Ever wonder how successful businesses get started? Do they start with a structured business plan and stick to it or do they evolve over time? BusinessNewsDaily asks small businesses to take us behind the scenes and reveal the truth about the struggles of starting and running a small business.
Charles Willis is hoping the "paint and sip" trend continues its current growth. Since opening in 2009, Willis, the president Pinot's Palette a franchise where patrons can learn to paint while enjoying snacks and wine, has seen his franchise grow to have locations in 12 states. BusinessNewsDaily spoke with Willis about the growth of his franchise and what other businesses can take away from their story.
BusinessNewsDaily: Please tell us on a simple paragraph or sentence what your business does:
Charles Willis:Founded in 2009, Pinot’s Palette is an upscale, entertainment art studio based in Houston, Texas, which combines the appreciation of art and wine through guided, step-by-step painting classes by a trained local artist. Today, 13 studios host hundreds of painters each week and the company has become one of the fastest-growing Paint and Sip franchises in the country.
BND: Did you have a formal business plan or did your business just evolve naturally?
CW: We had a formal business plan, but as we moved forward, it evolved. We had several areas of development that became more concrete as the business grew. We wanted to have our core ideas down on paper to set benchmarks, especially for financial statements, but had flexibility.
BND: How close has your business stayed to what you originally envisioned it to be?
CW: Pinot’s Palette has grown to be fairly close to what we originally planned. Our mission in the original business plan—Paint, Drink, Have Fun — has remained exactly the same. However, over time, we adopted several more values to add to our original five, which include customer excellence, community commitment, new product development and environmental awareness, among others.
There are things that play major roles in our business today that were never really realized until the demand was at a point that it needed to be developed. We have since created a proprietary technology suite that saves franchisees from having to spend so much time on logistics and, instead, to focus on marketing the business. Those things didn’t come about until we began growing our corporate presence and expanded into franchising.
BND: How did you finance the business at the beginning or at any time you were in business?
CW: In the beginning, we financed Pinot’s Palette out of our own pockets and through sweat equity. We painted the walls ourselves, hung all the paintings, installed wall fixtures and more to save money. But as we opened more studios, we paid contractors to do that work, so we could focus on marketing. It’s a successful model and we encourage our franchisees to use vendors, so they can focus on getting more customers in the door earlier. It pays off dividends in the long run.
BND: If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently when starting your business?
CW: Looking back, we would have spent more time marketing and less time being so involved in the build out of a studio. Now, we leave that to the experts and focus on what we do best: getting customers in the door. I also would have left the corporate world a little earlier to dedicate my time to Pinot’s Palette full-time. It took me a year after we opened the first location to leave.
We also could have opened up studios more quickly, but at the very beginning we were more concerned with taking our time to make sure everything was done correctly and consistently, so now we have a tried and true model to pass on to franchisees.
BND: What's your best advice for someone with a great business idea who wants to give it a shot?
CW: It’s so important to talk to other business owners and bounce ideas off them. We’ve found the business world is very open to giving feedback and you can learn valuable lessons a lot earlier in the process instead of having to learn on your own through mistakes. If you’re planning to start a business, you’ll have a lot of people trying to give you advice, but choose wisely — not everyone is qualified to give business advice. Listen most closely to those who have been in business for themselves.