Patrons Get Into Spirit Of Fine Art

By Jon Chavez The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) For women in business who have a passion for art, paint and sip businesses may be an option. The paint-and-sip industry nationwide is in the midst of impressive growth, according to Entrepreneur magazine, which named the category one of the top 10 franchise concepts to watch in 2015. Some franchises include "Pinot's Palette" and "Wine and Design."

Toledo

Megan Quinlan isn't an artist, won't be taking art lessons anytime soon, and has no plans to visit the Toledo Museum of Art.

But one night a year ago, the Holland resident took brush, canvas, and acrylic paints in hand and with some guidance, painted a soothing scene of a tropical sunset over the ocean. Fourteen other women attending her wedding bachelorette party in Holland painted the exact same sunset. But creating a great work of art wasn't the goal.

"I just wanted a really fun, unique night and to be able to show my friends a type of good time that they had never had before," Ms. Quinlan said. "The alternative would have been going to a bar, and I think that's kind of overdone."

Their night of fun came courtesy of Wine & Canvas, one of three painting-party businesses -- often called "paint-and-sip" companies -- now operating in the Toledo area. And more are on the way.

Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant and entertainment industry analyst for NPD Group, said the target audience is young singles who have money to spend and are looking for a nice evening of entertainment.

Such businesses nationwide are in the midst of impressive growth, according to Entrepreneur magazine, which named the category one of the top 10 franchise concepts to watch in 2015.

By some accounts, the paint-and-sip industry was born when a firm called Sip and Strokes opened in Alabama in 2004. But now, estimates say up to 1,000 wine-and-painting businesses could be in the United States, some with store fronts and others with just mobile or "pop-up" units.

Some of industry's larger players include Painting With A Twist, with 270 franchises; Pinot's Palette, 157 franchises, and Wine and Design, 63 franchises.

An up-and-coming company, according to Entrepreneur, is Chicago-based Bottle & Bottega, which opened in 2009 and has 19 franchises mostly in the Great Lakes region.

Nancy Bigley, Bottle & Bottega chief executive officer, said the company plans to have stores in the Toledo area by next year.

"It is a very natural fit for us moving over from Chicago," she said. The company looks at population density, demographics, income levels, and the female population, its target customer, before picking a market. Toledo scores high on all of those.

"We like to go where there's a nice art vibe and good restaurant scene. Also, we like to operate as a neighborhood business and [Toledo] has good neighborhoods," Ms. Bigley said.

Starting a paint-and-sip business is not cheap. Start-up fees for a franchise can range between $10,000 and $25,000, but the full cost of opening a paint and sip business can be as low as $60,000 for a mobile pop-up business to $170,000 for a storefront.

But annual revenues can exceed $200,000, experts say.

"It can be extremely profitable, and it's all about the revenue. Overhead isn't that large. Canvas and paint aren't really that expensive, and labor is controllable," Ms. Bigley said. Rent and labor are typically the two big expenses that determine profit, she added.

Julianne Hazard, a bartender/painting assistant with Wine & Canvas, said the stores serve a purpose beyond entertainment. "It's just good for the soul to spend an evening with some paint and some good friends," she said. "I tell people that, even if you're not quite happy with your painting at the end of the night, it's still a good experience."

Paint-and-sip businesses generally follow a standard format.

For $35 to $45, a customer gets a three-hour session in a group setting.

A painting is chosen ahead of time, and everyone paints the same thing with the company supplying canvas, paints, brushes, aprons, and an instructor, who usually is the artist who created the original artwork.

During the evening, alcoholic beverages usually are available for a price, usually from a bar the company runs, or if there is no liquor license, consumers can bring their own beverages if allowed under a state's liquor laws. Pop-up paint-and-sip companies usually partner with a restaurant or bar that provides the space and sells customers food and drink.

"Restaurants are really, really having a challenging time these days so they're trying to think of ways to get people into the restaurant, try the food, buy some drinks, and possibly come back," said Ms. Riggs of NDP Group.

"They know people are looking for more than a meal. They're looking for an experience."

Wine & Canvas, owned by Amanda Brown and her parents, Victor and Sandy Lieto of Monroe, is a franchised operation that began in August, 2013. It is at 5221 Monroe St.

Another local company is Paint Nite, a franchised pop-up company that began operating in November and holds its painting sessions at the Oliver House restaurant and M'Osteria Bar & Lounge downtown.

The area's first paint-and-sip business was Uncork the Artist, which opened in 2011 and has two locations, a store at 5206 Monroe St. and another at 26580 N. Dixie Hwy. in Perrysburg.

Owner Cathie Nelson of Toledo started her own nonfranchise paint-and-sip business after attending a paint session run by another company in Columbus.

"Art is about self-expression. The place I went, you weren't allowed to change your colors. It was cookie cutter, so for me the first thing I did was let people choose. That way everything turns out different," she said.

Uncork the Artist doesn't operate a bar, preferring to let people bring their own beverages if they wish.

But for all the companies, paint and sip isn't about the art so much as having fun.

Local Toledo artist Julia Johnston, who conducts and manages Paint Nite's sessions, said the appeal she sees for women is that they are tired of just going to bars to have a drink and chat.

"With this, you can still do the same thing, have a drink and talk, but now you're also being creative," she said.

While storefront locations are the easiest way to participate in "open" paint-and-sip sessions, all of the companies say a good portion of revenues come from private parties or corporate events. Ms. Hazard, of Wine & Canvas, said companies have latched onto painting sessions "as a good team-building exercise."

The industry has given a lot of starving artists steady employment.

Ms. Johnston, a professional artist for two decades who runs her own art businesses, Murals by Julia, said income from art can be very sporadic. Paint Nite, she said, has given her regular hours, a steady paycheck, and an unexpected income stream because some of her paintings have been added to Paint Nite's library inventory, and when other Paint Nite franchises elsewhere use one of her works, she gets royalties.

Plus, it's an ego boost to know households in Toledo and throughout the United States will have facsimiles of something she created.

"It's a great compliment really," Ms. Johnston said.

Paint and sip businesses say finding good instructors is highly competitive, but just as important is the artwork available for use in a paint session.

To avoid large royalties or intellectual property infringement, companies hire artist-instructors who can create their own artwork to be used during a session.

The work must be appealing, but not so intricate that potential customers fear an effort to duplicate it.

Paint-and-sip is a hot trend, but some wonder if it will last.

Bottle & Bottega's Ms. Bigley, a veteran of other franchise concepts, said explosive growth eventually leads to a shakeout. That is why, she said, her firm is working hard to stand out from similar companies by offering other art media to clients, such as painting glass ornaments, mosaics, and portraits of nude models.

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