Hand a canvas and some painting supplies to a not-so-budding artist, and a blank stare may follow. But give this same Picasso in the rough a corkscrew and wine glass, and you’ve got a franchise opportunity.
Such is the rationale behind a string of new businesses that seek to draw customers out of their shells through group painting and perhaps a Pinot Noir.
Started in 2007, Painting with a Twist began in the New Orleans suburb of Mandeville, La., as a way to give back to the community, which had recently been pummeled by Hurricane Katrina.
“We were looking for something that people could enjoy and take them away from what they had been doing, which was thinking, ‘Do I have enough insurance?’” said Cathy Deano, the company’s co-founder.
The idea was a hit.
“People were coming from all over,” said Renee Maloney, the other co-founder. “They were driving two bridges to come to this little town to escape, to immerse themselves in art and forget their troubles.”
The pair drew seed money from their personal savings and later expanded to four stores with help from a local bank loan.
“We banked with this bank for four stores so they could see the growth — they could see the momentum,” Maloney said. “We had a personal relationship with them so they believed in the concept.”
The business began franchising after two married customers broached the topic of taking the concept to St. Petersburg, Fla., where they were retiring. Owners are not required to be artistic since separate instructors typically lead the group classes.
The company has since painted the country with a total of 67 franchised locations. To date, the franchises have generated $20 million revenue. (Related: How to Build a Brand)
Deano and Maloney encourage interested applicants to send in an application via their franchise inquiry form. Potential locations then undergo a demographic study to see if they have a large enough surrounding population and do not intrude on neighboring locations’ territory.
Franchises must pay up-front fees of $20,000 in addition to a 6-percent royalty fee on gross revenue and must spend $1,000 on advertising each month.
Wine and Design co-founders Emmy Preiss and Harriet Mills also chose to go the franchise route instead of expanding solely through corporately owned locations.
The pair launched the first store in April 2010 after testing the paint party idea during a girls’ trip to Charleston.
“After two bottles of wine and a fun night out, Emmy and I woke up the next morning and to my surprise, my painting was fabulous,” said Mills, despite her self-proclaimed lack of painting skills at the time.
Since Preiss and Mills were on a limited budget, they turned to grassroots advertising.
“We really did a lot of free marketing — social media,” Mills said. “We talked about it at bars, the Laundromat, J.Crew.”
Preiss suggests that small businesses ramp up their networking efforts and social media outreach on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
“Become a member of your city’s local chamber, and they have an enormous array of events and gatherings to support and promote your business,” Preiss said.
They sold their first franchise to two former instructors, a married couple who opened a store in the neighboring city. Since then, the company has grown to 17 locations and expanded to Virginia and South Carolina.
“It really boils down to the cost — it’s $10,000,” Mills said. “We’re the lowest franchise fee we think for the paint party world out there.” Owners must also pay a royalty fee of between 8 and 10 percent, Mills said.
Both sets of co-founders emphasized the importance of their involvement in the community. Each Painting with a Twist franchise devotes at least one night a month to a fundraising event to raise money to benefit the local community.
Meanwhile, Preiss and Mills put on about two to three fundraisers a month in addition to supporting local school systems. In turn, their community also supports them.
"It's scary to start a business, but if you have a business that you want to do, just go for it, and at the end, your community is going to support you as a hard worker," Mills said.
Email us at SmallBiz@cnbc.com