Painting With a Twist

It seems there’s a new business opening across Detroit quite frequently these days.  While it’s encouraging to see several number of programs focused on start-ups providing support and resources for those wanting to start a business, there’s always the question of sustainability.

According to the SBA, close to 66% of will survive their first two years and about 50% will make it to its first-year anniversary.  The challenge is to provide resources to help a business, not only to have a successful launch, but also have an opportunity for long-term survival.

Bucking the first-year failure trend, however, is Painting with a Twist, which is co-owned by sisters Michelle and Donna Lewis.  They opened a downtown Detroit location in October, 2015, and proudly describe PWAT’s experience as “an extraordinarily fun environment where our guests (referred to as Twisters) become an artist for the day.”  Those “Twisters” receive instructions by local artists on how to create their own masterpiece which they when completed.  The mantra is simple, “A Little Bit of Paint, A Little bit of Wine and a Whole lot of FUN!”

I recently sat down with the Lewis’ sisters to better understand how they’ve bucked the odds and thrived during their first-year in business, plans for 2017 and beyond and whether or not expansion will occur across the city.

Lee:  It’s been a year for your Detroit location.  How’s it going? 

Donna: This venture has been unbelievable and successful thus far. It’s hard to imagine that we held our first class just one year ago. The community has been welcoming and the support of the local government, businesses and residents of the city has been overwhelming. We have by far exceeded our expectations and more during this first year. This type of support encourages us to continue our efforts to give back to this astounding community.

Lee:  You recently celebrated PWAT’s first anniversary.  How did you recognize this significant business achievement?

Donna:  We celebrated our “BIG” 1-year anniversary with a pARTy, Twisted Style a couple weeks ago. Accolades to our entire dedicated Painting with a Twist-Detroit/Downtown Team who were all instrumental in our success. Our one-year anniversary was inclusive of each team member as they make things happen each and every day in our studio and have since day one. It was a night to remember with Painting, lots of games, special giveaways, laughs, dancing and just FUN, FUN, and more FUN!!!! Special thanks to BAM BAMZ for providing pizza, Pure House of Vin for providing wine.

Lee:  What key learnings can you share?  How’s the downtown experience been so far?

Donna:  Listening is key to optimizing our guests satisfaction. We not only visually observe but we also engage in meaningful conversations in an effort to capture the needs and expectations of our guests experience which prompted us to add late night classes/parties from 10:00pm –midnight. We periodically schedule team meetings to address studio and guest concerns. These meetings are also instrumental in keeping our team trained to remain a step ahead of our competitors. We set high expectations for our team as to keep our focus on providing excellent service to keep our guests smiling and returning to our studio for more TWISTED FUN!!!

Michelle: Detroit is truly on the cusp of a comeback. Downtown offers variety and you can now find everything from restaurants to shopping, entertainment, sporting events, businesses, and high end living is even headed back to Downtown Detroit. People are loving the Downtown Detroit atmosphere as it is once again becoming the place where people enjoy to walk and feel safe doing so.

Also, in listening to our guests, we have learned that Detroit residents really find pleasure coming Downtown and having the option to enjoy the liveliness of activities such as Painting with a Twist.

We as sisters have also learned countless things about each other in this business adventure. Most importantly as partners, we have learned to agree to disagree yet coming up with a final solution that works for the betterment of our business.

Lee:  What about your challenges and how did you overcome them?

Michelle: The most challenging phase of this journey were the many obstacles and hurdles we encountered with the City of Detroit processes which are now jovially behind us. The paths with permitting and licensing were not clear-cut and were frustrating at times. We kept the faith, remembered our vision and pushed past those enduring moments by developing relationships with awesome City of Detroit representatives and local business owners who were willing to offer assistance and direction to help us manage and understand the process.

An additional challenge is the occasional parking complexity for our guests.  Being located in the downtown area with so much new activity, our guests do encounter issues accessing our location and parking. We try to take advantage of the downtown events while remaining mindful and keeping abreast of local activities in an attempt to minimize conflict when scheduling our events at the studio.

Lee:  You’re located downtown.  With the influx of new residents and employees, where do you attract customers?  

Michelle: The vast majority of our customers are Detroit residents who reside outside of the Downtown area. However, we do a great volume of Team Building and Corporate events with local Downtown business. We also draw customers from the entire metro area and Canada looking for an amazingly fun activity in the area.

Lee:  You shared with me the importance of having customer-centric marketing plans and social media are a crucial strategy.  What’s your overall marketing approach?

Michelle: A good marketing strategy takes the approach of drawing from solid market research – knowing the geographic area you are doing business in; focused on the product, service and experience you are delivering and understanding the demands or nuances of your customers – all the while delivering that so you can be sustainable.  Our business is about working to build immersive experiences that engage our Twisters and makes it fun. From the moment you walk into our studio you are immersed in vibrant colors and vivid artwork on our walls. When booking a paint session online you are again immersed with strong visuals from artwork selections to actual photos of Twisters painting in the studio. When you visit our social media platforms you can see customers having fun and can visualize yourself in the picture having fun also. Along with our team members, who act as our ambassadors, our marketing approach is very personal and appeals to the human senses for being creativity.

A secret weapon when it comes to marketing and promoting our business is our external public relations support team. It has been proven to be one of our greatest investments. Marketing on social media has worked well for us but our public relations teams has been predominant in taking our business to the next level by reaching out to local media, news and radio which is key to success and growth.

Lee:  What advice would you give to those looking to survive beyond the first year?  What’s some of the best advice you can share with other entrepreneurs looking to do business in Detroit? 

Donna: The first year can be highly challenging and obstructions can be expected.  However, you must remain committed, work your business consistently and daily to the best of your ability. Your business can only be as good as the effort you give. We as Entrepreneurs tend to try and do too much independently. It is important to have a strong support team to delegate duties so that you focus on the growth of your business. Consult will successful, professionals for advice. Expect that your business will experience up and downs, so don’t celebrate too much when things are great and don’t give up when things slow down. Remain positive and keep working towards your vision and goals.

Michelle: Network and develop relationships with the community/Detroit, other businesses/business owner, and outreach business organizations. Talk with people, spread the word about who you are, what you do and what you have to offer.  No one can represent you or your business better than you.  Be the face to your business.

Lee: What are your plans for 2017 and beyond?  Any plans to expand to other locations across the city? 

Donna: The primary goal is continue our growth in this positive direction. Being in business for only one year and ranking in the top 20 PWAT studios in the country is breathtaking, however, our studio is aiming for a higher plateau (top 10) in 2017. This can be achieved by continuing to deliver an incredible and memorable experience one guest at a time so that our guests return for more GREAT fun!!!  I also want to keep involved in the community “giving back” and sharing our fun art experience with as many people as we can reach.

Michelle: We are always looking for the great opportunity to grow our Painting with a Twist partnership. We look forward to a potential new location to expand and share our concept.

Lee:  Other thoughts?

Michelle: With the outpouring of support from our Twisters, we look forward to continuing to serve our community with the hopes of expanding in the near future. Our awesome fans keep us busy ensuring that they are fully satisfied with our services and this makes busy the greatest feeling ever.  It is gratifying to be able to employ local artists to making lasting memories with our guests. We also make ourselves easily accessible to our guests via our website and we constantly monitor our Facebook page and Instagram (@PWATDetroit) to maximize our interaction with our amazing Twisters.