My Story of Entrepreneurship

Leslie Dolby, Owner of DART Boutique

According to a few pages I follow on social media, today is National Entrepreneur’s Day.  I Googled it and here’s what popped up: “National Entrepreneur’s Day is an annual event occurring on the third Tuesday of November (November 15) that honors people who have built an empire from absolutely nothing.”

As the founder and owner of DART Boutique, I am technically an entrepreneur, although I wouldn’t say I’ve built an “empire.” [Ha!]  But I have been reminiscing lately about why I started this business, the journey I’ve been on in the past 3+ years and what our continued mission is.  So, if you’d like to hear my thoughts on the matter, read on…[it's a long one]

My journey to business ownership started by hosting our annual neighborhood rummage sales.  I thoroughly enjoyed the retail aspect of setting up shop, engaging with customers, and making sales.  I have always enjoyed shopping, putting together outfits, and finding unique gifts for people.  When I was in my 20s and 30s, I dreamed of owning a gift shop where you could find one-of-a-kind items that made people smile.  And as a plus-sized gal, it was always difficult to find clothing that fit me well, while still being trendy and affordable.

After some nudging from my spouse at the time, I decided to open a small store in my basement.  It started as a corner, then grew to 1/2 the living room, then my entire basement, then to the basement + garage.  It was time to expand to a retail location.  After searching for about 3 months, I landed on a retail strip center in Tea, SD.  The space formerly housed a super successful boutique and was already set up with mirrors, dressing rooms, front counter, etc.  Since it was in a small town, the rent was pretty affordable.  Two months after signing the lease, the original DART Boutique store was opened in March 2019.

Yep, you read that right…I opened my first store in early 2019.  I was launching brand recognition + a new business from scratch right before the world collapsed from COVID. [Ugh.] The first year we had a pretty consistent rise in sales & success.  Until COVID hit.  Luckily, we are in a state that didn’t have mandatory shut-downs.  However, we chose to close for 42 days since everyone else in our industry was closed and our foot traffic had slowed to a crawl.  We went bare bones with our staffing, got really creative with online live sales, created our own custom products, and applied for the PPL & EIDL loans to survive.

We re-opened in a very different economic climate with uncertainty around every corner.  We experienced surges of sales and droughts. It was hard to predict where our business was headed. We pivoted all the time, constantly trying new things to see how they would work. I refused to give up.

After months of having a certain idea in the back of our minds, we decided that it was time to try opening a store in Sioux Falls, SD—which has a much bigger population.  Our initial round of location scouting happened in April 2021.  After touring several places with our broker, we decided that it was too expensive to have a space in Sioux Falls.

6 months later, our broker told us about a space in The Bridges at 57th & Western that just went on the market.  We previously looked at a space directly above this one, but the rent was way out of our budget.  She sent pictures of the new listing and I had one of those moments where I immediately thought, “This is it!”  It was perfect!  The walls were already painted the same colors of our branding, the floors had LVP, and there were three dressing rooms built in the back.  It was a dream come true!

In November 2021, I signed the lease (even though the rent was over 3X what I was paying in our first store location.) [Gulp.] I just knew this was the right move and I was willing to take the risk.  We began secretly building out the space without letting anyone know we were opening a second store location.  It was a hard secret to keep, since I was SO excited!

At the time, I had two full-time employees to help me and we decided that once we opened the Sioux Falls store, we would transition the Tea store into 1/2 new apparel, 1/2 consignment.  We were originally hoping to open The Bridges location by Black Friday, but shipping for our fixtures and merchandise was delayed. (Shipping in 2021 was a nightmare.)  We then tried for a December open date, but eventually landed on opening our Sioux Falls store at the end of January 2022.

Shortly after opening our new store location, I unexpectedly lost my 2 full-time staff members.  I was faced with the decision of whether to keep both stores and re-hire those positions, or run the new store myself and close the Tea one.  After seemingly endless prayer, tears, and deliberation, I decided to simplify my life and close the OG Tea store to solely focus on our new store in Sioux Falls.  (Oh and by the way, I was also going through a separation/divorce during this whole change…) [Cue the tears-ha!]

Luckily, I found another boutique to take over the lease in our Tea store, so I was able to get out of that commitment—which made things a little easier.  But, it was such a sad day when I cleaned up the store for the final time and looked at the empty shell that was left. Countless hours of my life were dedicated to making that place amazing.  However, I needed to focus on the future.

The remainder of 2022 has been hit or miss with sales and it’s been a bit of a roller coaster, economically.  I wasn’t sure what to expect in this new location.  If I’m honest, I thought I would be doing a lot better than I have been this year.  It’s been tough…but I’m stubborn, resilient, creative and motivated to see my company succeed. Every single day I am encouraged by kind words from customers about the incredible store that DART is.  (It’s truly a gem of a store worth checking out….) [Come see me.]

With all that said, opening a business is not for the faint of heart.  I acknowledge that I am too thin-skinned at times. Upset customers get the best of me on occasion.  I take things personally.  I also do not like managing staff and dealing with conflict.  I know that I’m not the world’s greatest manager.  But, I try. I try my very best every day because I believe in the mission of this company.

What is the DART Boutique mission, you ask? —- To offer a space where ALL women can feel confident, look their best, and be happy with themselves…just as they are.  We believe in the All Bodies Are Beautiful movement.  No matter your size, shape, age, ethnicity, religion, economic status, etc., you are welcome at DART Boutique.  Kindness matters to us and we want to spread kindness in our community and beyond.

In our store you will find a unique mix of apparel in a wide range of sizes and styles.  Some days you might want to dress up.  Some days you want to be super casual.  Whatever your needs, we’ve got some options for you.  Personally, our gift items and accessories are probably my favorite things in the store.  [Remember my dream of owning a gift shop? Hee, hee.] We have spicy sayings that might offend some people.  But we also have products that are completely opposite of that.  With the variety in our store, we believe you will find something to love at DART.  (This is where our tagline comes into play..."Where Fun Meets Chic.")

Well, I probably should have been putting out some of our new Christmas items during the last hour that I’ve spent jotting down my thoughts.  But it feels good to tell my story of entrepreneurship.  Maybe someday I’ll feel comfortable sharing the low number in my bank account one month during our struggles.  Maybe someday that will be the opening line of my TEDTalk.  [Ha!]

As always, please support your local small businesses as often as you can.  It’s true that a single sale makes us do a happy dance.  Your purposeful spending matters to every small business owner.  I promise you it does.  You are making a difference in our lives, as we hope that we do in yours.  It’s a lot of hard work to build a [cough] “empire” but we do it to better our communities and because we believe in what we are building.

If you made it this far into my ramblings, thank you.  I appreciate you.

Much love,

Leslie Dolby
Owner, DART Boutique

Here's a photo of me with my reason for everything. 

DART Boutique Owner, Leslie Dolby with daughters

And a bonus photo with my new partner-in-crime and the man who has my heart.


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