We had the good fortune of connecting with Emily Dennis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Emily, what do you want your legacy to be?
I think one of the greatest things I’ve struggled with most of my life is fear. I’ve always been a dreamer and it seems like an oxymoron to have such wild dreams and yet be afraid, but I would almost bet that most creatives struggle with fear, or I hope maybe it’s not just me. There is this balancing act between the dreams and possibilities we envision and the string that keeps us tied to the ground of reality. What I hope I leave behind as a legacy to my friends, my family, the people I influence, and most of all to my children is to be brave, take the leap, start the business, buy the building, launch the idea, move to that city, whatever it is, do it, do it bravely even if you have to do it afraid. Being brave isn’t the absence of fear it’s doing it in spite of fear. I hope my legacy is that I was brave, even when I was afraid. That I took risks, not recklessly but thoughtfully and with intentions for myself and others. I want to be remembered for taking the leaps and for giving abundantly. And I would say that’s a big part of my heart behind my business – dreaming wildly but also brave enough to begin, and brave enough to stay through hard seasons.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Henhouse started as just a name I heard in my heart one day in 2008. I was going through a hard season in life. I was a young single mom, going through a tough divorce, and I had this glimmer of hope that it wouldn’t always be that way, that one day I would be able to give back to other single moms. Henhouse wasn’t even a business idea at that point, it was just a name I created from my maiden name Hensley (Hens) and this idea that one day I could provide a place (House) for single moms to get back on their feet and start their own dreams. Fast forward a bit, I got married, and now have 2 more children.
In 2016 I was working as a paralegal but had this constant longing for my own thing. I didn’t know then that most entrepreneurs always have this longing. One day out of the blue I purchased a pair of leggings from a fast growing clothing business. I was intrigued and hooked as a consumer. I had zero interest in being a sales person but I had this itch to start something, anything that would be my own. Sales doesn’t really come natural to me but fashion does. It has most of my life I guess. I’m a clothes and shopping addict and I just love styling ladies. I sold that clothing brand for about a year and created a really loyal local following. It allowed me the opportunity to get my feet wet in entrepreneurship.
That venture was a door to a bigger door. In 2017/2018 I chose to step away from that brand and selling. At the time it felt like the end of selling fashion for me. I didn’t have resources or even a clue how to create my own thing and I didn’t want to continue with what I was doing but I just couldn’t shake this love of the business of selling fashion and helping women feel great in their clothes no matter their shape or size. I didn’t have an education background in small business or marketing or fashion merchandising. I just knew it felt natural to me and I was passionate about it. so I just started taking steps one after another, and researching and building and thanks to the tribe of followers who believed in me and followed me along to the next season I kept going.
I started small, I mean most people do but like really small. There were certain things I just wasn’t willing to do to grow and that was, I wasn’t willing to be anyone but me, authenticity is a non negotiable, and I wasn’t willing to be obnoxious or hound people to death to join my boutique group. I wanted people to see more than just clothes– to see a community of women feeling good and looking good in the skin and clothes they were in.
Henhouse Shoppe launched as an online boutique in June 2018. In August 2018 my husband suggested I open a brick and mortar store. I’m pretty sure I scoffed at it because I thought that a long ways off. But, we took a leap of faith and after 6 months of renovating we opened our first location in June 2019, in Elkton, VA.
Our first year in business, it was just me mostly, with the help of my daughter Bri after school, working our location. Most days I had a 4 year old and newborn in tow with me too. When we opened my youngest son was 6 weeks old and I couldn’t afford daycare so they went where I did. I remember bouncing a crying baby on my hip our first Christmas Eve in store while I waited on a line of customers last minute shopping. Our local customers were so patient and gracious with this new small business owner.
Then covid hit in March 2o20 and I honestly thought “this is it” we are going to do or die. And we did. And our customers showed up and we grew and grew exceptionally during 2020. During that year I learned so much about myself, about pushing myself when I felt like quitting, pushing myself when I felt afraid, pushing when I had goals or bills to meet.
Since opening we’ve been named top 3 Womens clothing boutiques for the last two years for Shenandoah Valley Best in Virginia.
At the end of 2020 my daughter Bri and I started dreaming about a second location. She has the same entrepreneur spirit too, so in April 2021, we took another leap and opened a second location in Luray, VA. Bri manages that location and runs most of our social media, while studying fashion merchandising online.
We are 3 years into our boutique business. It’s not always easy, it hasn’t come easy and I still don’t always know what I’m doing or what the next right step is but we keep dreaming and taking risks. I think I keep going even when it’s hard because I’m passionate about it and passionate about using this business to inspire and help others. I want to keep growing because my dreams are bigger than just me.
Our first Christmas in business we were able to celebrate 10 single moms and give back to them with a night of encouragement, food, celebration and shopping at our store. Then last year we were able to give back to almost 20 moms. This year my goal is even more moms in our community.
13 years ago when I heard the word Henhouse I had no clue what it would like. but one step after another lead to one door after another.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Food and shopping are a few of my favorite things. I’d have to suggest we try out some of my favorite local eats, such as breakfast at Gathering Grounds in Luray VA, or lunch at El Paso Mexican Grille in Elkton, VA, and dinner and drinks at Valley Cork in Luray VA. Shopping we would have to stop by New Creation in Harrisonburg, VA and stroll downtown Elkton, Harrisonburg and Luray, VA to visit all the fun little shops. For sight seeing I’d take my friend for a sunset drive across the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park and finish with dessert at the Lodge, blueberry cobbler is a must there.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to an author whose book Wide Awake got my dreaming wheels turning wildly-Erwin Raphael McManus.
My husband, Joe, for believing in me more than I did when I started this gig. He gave me a great big push off the ledge of doubt and I really don’t think I every would have started if he hadn’t believed in me.
My daughter and right hand woman in Henhouse Shoppe, Briana, she was the brave thing I did that lead me to more and more brave things. And my boys, Cam & Levi for giving me the greatest joy to keep on going.
My parents for always being a soft place to land during hard seasons and believing in me and my dreams.
Mirage Photography Henhouse Shoppe