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Unusual Franchise Is Picture of Post-Katrina Success


Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney, owners of a business called Painting with a Twist, had been friends for several years and were always coming up with new business ideas together. Six years after Hurricane Katrina, they've found great success with one that met a unique need in post-Katrina New Orleans — a place to kick back, relax and have fun with friends.

"We talked about concepts ranging from architectural salvage to science fairs," said Deano. But when they came upon the idea of owning a business that hosted "painting parties" — where people come, learn how to paint, have a glass of wine and enjoy each other's company — they knew they had a good one.

We wanted to do something to lift the spirits of people where we lived after Hurricane Katrina," Deano said. "Not only was New Orleans ready for a change, but so were we."

The pair opened their store, called Corks N' Canvas, in Mandeville, La., in 2007.

The business was quickly a success and the two opened three more studios in the New Orleans area.

"People instantly loved the idea of enjoying a glass of wine and creating a painting," Deano told BusinessNewsDaily. "Suddenly, a couple who was moving to St. Petersburg, Florida, asked if they could set up a shop there and all of a sudden, we were in the franchise business."

The parent company, now called Painting with a Twist, uses local art instructors as guides and allows customers to come as groups to create one-of-a-kind pieces of art, enjoy each other's company and bring wine and snacks.

They currently have four company-owned stores (all called Corks N' Canvas) and 54 franchised locations that operate under the Painting with a Twist banner in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. They expect to have 100 stores open by the end of 2012.

It costs less than $100,000 to open a franchise and starting inventory includes nothing more than canvases, acrylic paints, brushes, napkins and cups.

Timing was right

While much of New Orleans business growth after Katrina was about dealing with necessities, Painting with a Twist seemed to address a different need.

"Coming out of the storm, there was sense of people just wanting to feel better," said Maloney. "It's not that we planned it this way, but Painting with a Twist has played right into that."

Maloney thinks there's another reason New Orleans was so receptive to their business ideas.

"There is such an open culture in New Orleans — we are a melting pot of so many different cultures and backgrounds, so people are always open to trying new things. I truly think that’s a huge part of our success so far," Maloney said.

Deano also thinks that New Orleans was ripe for a place for people to gather and be together.

"We've all come out of [Hurricane Katrina] with a real sense of camaraderie and growth and everyone here is supportive of new businesses opening — from a neighborhood po-boy shop to a new clothing store. Everyone wants New Orleans to thrive," Deano said.

Social media for a social business

While some companies rely on advertising to marketing their business, Painting with a Twist is interesting and exciting enough that people just want to talk about it, especially on social media.

"Facebook has been one of the most instrumental tools in our marketing arsenal," Maloney said. "On the franchise end, we are part of the admin for every local franchisee fan page, so we’re able to be a part of their local pages, while still giving them control. This has been incredibly important for us to help maintain consistent brand messaging. We build it together with the franchisees. We also use a third-party company, Process Peak, which helps us increase engagement and track what’s working for each of our franchisee pages. We all learn from each other’s success, which is the most important part." 

There's a great synergy between social media and the company's core customers, mostly upper-middle-class women between 25-65 years old. In addition to offering classes for walk-ins, they also host bridal showers, birthday parties, baby showers and team-building events.

"Word of mouth is such a huge part of our success, Deano said."Every day, we see people in our classes amazed they were able to paint their own masterpiece — they are snapping pictures on their phones and posting to Facebook before they even leave the building. That’s what it’s all about."


Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.