its success. So there’s this camaraderie and enthusiasm that we all have for one another. We want each other to do well, so we work to create events in which all of us are able to participate. The weekly Playhouse District Block Party, held on Thursdays from May-October, is a great example. Three or four food trucks line El Molino and each business stays open late to accommodate the increased foot traffic. Michael from Zona Rosa brings in live music that appeals to the people we expect to be on the street. Zona Rosa sells non-alcoholic drinks, Monopole offers wine tastings that pair with that week’s trucks, and we keep the crafting studio open late so parents can bring their kids. We each promote it to our customers during the week and through social media and it grows each week. It’s great to have neighbors who believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. We’re very lucky that way.
Q: With new crafty projects offered every week how to your continue to fuel your creativity?
Courtney: That is the easiest part of this whole business for me! I LOVE Pinterest, which makes crafting so much easier. What did we do before it?! I also draw inspiration from my favorite designers, animated movies, children’s books and JCREW catalogues – I hoard those!
Q: Little Junebugs is not just for kids, right?
Brian: Well, it is, and that’s because there is still a kid in all of us! So many adults light up when they see a book on our shelves that they read when they were younger. They remember what it was like to have that book read to them at bedtime. They see a cute stuffed animal we sell and recall sleeping with their teddy bear (or what have you) every night. And we LOVE that and try to sell things with that in mind. Our store is for kids…it just so happens that some of those kids are parents themselves.
(Side note – Little Junebugs hosts an adult crafting night, next one is a charity event on May 17th – Pixar themed crafting night. Check out the details here.)
Q: Top five must-have-in-your-home-library kids books?
Courtney: That’s hard! Can I count the seven books in the Harry Potter series as one? If so then I would do that (I only lend out my paperbacks, my HP hardcovers are not to leave my house!), The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, The Dot by Peter Reynolds, Not-A-Box by Antoinette Portis and The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! by Mo Willems.
Q: Your most loved childhood book that you treasured and why?
Brian: The Digging-Est Dog. My mom was allergic to dogs, so we never had one growing up. But our neighbors all did, and I felt like I had 10 dogs without any of the chores. But in the story, the dog’s name is Duke and at the time, I LOVED the Dukes of Hazzard, so it was also tied to that. The illustration is also wonderful. A very close second is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Because I was an older brother and sometimes I just felt like my parents favored my little sister more than me. And sometimes NOTHING goes right and maybe I just want to move to Australia.
Q: Anything else you want to share?
Brian: When I am feeling overworked or overwhelmed, I often think about Tom Hanks and Geena Davis in A League Of Their Own. Owning a business is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great. I think about that almost every day and it makes me very happy that we decided to open this business together.
Courtney: Just a big THANK YOU for taking the time to talk with us!
MY favorite thing? That would be how the store is ever changing! There’s always a new display, a new book, new craft projects and interesting charity events upcoming. Courtney and Brian are über involved in making kids lives more crafty and infusing literature throughout and they’re so excited about it, you can’t help but be thrilled and hope to join in!
Being in the store makes you giddy. You want to play and read and be surrounded by the whimsical vibe for hours. Thanks for showing us around Courtney and Brian!
Check out Little Junebugs when you’re next in the area!