Until a few years ago, Angelle Simms didn't think she had an artistic bone in her body. "I could draw a straight line, but that's about it," says Simms, a 34-year-old hospital systems analyst who lives in Madisonville, La. Then a friend invited her to join her for an evening of wine and painting at Painting With A Twist, in nearby Mandeville.
"Now I'm kind of addicted," jokes Simms, who goes every month or two, usually with a small group of friends, family or co-workers. They pay $35 each for two hours of instruction and supplies, bring their own food and drink, and make an evening out of it. Simms occasionally goes solo to relax after a hectic work week. She's even tried going with a date. "The date wasn't good," she says, "but the painting turned out fine."
When Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney started Painting With A Twist in 2007 they didn't think they had a national franchise on their hands. "We just thought it was going to be a fun little business," says Maloney. "This was after Katrina, and there wasn't a lot of fun going on at the time."
Turns out New Orleans residents weren't the only ones looking for an artistic escape and a quick sense of accomplishment. Five years later, Painting With A Twist has four company-owned locations and 67 franchise locations in 15 states, and according to Deano, is one of the biggest employers of artists outside of schools.
Meanwhile, the "paint and sip" category is growing, with franchise companies and individual stores opening throughout the country, including Bottle & Bottega in Chicago, Sip & Paint in Metairie, La.,and Spirited Art in Huntsville, Ala.
"We're not trying to teach people to be artists," says Harriet Mills, who along with Emmy Preiss co-founded Wine And Design in Raleigh, N.C., in 2010, began franchising in 2011 and now has 17 franchised locations. Rather, an evening of painting and sipping is an inexpensive alternative to a night out. "It's a party, and at the end of the night you go home with a painting," she says.
As with any concept that grows quickly, there's always the risk of it being hot today, gone tomorrow, but "I think this idea will succeed," says Rob Bond, president of World Franchising Network, an Oakland, Calif.-based directory of franchises. "In today's society, not many people have the opportunity to say ‘I made this,'" he says. "This fills a creative void."
The fact that classes are held in the evening and in a no-pressure environment is another big plus. "I had one woman tell me that this is the new yoga," adds Painting With A Twist's Deano.
While art is all about individuality, walking dozens of novices through a painting in a couple of hours takes a good deal of planning and organization. Franchisees typically get step-by-step guidance on everything from finding locations and hiring artists to avoiding copyright snafus. They also get a playbook for the most important element -- making sure customers have fun. "Anyone who has entertained at home knows it is a big deal to have 40 to 50 at a party -- just think about hosting that every night week after week, month after month," says Will Borel, marketing director of Pinot's Palette, which opened in 2009, began franchising in 2011 and now has three company-owned locations and 16 franchise locations. "You need a system that's efficient and delivers upon customers' expectations."
Franchise fees in this category are relatively low -- just $10,000 for Wine And Design, for example. Of course, that doesn't include the other start-up costs, such as commercial space, supplies, staff and marketing. Total investment to open a Painting With A Twist is closer to about $100,000, according to its founders.
Clients tend to be women, ranging from stay-at-home moms to women with high-stress jobs, but paint-and-sip studios are bringing in all kinds, including bridal parties, corporations doing team-building exercises, fundraisers and date nights. "We've even had quite a few proposals," adds Mills.
Simms, meanwhile, has brought home more than a dozen paintings, which she proudly displays in her home. Most of them are so good, she says, friends can't believe she painted them. "There's only one painting that didn't really turn out," she says. "I think I might have had too much wine that night."
Sarah Max is a freelance writer in Bend, Ore. She has covered business and personal finance for more than a decade for such publications as BusinessWeek, CNNMoney.com, Money and The Wall Street Journal. In 2009 Sarah got a first-hand look at the ups and downs of entrepreneurship when she helped launch 1859 Oregons Magazine, a quarterly magazine and website for which she is executive editor.