Stay in Your Lane and Go Twist Somewhere Else
Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Cubist Wine Bottles (RPS catalog)
by Bobby Padilla
Acrylic on canvas 16" x 20"
No business is impervious to change. Doesn’t matter the size, you must adapt to the needs and trends of your customers. Small business even more so. Your business model may change, and you will no longer survive the gauntlet of growing the business. If you don’t you won’t be around long. Roc Paint Sip is no exception. The cottage industry of paint and sip is now a legitimate business model that has a very solid profitability potential and has thriving industry growth percentages. According to both Forbes and the New York Times, major franchises like Painting with a Twist and Pinot’s Palette reported a 33% -38% growth in revenue in 2018. Even with influx of mom & pop places like mine nudging their way into the market and the sometimes over expansion of larger franchises, the industry is profitable and healthy.
Clearly there are leaders and trendsetters that paved the way for people like me to spin what they do similarly but shaping the paint and sip model into something that suits the needs of a specific community. I saw a marketability in providing something more than just a venue for sharing a bottle of wine while giggling through a painting. Unlike PWAT, we sought to provide a menu of locally sourced food and a selection of locally crafted beer and wine along with artisanal cheeses and desserts, not to mention exceptional customer service. You needn’t have any prior artistic experience, for painting and drawing (or drinking for that matter).
The larger franchises standardized how people could enjoy a social activity with friends and loved ones or complete strangers. I saw an evolution in what paint and sip could be. When RPS was born I saw that paint and sip could be more meaningful. It was a forum for making unique memories and doing that by attempting slightly more advanced paintings, also by providing a space more like that of an artist’s studio rather than a middle school art room. Paintings weren’t rushed either to fit a two hour time frame, people took their time. They would laugh, eat and drink and spend an afternoon or evening with us and not feel like it was tenuous. Sort of like watching a Martin Scorsese film. A party wasn’t responsible for carrying in and out food and beverages. It was a one stop shop for a more dynamic paint and sip. It a was a beautiful space, some of you might remember.
With the over saturation of PWAT and a Wine and Design and the newly rebranded Yeamaker (formally Paint Nite), all in the same market it was tough sledding. Margins are difficult for “open” or calendar events. Having liquor and food along with other overhead you need to have a certain amount of income per event. Our overhead was daunting but not as bad as being in a plaza like the franchises. Franchise fees for PWAT or Pinot’s Palette range from $10,000 to $25,000, and you have to have financials to support your lease and costs. Thus, a slow month or two and you’re in a big hole. Despite have a lovely space and a reasonable price point, people would often ask us to travel to specific locations. That request become more and more prevalent. With the perfect storm of struggling class size, customer requests to hit the road and mounting overhead, we were at a crossroads. Having a lousy landlord also forced our hand. Actually, he wasn’t that lousy in the end, he offered us an out from our lease. We were forced to change our business model, we would go strictly mobile.
We would partner with bars and restaurants to hold events, but that turned out to be inconsistent as well. They were fun but the logistics of collecting registrations were awkward. Either the venue would pay us or visa versa. We would get paid for the painting and the venue would capitalize on food and beverages. The premise was an equitable and profitable proposition. In here lays the problem. Often events were hamstrung by the confusion from the customers as to whom was going to collect registrations, those that were not internet savoy and the overall lack of promotion from the venue. Again, we had had to change on the fly. How about the prospect of house parties? Would people have us paint and sip in their patios, basements, she sheds etc. It was a gamble. It was a complete reversal of philosophy. Yes, people love going out but folks also loved hosting parties and entertaining. The thought being you’re going to have a dozen or more individuals together at once, how about doing something quality as you eat, drink and be merry?
I began to sell the idea to more and more folks. Like most of life’s cherished memories (sporting events and concerts aside), these affairs are relatively private. We now do almost exclusively private parties or corporate events. Almost the way a wedding planner or events planner would operate. Tailoring the event to the occasion.
The gamble is paying off! That’s not to say that were not open (pun intended) to collaborating with a bar or restaurant or tour group for a public event, but our bread and butter is telling dirty jokes in your family room with your friends and family while painting a building that clearly looks phallic or a flower that looks like a vagina. It’s making sure Grandma whose 90 (yes, I’ve painted with several), likes her sunset and keep a 3 year old engaged while not being a distraction because this might be their parent’s first outside interaction in 4 months. It’s allowing my family to be a part of yours, even its for a couple of hours.
As much as I’d like to think our success is because my paintings are just better than the ones at PWAT and we also offer more variety of projects, it’s probably more of a testament of my family’s outstanding customer service. We have the flexibility to accommodate and provide your guest something unique, and we don't need corporate approval to do it.
I’m no longer threatened by franchises nor am I offended by when a local bar has a “paint night” that’s not with RPS. Instead it’s facilitated by a waitress or friend of the bartender that “took an art class”. I’m sure there are many proficient artists that think they could do this, but they can’t. It’s not an art class. It’s not your ability to paint and draw, rather it’s about relaxing people enough who have never painted before. Assuring them that their clumsy brush strokes are in fact charming and connecting the dots to an art history context. Maybe it’s chatting with the people in the back furthest from my easel, encouraging them that they’re doing great. Simply give folks permission to forgive themselves and their inability to paint.
There are those that wish to go PWAT because it’s a date night, there’s just two of you. That’s what those places are there for. There are those that don’t have the space or want to host a paint party, again PWAT is probably for you. Over the last 2 years two PWAT have closed along with Wine by Design, and the clock is ticking on Pinot’s Palette. I don’t wish them ill will, I know it’s going to be tough on those franchise owners, particularly when they thought they could flood the market here in Rochester. If we were Chicago or New York with some 10 million plus people, then there’s room for everyone and multiple locations. However, each franchise isn’t going to put several locations in a metropolitan area with 350,000 people. It’s like getting pizza, you have many choices at your disposal, but ultimately when you want the best, you have your favorite. In short, are you settling on Papa Johns or Pizza Hut or going around the corner to the mom & pop place who uses recipes that were handed down from their grandparents.
So if you have a favorite haunt, let them know about us. I would be glad to coordinate an event with them, and hopefully people show up. Chances are though you’re going to celebrate a landmark birthday soon and want someone to distract your guest from tequila shots, or at least slow them down, then call me. As much as I enjoy tequila I’ll keep your company on task and show them how to paint a warm vibrant sunset.