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An Interview with Courtney Collins


March 1, 2012

Creative Director & Co-Owner of Little Junebugs

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Little Junebugs, named Macaroni Kid Pasadena's 2011 Best Place to Shop With Kids, has only been open six months, but has already captured the hearts of children across Pasadena. Recently, the store has been making waves for its kid-focused charity work. The store has also created its own line of take-home crafting-to-go boxes. We had a chance to chat with Creative Director and store owner Courtney Collins about the store's new developments, where she finds her inspiration, her desire to work closely with local charities, and just how Little Junebugs found its way to Pasadena.

Have you always wanted to own your own business?

Yes, I think so, and I am pretty sure my family and friends could confirm that. I got my first job as soon as I could, when I was fourteen, in our town's small bakery which was family-owned. I worked there for four years and took on a lot of responsibility and endured pretty unpleasant hours for a high school student. My parents were shocked at my self-imposed work ethic, but I loved the independence having my own paycheck gave me. After that, I got into different forms of retail and spent my twenties running other people's stores. Once my thirties hit I thought "Hey, maybe it's time to do this..."

When were you first struck with the idea to open Little Junebugs?

I have always loved beautiful children's books, and am one of those people that despite owning an iPad, will always buy and read actual books. I think places devoted to inspiring children to read outside of the computer, The Nook and iPads, should always exist. So, in spite of warnings from lots of people that opening a bookstore is a bad idea, I went ahead with that plan... but knew I needed to somehow incorporate another element. I started exploring different creative places for children and realized that there was nothing in the Los Angeles area that married a great children's store with a space for kids to make art with their parents. I have a background in art, and instructed part time in a studio for a while, so I knew I could put together a studio of sorts. We wrote that concept into the business plan, but we weren't even sure we would find a space that would be conducive to it. I had no idea the crafting studio would become such a major part of Little Junebugs, but I am so glad we made it happen!

Tell us a little bit about Little Junebugs. What do you want our readers to know about your store?

Well, as I mentioned, it is a combination retail space and crafting studio. We cater primarily to children ages 3-10 years old. But in addition to children's events and birthday parties, we also put on a very popular Adult Crafting Night once a month and hope to do more. Because we have such a variety of people coming in here to shop and create, I try to buy merchandise that caters to all of our customers. I can buy all my creative friends' birthday gifts here AND shop for all the children in my life. Our store hours are relative to our neighborhood, so we are open later than most traditional children's stores. We love renting the space out at night for bookclub meetings or private crafting parties. I am having my next birthday party here!

What's it like, as a woman, to own your own business? What advice can you offer to other women who have flirted with the idea of starting their own business?

I am super proud to be a female business owner. I am shocked and flattered every time another woman tells me that I have become an inspiration, or when a young girl who I am working with in the studio tells me that she wants to own her own Little Junebugs when she grows up. I started this with another female, who was a new mom. Neither of us could have foreseen how hard starting this particular business was, no matter what advice we were given. She decided after five months that it wasn't fair to her family and made the very difficult decision to give up her partnership and devote the next few years to motherhood. I couldn't respect that decision anymore. I am fortunate to be single right now, so Little Junebugs is my baby! I would tell anyone starting any kind of business, to do as much research as possible and listen to as many people you can who have been through the same process, but you will still be surprised at how different the experience will be for you. I also truly believe you need an amazing support system. I have a male counterpart, who was our third business partner from the start. He believes in women in business and lets me fly this plane, but I always know he has my back. I may be "the face" of Little Junebugs, but he is best supporting actor!

You've now been open for six months. What kind of feedback are you getting from customers? How has the Pasadena community embraced your store?

The feedback is phenomenal. We are reminded every day that being the new kid on the block, we are doing great. We have grown quite a list of loyal customers who give us positive Yelp reviews, vote for us in contests and polls, and keep supporting this small business! I have always loved Pasadena and judging from the support we have gotten from the community, and especially the historical Pasadena Playhouse district, we made the right decision making Pasadena Little Junebugs' first home. 

Every week, your store offers a new craft. And nearly every decoration in the store is hand-made by you. First of all, where do you find the time? Secondly, what inspires you and fuels your creativity?

Well...I would love someone to add another eight hours to the 24 we get in our day, as I am sure you will all agree! I definitely cram a lot into the days and even when I go home, I am usually working. I kind of feel that it’s my job to inspire the families when they are in here. So I do try to make as many new things as possible to help them tap into that creativity. As far as inspiration, I get inspired by just about everything. I am obsessed with Pinterest these days and can't live without Martha Stewart magazine, and, silly as it is, J. Crew catalogues! I also see every animated movie I can and read as much as I can. I am a big Disney freak and now have an annual pass, so sometimes I will go to Disneyland just to analyze their decor and attention to detail.

What do you love most about your store?

I love the energy in here; it's hard to be unhappy in this building. I also love that on a daily basis, people tell me how beautiful it is. It certainly validates and excuses the fact that my own personal vanity has gone out the window this year! If the floors are sparkling here it's totally fine that my eyebrows needed to be waxed two months ago. But most of all, I love that we have a place that brings people together and allows me to give back, working with children's non-profit organizations.

It's wonderful that you've been able to accomplish so much charitable work in the short time you've been open. Why is working with local charities so important to you and Little Junebugs?

It may sound cliché, but since my dream came true this year, I am determined to give back as much as I can, whenever I can. I have an unbelievable group of female friends that in addition to being mothers, wives, and career women, head their own non-profit organizations. Right now, I only hold book drives for these ladies, and that's the least I can do! The two charities we work with, currently, are BookRoots and Milk+Bookies. Both raise literacy awareness by gathering new and gently-used books for teenage girls and children who are in less than desirable situations. In November, the friends and customers of Little Junebugs raised 200 copies of the Twilight series on behalf of BookRoots, so that lots of teen girls could have books for the holidays. Just this past weekend, we raised over 200 copies of the Harry Potter series for Milk +Bookies, which will be going to Operation School Bell. What I love most about these two organizations, in addition to getting books to those who need them, is that they are also raising awareness about "giving back" in the children who donate to these causes. With Milk+Bookies, kids inscribe book plates in the books they donate. It is really touching when you see them write "enjoy my favorite book!" or "this book changed my life!"

You're basically a crafting, charitable Wonder Woman. What do you have planned for the future? Where do you see Little Junebugs a year from now?

I don't know about that, but thank you! I WISH crafting was a superpower! As for the immediate future, we are really excited to participate in the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House Walk For Kids on April 1st. Little Junebugs will have their own team! I just visited the Pasadena Ronald McDonald house this morning and I am very inspired to raise money and awareness for such an incredible facility. We also will have our very first Little Junebugs' Crafting-to-Go Boxes on the shelves in our store this week and we are excited about that. A year from now, I would love to see more Little Junebugs products in our store, more great events, and maybe even another location. We'll have to see what these crafting superpowers and the wonderful Pasadena community can do together! We also want to say thank you to Macaroni Kids for being so supportive of Little Junebugs and taking the time to share my story.

***

For more information about Little Junebugs, visit their website (www.littlejunebugs.com) or like them on Facebook. To donate books to the charities Courtney mentioned, visit www.bookroots.org and www.milkandbookies.org, And if you’re ever in the neighborhood and want to donate books, Little Junebugs is always accepting new and gently used children and teen books. To make a contribution to the Little Junebugs Ronald McDonald Walk For Kids team, visit www.walkforkids.org and search team “Little Junebugs” or just visit the store.


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