The Gift Box by Olivia and Marlon Lake
A spark of an idea, unquestioning faith, and long conversations on the pillow between this dynamic duo led to the formation of The Gift Box.
Marlon and Olivia Lake are the proud owners of The Gift Box, Anguilla’s premier gift shop. The Gift Box makes gifting easy and delivers on the promise of ‘Unwrapping gifts one smile at a time.’
It was a pleasure to sit with Marlon and Olivia to capture their journey. They are both animated and passionate about their business and it comes across in the way they tell their story. This story is not only about building a business, but it is also a story of partnership, faith, and trust. I left this interview feeling inspired and after reading this story, I hope you will be too.
The Beginning – It all started with Unique Expressions.
Marlon: ‘Olivia has a knack for creativity and uniqueness. She is always looking for what she can do that is different.’
Olivia: ‘I don’t like to be like everyone else. I like to stand out.’
In 2010, Olivia’s hobby of making edible arrangements, chocolate-covered strawberries and other similar items turned into a side business and took off bigger and faster than this couple could have imagined. At the time Olivia was a teacher and Marlon had a full-time job. Instead of turning down jobs for Unique Expressions, they made their side hustle work by getting up early and fulfilling the orders. Marlon delivered the items at the time requested.
They marketed their side hustle aggressively for sentimental days and celebrations like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day Christmas etc. and while their small business was successful, it was overwhelming. They both knew operating it on a part-time basis was not sustainable in the long term.
Building a Business on the Pillow.
Olivia: ‘I built a whole business on the pillow.’
Somewhere between 2010 and 2015, Olivia threw a thought out to Marlon and wrote it in her journal.
She said, ‘I wish I could have a store to do Unique Expressions. I wouldn’t want to do just the edible arrangements. I would also want a part to do gift baskets.’
Marlon vividly remembers with admiration the way his wife conceptualised the future store. A practical thinker, Marlon knew it wasn’t a bad idea but didn’t see it as feasible at the time. Olivia saw that Marlon was giving the idea some serious thought and from time to time – during pillow talk moments it would be discussed.
PARENTS TO BE WHILE BUILDING A BUSINESS
Nyla (their daughter) was conceived in 2014, and things got a bit more complicated. Olivia had a lot of time to plan for the business during her pregnancy. The future parents knew that once their daughter was born everything would change. Their child would be their priority. They started to ask a hard but necessary question, ‘Can we do the full-time job, care for our child and the side hustle?’ They were honest with themselves knowing that they could not. Something had to give.
While Olivia has a great passion for teaching, she felt she could be a better mother if she could chart her own course and work for herself. Olivia did not just want to be a stay-at-home mom, so the business idea became the centre of conversation and pillow talk. The couple started to make concrete plans (what, where and how) for Olivia to run a business full-time.
Olivia taught for one more year after the birth of her daughter which gave the entrepreneurial couple room to figure out what was next. With proper planning and faith, a lot of things evolved and aligned naturally during 2015/2016.
What’s in a name?
Olivia: ‘What about The Gift Box?’
Olivia is the organized thinker in this duo. During the planning stages for the store, she told Marlon, they needed to change the name from Unique Expressions. Marlon was repulsed by the idea as he liked the current name. He made the argument that the name Unique Expressions had a wide appeal (Unique Expressions gifts, Unique Expressions baskets etc.). Olivia responded with the counterpoint that the current name did not tell a customer what was offered and asked her husband to be open-minded. They started discussing potential new names and when Olivia threw out The Gift Box, that is when Marlon’s reluctance to change the name disappeared.
Marlon, a talented graphic designer, started working on the logo immediately. It was attractive and appealing, and it sealed the deal to change the name of their business to The Gift Box.
Making a new business work.
Marlon: ‘One of the things in business is you have to be versatile.’
In May 2016, Olivia was agonising about the decision to leave teaching. She shared,
‘I was afraid. You are going from a sure salary to not so sure. You don’t know if the business will fail or what will happen. As much as I wanted to come out of teaching, you still have the thought about how you are going to make it, how we will make the loans.’
Nightly pillow talks continued, and Marlon was convinced that with their idea of the edible arrangement and the gift baskets, the business could take off well. They talked about the importance of having options (edible arrangements, gift baskets and other gifts) at The Gift Box so customers would come back. Marlon knew that if the business offerings were versatile, it would help to keep a customer longer.
So, they opened the product line of what was carried in the store. They recognized that as their name stated ‘The Gift Box’ – anyone should be able to come and find a gift. They ran with that idea and started to look at what would be sold in the store but the focus and priority at the time were gift baskets.
Finding the Perfect Place for The Gift Box
Oliva: ‘That’s the spot.’
Unique Expressions was operated out of their home. Olivia quickly squashed Marlon’s idea to transform their garage into The Gift Box. Maintaining a clear boundary between home and work life was important to her.
The couple would take drives after work to scout out potential locations for their new store. They identified a parameter of where they would not go beyond in either direction. One day they were driving along George Hill Road, and Olivia exclaimed to Marlon, ‘That’s the spot.’ Marlon replied, ‘What?’
It was an old, abandoned house. Olivia shared, ‘You know what sold it for me – the bay windows – I thought they could be the perfect display windows for The Gift Box. I knew this is where I wanted it to be. Every time I drove by, I would take a picture.’
Marlon did his research and contacted relational connections to the Owner of the house. They were told that it was unlikely that the owner who lived in Trinidad would give permission for use as persons had asked for business purposes and he turned them down.
Pivotal Moments during their journey
Marlon: ‘The moral of this part of the story is vision.’
Marlon coincidentally or by divine plan was going to Trinidad a few weeks later. He met with the owner and received permission to transform the space into a store. He shared, ‘The bible talks about speaking things into existence and the power of the tongue. I spoke to the man before coming into building. We took a building without knowing what it looked like inside.’
He continued, ‘Anybody seeing this place as it was would not have seen the potential for what it is. My wife with her creative mind transformed this building right then and there. While we walked through, she pictured the exact layout for the future business.
Withing two months, they started and completed massive renovations and refurbishments on the building, overcame a major hiccup with their Point-of-Sale System and designed and stocked the store fully before their opening date on December 10th, 2016. The day was a huge success.
In 2020, during the pandemic, Olivia saw an opportunity. Gift Box Kids was launched successfully on November 01, 2020.
Using Technology and Excellent Customer Service to reach customers
Olivia: ‘Shopping via our website is faster than Amazon.’
The Gift Box has an updated website. It provides a complete online experience including the ability to make payments. Persons enjoy the convenience of paying online and picking up items or having things delivered. As Olivia quipped, ‘It is faster than Amazon.’
Great Customer Service is a core experience at The Gift Box
Marlon and Olivia view competition as healthy. Marlon stated, ‘It keeps us creative. We focus on the experience of our customers, not our competitors.
Anyone who has visited the Gift Box can attest to this. Olivia’s warm and welcoming demeanor and her knack for understanding her customers wants and needs while building a relationship has resulted in lifelong and loyal customers. Staff at the store are hired for their customer service skills and trained to provide exceptional service to all customers.
Looking towards the Future with Anticipation and Faith
Marlon and Olivia: ‘We have no idea where we will be but with God’s help it will be grander.’
In response to the question, where they see The Gift Box in ten years, they responded in faith.
‘There is a lot of potential but limitations of space, but we can still be creative to achieve what we want. We love our little space and perhaps one day we will move to a bigger space. God did this. Five (5) years from now, I have no idea where we will be, but with God’s help, it will be grander,’
Thanks to all our customers for your support.
‘Because of you, we have been able to fulfill our tagline promise of ‘Unwrapping gifts one smile at a time.’’
Marlon and Olivia expressed thanks to everyone for supporting The Gift Box over the past five (5) years.
Contact The Gift Box
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: The Gift Box