Franchise Players

'Starving Artists' No More, This North Carolina Couple Opened Wine & Design's First Franchise

Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you’re a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email

Names: Marianne Conti Burt and Craig Burt

Franchise: Wine and Design, Cary, NC, and Apex, NC, a "paint and sip" franchise featuring chic, upbeat spaces with wine tasting and group (and children's) painting classes taught by local artists 

Number of years in business/Number of employees: 11 years/15 employees 

Initial Investment: $46,150 to $95,000; the Burts paid about $46,000

Back during the height of the recession, Marianne and Craig Burt -- both self-employed artists -- were hardly feeling financially stable. In fact they faced the possibility of losing their home. But, as fine artists who'd graduated from the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the couple had the skills, and the will, to get by. Marianne had taught art. And Craig had a retouching business, Revelation Imaging and Design, in which he'd worked with a top advertising agency and photographer in a mid-Atlantic state. 

But when the recession came, the two were down on their luck and facing financial ruin. Then, in 2010, Marianne got a response from a local artist job opening she'd spotted on Craigslist, teaching art two hours a week. And that was the couple's introduction to Harriet Mills, founder and CEO of Wine & Design, who wanted to turn her "paint and sip" business into a franchise system offering customers chic, upbeat spaces with wine tastings, and group and children's painting classes.

Turns out that Mills and the Burts saw art -- and wine -- eye to eye and eventually became partners.

"Although we didn’t enter the business with the intent to franchise, we believed in the brand and its services so much, we wanted to be involved in the direction and growth of it," Marianne Burt recalled by email. She and her husband opened Wine & Design's first franchise, in Cary, NC, in 2011.

"We were already in love with the brand and knew it was a perfect business concept at the perfect time in the economy," Burt writes. "Both being self-employed artists, opening up our own Wine & Design was an outlet for us to use our artistry and talents in a proven business model. Not to mention, the joy and satisfaction we brought to so many people, who thought they had no talent, was extremely rewarding.

Related: Franchise Players: Go-Getter Franchisee on Opening a BYOB Painting and Wine Franchise

"It’s safe to say that this is a business that has staying power -- a lot like wine!" Burt adds, with a dash of humor. "Whether it be a glass or two of pinot grigio while painting Van Gogh’s Starry Night, or a sip of Cabernet Sauvignon while painting a photo of your puppy, there is nothing more enjoyable than a night of art class, drinks, food and friends." 

Something else the Burts enjoyed was the business' affordability. They spent about $20,000 apart from the $25,000 franchise fee. The money went toward tables, chairs, lease agreements, renovations, signage and town permits, etc. And what resulted was more than just a pretty place in which to to paint: Wine & Design provided an opportunity for community and creativity. "Friends and painting is what Wine & Design is all about," Burt says. "As the brand believes that sophistication shouldn’t always come at a high price point, Wine & Design is affordable without sacrificing what makes it special."

En route, the couple focused on making their business just as attractive to couples on a "date night" as to families with kids. They established five different divisions of programs and classes, with names like On Wheels, Team Building, Paint it Forward and Art Buzz Kids.

For research, Marianne Burt says, she relied on her fine art degree and experience teaching advanced art students. But, aware that her Wine & Design customers were hardly at the level of BFA students, she and Craig pioneered teaching concepts for the new franchises. "I had to simplify my concept paintings and teaching skills to a more common ground so that anyone could paint as I guided them step-by-step through their two-hour journey with me," Burt says.

Craig Burt, meanwhile, incorporated his expertise in photographic manipulation, introducing his concept of printing the outlines of photographs onto canvases, so customers could recreate and paint photos they cherish. 

Adds his wife: "Working together with Craig and knowing each other’s strengths, we brought all of our experience from the art and business realm to create the class structure, teaching techniques and production techniques that Wine & Design is known for." 

Of course it wasn't all easy. Unforeseen costs like new air conditioning, township permits and the need to find just the right flex-space to lease were some of the challenges the Burts faced. But, passion for pulling others into art, and for the business they were building, kept them going. "Customer service and a great product are your priorities," Marianne Burt says. "Your business will reflect your authenticity."

Says Craig Burt, offering advice to other franchisees: "Love what you do. This is a customer service business. The joy and gratification comes from making people happy and giving them a sense of accomplishment. Done correctly, the business will grow and you will be rewarded financially and spiritually."

Ten months ago, the couple open their second franchise, in Apex, NC., requiring not just additional money but additional creative thinking. En route, the Burts  introduced the concept of tracing, teaching skills and techniques that has helped set a strong foundation for future franchise locations.

For more information: Wine & Design