May 25, 2018 By Suzanne Robertson

After Hurricane Katrina, Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney looked for a way to help their neighbors de-stress during that difficult time. They discovered a magic combination – adult beverages and art.

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The pair founded Painting with a Twist® (PWAT). The company creates a meaningful, fun experience - customers sip wine while painting together. Today there are over 340 PWAT Franchise locations nationwide.

Here’s the story of how two good friends became franchise owners and how they are successfully growing with funds from an SBA loan.

Trying to Keep Up

Mary Grupka and Lisa Scibetta worked together for 10 years for the American Red Cross, a hard and often stressful job. Both women frequently worked 70 – 80 hour weeks and spent lots of time on the road.

“If we keep this pace up we’re going to be 70 without doing anything else,” they thought.

“We had an “a-ha” moment when we realized we weren’t getting any younger,” says Mary, speaking from her PWAT studio in Buffalo. “We wanted to do something that was fun and happy and had always talked about different opportunities on days when the job was tough.”

An Out-of-the-Blue Question

One day, out of the blue, Lisa asked, “Have you ever thought about opening a business? I’m thinking of a franchise.” Lisa told her that she and her daughter had gone to a PWAT event and thought it was cool and fun. Mary attended a session one Friday evening with her adult children and had a great experience.

“It was the first time I’d painted in 30 years. For a couple of hours, everyone was happy and checked their cares at the door.”

Lisa started gathering the paperwork necessary to open a franchise and together the pair flew to Louisiana to meet with founders.

“We had two goals,” they say. “One: failure was not an option. Two: we needed to balance our lives.”

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Going For It

“We used both self funding and an SBA loan to get off the ground. It took about $130,000 to get up and running.”

To find artists to staff the studio and run classes, the women gathered resumes, connected with local colleges and used social media.

“We held mock classes and picked the best candidates to create a fun, cross-generational culture. By the time we opened, we had a group of people that had our backs. Three years later, our original group is still with us.”

Lisa describes their early experiences.

“We were excited and terrified. We traveled with the team to New Orleans for training and then hosted a soft opening to get our legs underneath us a little bit.”

Keeping Up With Demand

Soon, the studio couldn’t keep up with demand. Lisa and Mary found themselves having to turn business away.

“When we first started, we were only thinking about one studio as a bridge to retirement and to support ourselves. Strategically it was a good opportunity for us to be the next ones to open another studio. Buffalo is big enough for two.”

They came across a perfect site for their second PWAT studio in a plaza setting next to a popular restaurant with lots of foot traffic. The pair went thorough the franchise process again, hired a manager and launched their next studio.

They opened the second location without a loan.

“That turned out to be a rookie mistake,” they admit. “There are always so many more expenses that come up when you get in the weeds.”

Mary and Lisa used credit cards and a line of credit to cover the unexpected costs, planning to pay them back easily. However, summer is a slower time at PWAT studios and they found themselves unable to get ahead on paying off the expensive debt.

Lisa says, “We needed to do something. We had a good relationship with a local bank. They simply weren’t responsive to our questions regarding consolidation and we were frustrated by their lack of follow up.”

They knew there had to be a better way. If they could get their monthly bills back down to one logical payment, they could create some breathing room.

The women started Googling and came across SmartBiz Loans. They were skeptical at first.

“You hear horror stories,” says Lisa. “That merchant cash advance was a bad decision and we weren’t sure we wanted to go through the process of an SBA loan again.”

Like many SmartBiz® customers, the pair was pleasantly surprised with the ease and speed of the SmartBiz Loans application.

“One of the things we appreciated through the process was that we didn’t waste any time. Ken (their SmartBiz Relationship Manager) was great. There were clearly nights he stayed late to get our stuff done. It exceeded our expectations.”

Mary and Lisa secured a $100,000 SBA loan from a SmartBiz Loans bank partner with low rates and a ten-year term. They immediately put the low-cost funds to work.

“Our first step was debt consolidation,” they report. “We were putting out $6,000 a month and now we’re paying $1,100 a month. It’s a significant savings. We’re staying ahead of the curve instead of just trying to keep up.”

Now that they have additional cash flow, they plan to launch new marketing and advertising initiatives. PWAT has an excellent reputation in the community with great word-of-mouth referrals. They can now increase traditional channel marketing with creative strategies, like offsite events, to target their key demographic.

Working Side-By-Side

How do Lisa and Mary work side-by-side every day?

“One of us does back office support and marketing. The other concentrates on sales and customer service details. We compliment each other very well and this provides us with balance.”

Because of their Red Cross background, both Lisa and Mary wanted to include a philanthropic element along with small business ownership.

PWAT made that easy - a core value of the company is to focus on giving back. Painting with a Purpose is a monthly fundraising event held at all Painting with a Twist® locations.

“It’s important to us in our little corner of the world to make a difference,” they say.

Now that both studios are humming along, the pair is focused on the future.

“Our expectation in a year from now is to continue to be more solid and stronger,” says Lisa. “In five years we’ll be five years closer to retiring. In that time we want the business to continue to succeed and sustain itself a little more. Everyday there’s a new crop of people with kids and people turning 21. We constantly reinvent ourselves to keep the energy high and keep reaching our audiences. We want a happy, healthy balance.”

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