Interview with Rebekah Dressler and Sharlene Boyle of 505 Imports
Tell us about your company, its purpose, mission, target audience, goals, what makes it unique.
Our company and its purpose:
505 Imports is a retail furniture store specializing in exotic, hand-carved furniture from India and Indonesia. Our purpose is to create furniture that people will truly fall in love with…furniture that is hand-crafted and built to last a lifetime. We are totally against the idea of “disposable furniture” that will only end up in a landfill in 40 or 50 years; instead, we want to create the antiques of the future. In the process, we are also being responsible with the resources of our environment by creating many products that are made from renewable resources and salvaged pieces of architecture.
Our mission statement:
505 Imports is a growing and evolving company that was formed to help meet the needs of our globalized society.
We have taken the responsibility to seek environmentally friendly wood products that not only are beautiful but also are recycled or sustainable harvested renewable materials.
We passionately believe in our products, our design concepts and our mission.
Our mission at 505 Imports is to create and design unique, functional furniture that the people of our community will cherish and treasure, that will reflect their personalities and lifestyles…and that they will fall in love with.
Our target audience is anyone who loves “all things beautiful.” We cater to a wide range of age groups—from young professionals purchasing their first home to retirees outfitting their summer lake house. We appeal to a large group of people because over-all, our prices are mid-range, and often on the low side of mid-range. The first impression many have of our store is that it is high end, but most are pleasantly surprised when they actually see the prices.
What we’ve accomplished:
In 3.5 short years, we moved our retail store to a better location, trademarked our logo and name, franchised the 505 concept, created a manufacturing company, developed a manufacturing facility in India, and designed several original lines of furniture. Four years ago neither one of us knew what a cabriole leg was—now we design and make them in our own factories!!
What makes us unique:
We have unique items in our store that are not the “cookie cutter” traditional style of most stores in Lake Charles. Also, as owners, we have designed many original pieces and collections that cannot be found elsewhere. We have 5 different design concepts in the store—Nature Inspired, Bohemian, Coastal Cottage, Rustic Redefined, and French Villa
People are surprised when they walk in the door; our store has an unusual, exotic look, and we really work on providing creative merchandising displays.
We develop new products every month. Most recently, we have been designing and producing many products made of old salvaged materials from India (old wood, windows, architectural pieces, etc). These products will be featured on our online store when it’s launched.
How did you come to work together in the first place?
We have always been a close mother/daughter team—truly “best friends”—and over the years sporadically threw out the idea that it would be fun to own a business together. One day in January, 2005, I called my daughter with the news that I knew what our business could be. Rebekah remembers the day, exactly where she was driving on her pharmaceutical sales route, and her reaction. When I said, “Let’s open an import furniture store,” Rebekah replied, “Hmmm, I like it. Actually, I love it!” We made our first contact for art and furniture in February, secured a site quickly, and miraculously opened on May 5, 2005. (05/05/05 – yet another sign for the name 505 Imports)
Please describe your respective roles in the company.
Sharlene is the creative force behind 505 Imports. She designs new furniture pieces and whole collections of furniture as well as many new accessory items. Also, she goes to home and gift markets to purchase accessories, works with the vision of each “design concept” at 505, comes up with new ideas for merchandising and marketing, and continually researches the furniture and home decor market. Research is her absolute favorite thing, whether it’s attending market, surfing the internet, reading design blogs, tearing out pictures from magazines, or just plain shopping (disguised as “research.”) Additionally, she writes most of the copy for the website, the newsletter, and the marketing (former English/drama teacher.) Her current passion is taking 505 in an even greener direction, and she has turned her energies to applying for membership to the Sustainable Furniture Council.
Rebekah is the implementer of all things 505. She handles all the financial aspects of the business and the endless details associated with running a complex business that involves overseas trade, customs dilemmas, etc. She manages the 505 staff, draws and submits custom furniture orders, and handles the direction for all the website and marketing strategies. Rebekah has her hand in every part of the daily operations of 505 Imports, and her professional approach to business has been the essential factor that has propelled 505 to its current level of success. Rebekah also handles another totally different aspect of our business—the manufacturing process. Every 4-5 months she travels to our factory in India to implement new furniture designs, construction changes, etc. She is constantly creating new ideas and concepts inspired from salvaged architectural pieces and reclaimed wood. In addition, while she’s there, she usually hops on a train or bus and travels to other parts of India to source fabrics and other textiles.
When Sharlene goes to market and sees many beautiful things, Rebekah is the one who sometimes says, “no!”
How has working together affected your relationship outside the “office.”
Working together hasn’t really affected our relationship outside the office. Throughout the years, the two of us have always been involved in major projects together, and the business is just another extension of that ability to work closely side by side.
When Rebekah was in high school, I was her drama teacher; I directed her in Li’l Abner, Godspell, Guys and Dolls, Bye Bye Birdie, and Crazy for You, and the two of us experienced 3 or 4 New York “drama trips” during that same time. Now we travel to New York together to attend the NY International Gift Market…even though it’s business, it’s just as much fun as the past…and we always manage to fit in a few Broadway musicals or shows.
Sometimes we don’t keep family matters separate. All members of the Boyle family are involved in the business from time to time; work spills into family and family spills into work. Rebekah and I never tire of talking about the business, but we are just beginning to realize that it’s healthy to have some “time off” from business, and that will be a priority for the future.
What are some of the challenges you have faced working together?
We really haven’t faced many challenges working together. The hardest part occurred when we had our former jobs and were trying to run the business from afar. After one year of that, Rebekah quit her pharmaceutical sales job, but I still had to complete one more year of teaching. That was a difficult year for me (emotionally) because I felt isolated from the daily operations of the business.
There really are no power struggles since I acknowledge that Rebekah is the boss! Neither one of us oversteps the others boundaries of responsibilities; instead, at any given time, one is likely to help the other out. It’s a mutually supportive relationship that just works…with cooperation, respect, and a little distance at times.
This may seem like a small thing, but it was an exciting moment for us. Rebekah and I were at J. Crew in Baton Rouge, and the salesgirl got so excited when she got our email address for their records. She exclaimed, “505 Imports? In Lake Charles? Oh, my god, that’s my favorite store!!” Then she proceeded to tell us all the wonderful things about our store. Since Lake Charles is over 2 hours away from Baton Rouge, and a small little town, we felt very pleased for our store to be noticed. It made us realize that our store was becoming well-known by people in surrounding areas. Now we’re getting lots of repeat traffic from so many cities in Texas and Louisiana—and we know that’s only the beginning of the recognition that is to come.
What do you like best about working together? Least?
What we like best is sharing ideas and dreams—and getting excited about all the possibilities. We are both big dreamers and risk takers, thankfully so, and that adventuresome spirit has brought us to this place.
The thing we like least is watching American Idol, talking about our business during the commercials, and realizing that we have no life. But we’re working on that, also. Both of us tend to be workaholics, so we really have to make a concerted effort to relax and enjoy life away from 505.
What, if any big challenges or little annoyances have occurred as a result of working together and how have you managed to overcome them?
I think I sometimes annoy my daughter with my lack of computer skills. No, actually, I know I annoy her. I am getting much better, but compared to my computer genius daughter, I am totally incompetent. She has very little patience with me which is a shame because I have infinite patience with her during her piano lessons.
My little annoyance with Rebekah occurs when she occasionally gets tired of my chatter. At that point, Rebekah completely ignores my questions by intentionally singing random song lyrics, and that is not the least bit funny to me.:)
What tips would you share with our readers for working with a member of the family?
Working with family members is great if you establish some perimeters from the beginning. In a partnership of any kind, especially with family, make sure you share the same short and long-term vision. Clearly set and define your responsibilities, so the major ones don’t overlap. Have a sense of humor and find a way to de-stress. When surrounded by other family members, it’s best to avoid constantly discussing the business.
What’s been the most exciting thing that has happened as a result of working together?
Many times it feels like the two of us are a tag team; one of us gets an idea and the other expands on it. We continuously feed off each other in a productive and sometimes exhilarating manner.
One of the most exciting moments occurred when Rebekah was named as a national finalist in the Make Mine a Million Dollar Business Race. I discovered the contest sponsored by the Count Me In organization and secretly decided that I would surprise my daughter by entering the contest. After filling out most of the lengthy on-line application, I realized that the company could be better represented by my energetic and enterprising young daughter.
I told Rebekah about the contest one day before the deadline, giving her just enough time to change necessary answers and print out all the financial information needed. The two of us whipped out a very cool 3 minute video featuring Rebekah and 505 Imports, and somehow we made the deadline. A month later as Rebekah was being showered with awards in Hollywood, Florida, I felt so proud of her and also thought of the moment as a personal triumph as well.
What’s next for this mother daughter team?
There are many ideas floating around in our heads.
First, we have plans to open an on-line store by June, 2009. With the national exposure we are receiving from the Make Mine a Million Dollar Business event, we feel that it is perfect timing to expand the 505 boundaries.
Also, there are several 505 franchise stores in the works, and this mother/daughter team has goals for opening 15 stores in the South (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, etc.) in the next 5 years.
Down the road, we have an idea for a higher-end version of our furniture store with an upscale bedding store (linens, bedding and pillows) adjoined to one side and a bath shop (body care, soaps, candles, etc.) on the opposite side. We would also love to own a funky shop that specializes in salvaged furniture, reclaimed items, and exotic treasures from our journeys.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
The two of us are all about differentiation. We have pledged to do our own thing, not really following any leaders in the workplace, and in the process, 505 has evolved with a personality all its own.
The biggest satisfaction occurs when someone walks in the door for the first time, opens their eyes wide, and says, “Wow!” The wow factor is what we have tried hardest to achieve in the store environment. The most commonly asked question we get: “Is this a national chain?”
We are happiest—not when we’ve made our biggest sale—but when we feel that we’ve provided someone with furniture or accessories that totally change the feel of their home. Helping to provide customers with a warm, inviting, cozy, exotic home environment is “a dream come true” for the two of us.
Unusual and Reversed Roles:
The daughter is the budget Nazi. The mother likes to BUY, BUY, BUY.
The daughter is the computer and math nerd. The mother is the creative, design- oriented one.
The daughter is focused and serious. The mother wants to “play” and travel.
The daughter is young and hip. The mother is old and hip. Haha
To learn more visit www.505imports.com
This article can be read in the Spring/Summer Issue of WE Magazine for Women