Retail Focus: Spirited Storyteller, Lilly Tokuyama shares her love of doing good
Interview with Lilly Tokuyama, Fullerton’s Stylish and Spiritual Storyteller
SoCal native Jane of all trades, Lilly Tokuyama is an expert storyteller and a busy bee. In 2011, she was inspired to start a “do good” store after purchasing a Hello Somebody watch in which the company itself (product proceeds go to combat hunger around the globe) introduced her to the idea of social giving. Three years later, she’s ready to expand her thriving downtown Fullerton store to a larger location and launch an online Share & DO Good store.
Along with hunting for the latest “good” products and hosting special events at the store, Lilly loves to research. Blogs she reads in her free time (if she can ever find any) include: PSFK, Mashable, Fast Company, 99U, and some for fluff & fun: Gawker, Swissmiss, Oh Hello Friend (from a good friend and fellow Fullerton store owner) and Buzzfeed.
Lilly and I met at a Conscious Magazine event (another one of my favorite socially good brands) in March this year and we hit it off right away. We had so much to chat about, I decided we had to continue the conversation via interview. Below, we talk about Lilly’s obsession with Pinterest, tips on how to start out in the social good community and some of her favorite “do good” brands.
Melissa Wong: How did you get involved with Conscious Magazine?
Lilly Tokuyama: One of my friendstomers (a customer that has become a good friend) mentioned them to me and thought it would be a great fit for the store, and it has been. I love how they merge great design with amazing stories. Just like all of the other products in my store.
MW: I LOVE that you explain the idea of Share & Do Good through storytelling. Of all the brands (Current and ones you may no longer carry) which stories do you find most intriguing?
LT: One of the best stories in the store comes from Raven+Lily. One product line is from Ethiopia and they take old bullet casings from the different conflicts in the country. The casings are melted down and made into beads. From there, a co-op of women who are HIV+ and make lovely jewelry pieces from them. It’s amazing that an item that was once used to destroy is now a tool for empowerment. That’s such a beautiful picture of hope.
MW: When you were first starting out the business, how did you find the specialty/social good retailers? Was it difficult to obtain the goods before having a brick and mortar store?
LT: It was hard in the beginning when some product lines weren’t available because I lacked a physical store front. Fortunately, many were very open to the idea of Share and I’m forever grateful that they took a chance on me. (The Giving Keys, fashionABLE, iSanctuary and Raven+Lily are some, to name a few.
MW: How long did it take to get from business plan to retail store?
LT: Here’s a timeline:
- August 2011 – Conversation with Hello Somebody & the idea for the store
- January 2012 – Applied for all the crazy licenses and permits you need to actually do this
- March 2012 – Held my first pop up shop at the Party Pantry in Costa Mesa. I’m forever indebted to my friend Eva for helping to launch this idea
- October 2012 – First day of business for Share & Do Good in downtown Fullerton
MW: After you bought the infamous Hello Somebody watch, how did the process of starting Share & DO Good come about?
LT:: Even after I had the idea for the store, I was still too hesitant to dive into it. I did a lot of research online to see if there were enough “do good” brands that could fill a store. Thankfully there were! Before I had an actual location, I started selling through various avenues. Craft shows, home parties hosted by friends, churches, even at vendor fairs at local colleges. Anywhere, anyone would let me set up a table or booth and sell for a bit, I was there. I even had some sales straight of the trunk of my car.
MW: How did you select the brands to be carried in the store?
LT: It’s hard. Because my store is so small, I need to be very selective when it comes to the items carried. I try to find things that are similar in style, quality and price point and that it’s something our customers would want to own or give as a gift. I also want to make sure they have a tangible give back program built into their social enterprise. I really like the TOMS “one for one” model where the product has a direct way of proving another product or service to someone in need.
MW: Which current brands in store are hot sellers?
LT: iSanctuary’s jewelry line just keeps getting better and better. Their necklaces & earrings are always hot sellers in the store. We’re also excited that we have our SSeko Sandal display back up, just in time for summer. They’re super fun to wear and they’re made by women who are using their time at Sseko to raise money to go to college. They don’t want to be sandal makers for the rest of their lives. They want to become doctors, lawyers and teachers, sandal making will help them to get there.
MW: Was it difficult opening a store without a co-founder or a team? Looking back to the beginning, is there anything you would have done differently?
LT: It has been challenging working at this alone. Sometimes I wish I had a partner to help make decisions with. Fortunately I have great friends who I can turn to for advice when I’m not sure what to do.
If I could do things differently, I probably would have researched my location a bit more. Unfortunately, a promised restaurant right next to my store has yet to materialize, so the foot traffic has been terrible. Hopefully it will open soon! I also wish I knew more about marketing, I understand what it is, but I’m terrible at executing it. If I had it to do over again, I would have found a marketing company to help build my store’s image & brand.
MW: What was the most challenging task about opening the store?
LT: The hardest part, at least for me, is being responsible for absolutely everything. From buying the products, working behind the cash register, cleaning up spills in the store, restocking items. It gets tiring at times. But I wouldn’t change what I do for anything.
MW: What has been the best part?
LT: Meeting other “do good’ers” for sure! I’ve been able to meet other like minded individuals through Share. Whether it’s my brand partners, loyal customers, owners of similar stores or bloggers like you who want to share these stories. . I just received an email from a guy who started some mall carts in the Santa Clarita area with the same type of focus as Share. It’s encouraging to know that I’m not the only one who thinks that this store is a good idea.
MW: You mentioned in a previous interview that you wanted to write a book – can you tell me more about that?
LT: I do! Actually a series of 3 books, hopefully! They would be written for those wishing to jump into the socially conscious retail world. I’m constantly meeting young do good’ers wishing to make a difference in this world; I hope the books will provide helpful tools and resources to make it happen.
MW: How exciting! Who or what are some of your creative inspirations?
LT: I’m super not creative, but I’m a good copier! Pinterest and I are totally best friends.
My biggest life inspirations are people who gave up a lot to help those in need. I’m a Christian, so a big part of what I do comes from my relationship with Christ. To me, He’s the greatest do good’er of all time. I also greatly admire Mother Teresa and St. Francis, for how they gave up so much to help the less fortunate. I also love Bob Goff and Francis Chan who both speak & write about loving others in extravagant & daring ways.
MW: In one of your previous interviews, you mentioned that when small business owners or those who want to start a social giving business are just starting out- it’s important to: 1) Don’t be discouraged, 2) Work hard and 3)Stay connected. Can you elaborate on each of those points, or add if there are more?
1. Don’t be discouraged. There are so many days when I want to just give up (yesterday was one of them!) but no one said being an entrepreneur was easy. So I remind myself daily what my purpose is and how it’s helping those in need. That makes it worth it when things aren’t going your way sometimes.
2. Work hard. Some people think I have such a fun and easy life and that it’s super glamorous. Little do they know I work about 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week! I often meet folks with get rich quick schemes and see them crash and burn doing it. All the great achievers in this world spent tireless hours honing their craft and business. Developing a strong work ethic will get you far in this world.
3. Stay connected. You never know how one introduction could lead you to a great opportunity. Because the socially conscious world is pretty small, everyone seems to know everyone. Great opportunities to collaborate and work together have come from these connections. And it’s great to have like-minded friends who understand your motives and drive to help bring change to this world.
LT: Dream big, but start small and be brave even when you want to crawl under the covers and hide forever.
MW: What’s on the radar for Share & Do Good for the rest of 2014?
LT: I’m hoping to open move to a larger location in Fullerton, once my lease is up in the Fall. Hopefully a great space will become available soon! I’m also working on opening a second location in Orange County, just a littler further south. And I really, really, hope our online store will launch in early summer. It’s so close, but still needs a few more tweaks to make it ready for the masses.
MW: That’s super exciting. I look forward to visiting the new store and checking out the online store when it’s launched! Thanks Lilly for taking the time to chat! Visit her at the Share & DO Good Fullerton store Mon-Sat, between 11am-6pm located at: 115 S. Harbor Blvd, Suite F, Fullerton, CA, 92832. Or stay in touch via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ShareAndDoGood.