The music was upbeat, the atmosphere was lively and the paint and wine were flowing!
A mom-and-pop business added a new store and a son as manager, when the Painting with a Twist studio opened in Clearwater on September 25, 2014. Jason Powers moved from Lafayette, Louisiana, to Clearwater, Florida, to work in the store as manager, for his mother, owner Leslie Gay. Keeping the family business going, Leslie Gay manages the St. Petersburg studio, while her husband, Marvin Gay, manages the Tampa studio. The family works together as a team, sharing resources and marketing for the three studios. When Powers first moved to the Tampa Bay area, the brand new location had to be remodeled before it was ready to be moved into and set up for classes. Powers learned the business by working with his mother at the St. Pete location for three months. The new studio is bright and cheerful, and the people who attended the Grand Opening seemed pleased with the interior design.
The classes are led by artist-instructors who have prepared a painting selected for the class ahead of time. The instructor has another blank canvas, and after a brief introduction, the instructor paints the whole painting again, describing each step so that the class participants can follow along. Another artist-instructor works as an assistant in the class, walking around to help people individually. The simple structure of the classes make it easy for even beginners to achieve a painting they can take home after a two or three hour class and feel proud to it hang on the wall.
A mother and daughter, Nancy Little and Kirsten Cutler, painted together, each choosing their own colors and painting in their own style. You can see their paintings in the photos with this article. Although everyone in the class follows the artist-instructor to paint the same image, creativity is encouraged. Each painting will always be different, as every brush stroke is as unique as an individual’s handwriting.
Mary Mierl, the corporate Director of Operations, came to support the Grand Opening in Clearwater. “Opening a new franchise is like birthing a baby. It’s a twelve to sixteen week process,” she said. “We (corporate staff) want to be here for the finish line.”
Marcea Neitman of Think PR Group helped with the Grand Opening, inviting all the business owners surrounding the studio and the President of the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce. She also invited the Mayor of Clearwater, George Cretekos, who came to help with the ribbon cutting.
The Painting with a Twist company has headquarters based in Mandeville, Louisiana. It is the leading “Paint and Sip” franchise, with more than 150 locations throughout the United States. The company was founded in 2007 by Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney. When Painting with a Twist began franchising in 2009, Leslie and Marvin opened the very first franchise in the United States. They recently celebrated the five-year anniversary of their first studio. About a year after opening the St. Pete location, they started a studio in South Tampa. It took a few years to really build up momentum, as the classes were a new concept for people to understand. The success they were able to achieve with the first two studios convinced them to take the plunge and expand to Clearwater.
Jason Powers said the biggest challenge in opening the studio was, “just getting everything ready to go, all the little details.” He said that, “customer service is definitely the most important thing going on here,” which will make the studio a success. “My goal going forward is to keep us busy, but my ultimate goal is to be the number one studio out of the three. This studio is going to be producing more than the other two studios!”
Sounds like a little friendly competition in the family!
A fun activity at the party was a portable photo booth called, TapSnap, brought by Deb Fry. People could get their pictures taken against a green screen, wearing an array of funny props, and then pick a crazy or beautiful background to go behind them. Their photos were then printed out and Emailed.
Other franchise owners from Florida came to cheer on the new studio, such as the Trinity and Carrollwood franchises. Cyndi and Eddie Goff came, a couple who had their own Grand Opening three months ago in Ocala. Cyndi worked as an artist-instructor for Leslie Gay for two years before going on to open her own studio, with the encouragement and mentoring of Mrs. Gay.
“Things are going fabulous,” Cyndi Goff said. “We love Ocala, and we wanted to bring something positive to the area. We could not be more excited. We are really proud that we have given seven artists good jobs. We have two primary artists that we really rely on. All the elements lined up for us, the right location, the right person to run it. I feel like a lot of our success is because of Marvin and Leslie, and what they taught us about this business.”
“I can remember when we hit 100 people a week at Leslie’s place. I had been there six months,” said Cyndi. “Leslie was the real groundbreaker. She is a trailblazer. Now, so many people understand the ‘paint and sip’ industry that we were able to hit 100 people in our third week in Ocala.”
Leslie has also been a mentor for artist Geri Bernard. Bernard worked on Leslie’s staff in St. Petersburg and then opened a Painting with a Twist studio in Jacksonville, which is now thriving.
Corporate artist Kelly Boyett taught the opening night class. She introduced the artist-instructors on the Clearwater staff: Ashley Morra, Adrianna Auriemma, ZiZi Ungrova, Joelle Vaughan, Patrick Rush, Jennifer Helton, Krystal Apollo and Deb Cronin.
“As a corporate artist for the company, I host Grand Openings, and I hire and train artists. I train teaching in the Painting with a Twist style at the studios in New Orleans,” said Kelly Boyett. “I travel so much! I am going to Buffalo, New York, after this, and then two more in Texas. Then four more in October! It’s insane, and it’s a fun job. I get to travel all over the country. It certainly shows how quickly our company is growing.”
The Clearwater team of artists traveled with Leslie Gay and Jason Powers to corporate headquarters in New Orleans for four days of intensive training before the studio opened. “They taught us everything from the rudimentary part, like cleaning brushes, all the way up to presenting to a large crowd,” said Jennifer Helton.
“It was good to go to the original studio and meet the original people who started it all,” said ZiZi Ungrova. “It was very inspiring. We learned the story of the company, listening to Renee talking about the beginning.” (Read the company’s story in articles, How Katrina Inspired My Painting Franchise and Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine).
“We heard stories from corporate trainers who had valuable suggestions on how to handle groups of people, using humor and making it funny as the approach,” Ungrova said.
“We learned a lot about how to do fast paintings,” said Krystal Apollo. “Some people we will teach haven’t picked up a paint brush since elementary school, so we learned ways to use humor and the music to help people relax.”
“And maybe the wine helps a little bit too!” said Adrianna Auriemma.
“The trip also made us a very cohesive group,” said ZiZi Ungrova. “It helped us learn a lot about each other and made us a very bonded team.”
Joelle Vaughan said that, “learning about the different personalities was important. It’s not just teaching art, it’s dealing with the different psychologies of people’s personalities. Some people like to joke around and others are more reserved. Some have to shake off their work day a little bit before they can relax and enjoy themselves.”
The St. Petersburg studio is now undergoing a renovation, as the company has started sending out new interior design specs since January. “When we went to 100 franchises, we had to start having a standard, branded look,” said Mary Mierl. “We have a very strong identity now, and it’s important to protect the brand.”
“When we started, it was just us,” said Leslie Gay. “We just worked with the building we had. Now that we’ve been in business five years, it’s time to bring the look of our studio more in line with the brand, the way we just started it out in Clearwater.”
“Every time a new studio opens, it helps all the studios,” she said. “We are happy that we will be able to serve more people in Tampa Bay, now that we have the additional space for classes and private parties. We can have an open public class of 30 people in the front room, while a private party of 20 is going on in the second room. The new Clearwater studio is doubling the amount of space we had before in St. Petersburg alone.”
Painting with a Twist – St. Petersburg, 2527 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL 33713, 727-327-4488, email@example.com
Painting with a Twist -Tampa, 2821 South MacDill Avenue, Tampa, FL, 33629, 813-839-2409, firstname.lastname@example.org
Painting with a Twist -Clearwater, 1570 N. McMullen Booth Road, Unit H2, Clearwater, Florida 33759, 727-797-7928, email@example.com