Before there was a whole lot going on in town, before that mega-chain coffeehouse that shall not be named entered the city limits, Bentonville had the Bentonville Copy & Ship shop.

Don’t believe me?

Holly Boswell, the shop’s now-owner and daughter of its founder, says when her father’s store opened 27 years ago, it became the local watering hole in its own way. And it helped that they always had a fresh pot of coffee brewing for their customers to enjoy. Even today, Holly works hard to make sure the shop is a welcoming and friendly service to the Bentonville community.

 Billy & Kay Thomas

Billy & Kay Thomas

What’s the story of the shop?

“My dad, Bill Thomas, opened the store in 1991 after working at UPS for 19 years, so he knew a thing or two about shipping. That's why he wanted to get into it. He liked this part of Arkansas -- we lived here for a while and he wanted to come back -- so he opened a store here.

You probably ought to include my mother, Kay Thomas. She worked in the store alongside him managing our hundreds of client accounts. I know he would want her included and he’d be the first to admit he couldn’t have run the business without her. They’re both sweet and mushy like that! (awwwwww)

Originally, we were part of a franchise of copying and shipping places. They had like 3800 stores around the world, and we were one of the top five performing locations in that network.

In the early 2000s, another company bought them out and they wanted to eliminate a lot of services that we offered that our customers liked in particular. We decided to go independent. That was about 2006. Now, I’ve stepped in for my dad.

I started working in the shop on and off from the time I was 18. I actually went to college for a film degree. I went out and worked in Los Angeles for Paramount, and then transitioned to the music industry and worked in London for a while. But when I was in between freelance positions, I would always come back and help out in the store.

I never really thought I would be running it, but I got to a point in my life where it just made sense. My dad was retiring and my brother, who was running it for a while with my dad, got a job with a WalMart supplier, so they needed someone to step in. And I did.

I still get to do media stuff on the side. I’ve always got my hands in various projects. But this is what I do primarily, because I’ve got a child now and it’s just easier.”

What are some of the highlights and difficulties of working in a family business?

“When I was younger, my dad always traveled and was only home on weekends. When he opened this business, we were all able to spend a lot more time together, which is good, but it can also create a lot of tensions if you’re not used to spending that much time with someone.

In some ways it’s strengthened us, in many ways it has tested us. We were all always working toward the common goal of making this business a success. Different people have been in charge through the years, but we’re still here 27 years later. So I like to think that we’ve managed to make it work, even when things were stressful and challenging!”

What’s one of your favorite memories With your dad?

“As I said, he was always traveling when I was a kid, so I felt like when I was older and spent more time working with him, I really got to know him better, know his sense of humor better, and I realized that we were quite a bit alike.

One time when we were still part of the franchise, we were sitting on a panel at a conference for the franchise. We were taking questions from other shop owners because people were puzzled how we could be in Arkansas and be one of the top performing stores in the network.

The responses my dad had to people and the wisdom he had kind of put me in awe. My dad really is quite funny and he’s got a wisdom about him that I respect. I learned a lot about running a business from him.

It’s scary to own your own business. He’s taught me a lot, and he’s taken a lot of the fear out. Even though he’s retired, I can still count on him. If I’ve got a question about something or I just need advice, I rely on him to help me.”

Did you ever take any business classes, or did you learn it all on the spot from your dad?

“I didn’t take any classes, no.

His dad owned a grocery store, which my dad was pretty much running on his own by the time he was 16. His dad decided he was going to be a truck driver, so he basically handed the store keys to my dad and said, Alright, now it’s your turn.

My dad’s a high school graduate, he didn’t go to university for business. He’s learned through trial and error. Working for UPS gave him a base knowledge of the industry rules and regulations. But as far as running the business, yeah, we just all kind of learned from each other. And it is usually trial and error, School of Hard Knocks. But that’s the best way to learn.

I went out to Los Angeles when I was 22 years old. And my dad told me, ‘Look, just go out there and do it. If it all goes wrong, you can come back home and rethink things and do something else.’ He’s always encouraged that ‘go out and do it’ attitude. If it doesn’t work, well, just rethink your game plan. It’s great to have a person like that in your life to push you.”

Why Bentonville Copy & Ship? What can people expect from you?

“We're very friendly and personal; everybody gets a ‘Hey, hi, how are you?’ when they walk in the door. That comes from the fact that when we first opened our doors, there wasn't hardly anything in town, not even a Starbucks. We were the place a lot of people would come and run into your neighbors. We even have a pot of coffee that people go and help themselves to. So we were kind of like the town meeting place.

Some of our regular customers have been coming to see us for over 20 years. We're very thankful for that kind of loyal customer base. We have many people that we consider friends. They come in and sit and chat for a while. We know everything that's going on in their lives. We love that.

We’re in the second generation of customers as well. We've been around so long that even some of their kids are now coming into the shop. They've opened businesses. Some of them have some restaurants in town and we do their menus. We have been a part of Bentonville for so long, and we really love the community.

Also, with the population growth and so many new people moving into the area, we try to be aware of what all these new people might need from us as a print shop. We're always looking at expanding our services and trying to adapt to the changing landscape.

If we don't have something and people are requesting it quite a bit, then we want to add that to our list of services. We have added things such as canvas printing because a lot of people like to get their photographs or text art printed as home decor. So we're constantly changing and we're open to suggestions, always!”

For nearly three decades, the team at Bentonville Copy & Ship has lived to serve YOU, Northwest Arkansas! Even their name comes from their customers -- but you’ll have to ask Holly herself for the story behind that one!

Now it’s your turn to show them a little love! Next time you need a poster printed or a present shipped (holiday season IS just around the corner!!), swing by Bentonville Copy & Ship, and tell ‘em Towny sent you! Which reminds me...have you checked out our free app that helps you to choose local (AND rewards you for doing so!?)?