While Briana Dacoscos, Jade Miller, Brianna Lagat-Ramos and Tiffiny Shim all swear that they are not generally artistic, last Tuesday night, they all seam-lessly mixed blues and greens on their canvases, creating a night scene of Chinaman’s Hat. The group of friends was celebrating Dacoscos’ birthday — and rather than just do that over drinks at a bar, they were looking for a fun alternative, so they came to Painting with a Twist on Ward Avenue.
That’s the two-fold goal of the so-called “paint-and-sip” industry: to provide a new kind of social experience while inspiring anybody — no matter their level of artistic ability or lack thereof — to get creative.
“It’s always enjoyable,” says Shim, a financial advisor, who’s visited Painting with a Twist multiple times in the six months since it opened. “And you don’t have to be an artist.”
Shim’s group was among about 30 others — a sizable weeknight crowd that’s pretty typical, says Painting with a Twist Honolulu owner Jimmy O’Donnell, adding that Friday and Saturday nights are even more packed.
It might seem like a too-specific niche, but it’s one that’s been gaining rapid popularity. The industry has seen traction throughout the Mainland for years, and more recently has begun to take off in Hawaii — there are several on Oahu alone, including franchisees of national brands like Painting with a Twist alongside independently owned companies.
While the format varies — some companies are based in studios, others rove around the island to events or partner with bars or restaurants, and some combine both elements — the basic concept is constant: An instructor leads you step-by-step through a painting as you drink. And for all of the businesses, it seems to be as much about the experience — classes often incorporate music and games — as the painting itself. O’Donnell likes to explain it by touting Painting with a Twist’s slogan, “It’s FUN art, not fine art.”
“It’s a different experience from that traditional social Friday or Saturday night out with friends at a bar or restaurant,” says Lesley White of Wine & Design Honolulu, a North Carolina-based franchise. “Everybody leaves with something that they are really proud of — something that they would rather hang on their wall than in their closet.”
“I think that is just really appealing to people — they get a chance to bring that inner kid out and (use) their creativity,” says Katrina Richardson, who runs Wine & Canvas Honolulu alongside her mother Melanie Richardson under a licensee agreement with the larger corporation.
It’s a business model that certainly seems to have mass appeal. There are dozens of paint-and-sip franchises that have hundreds of locations throughout the world. Painting with a Twist, the country’s largest franchise, is comprised of 262 locations nationwide, and as Business Wire reported last week, it opened 56 new studios and signed another 82 franchisee agreements in 2015.
In 2013, Melanie Richardson was a nurse living in Wisconsin when, all of a sudden, everything went wrong. Her father’s health was declining and he had to be placed in a hospice, then her twin daughters, just 25 at the time, were diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Melanie quit her job and divided her time between Seattle to care for one daughter and Wisconsin to be with her other daughter and her father. It was, to say the least, a tough year, punctuated by extreme low points like her father dying and her daughter Katrina spending six weeks on a ventilator in the ICU.
After things leveled out — her daughters are both in good health now — Melanie tried to return to work. But she found that her priorities had changed.
“I decided that the hectic, executive life was just not working for me any longer,” she recalls, “and it was time to search out something that was more what I really wanted to do with my life.”
After discovering the paint-and-sip industry, she knew she’d found it — so she quit her job and left home to fulfill her longtime dream of moving to Hawaii.
That might be one of the more extreme examples, but the idea of entering this market as a big life change seems to be a common thread among local operators.
“I was probably the furthest thing from an art professional that you could think of!” says White. For a time, White was on the fast track up the corporate ladder: She’d landed her first job in insurance at J.P. Morgan, then did HR for a software company. But along the way, she realized she wanted a change.
“I had just hit that point where I realized that this dayto-day experience in the corporate world wasn’t what resonated most with me,” White recalls. “My educational background and professional background had always been so structured and rigid, but I was always a closet artist.”
An off-the-cuff conversation with a friend — now Wine & Design co-owner Roy Jackson — turned into White moving to Hawaii to launch the business.
O’Donnell previously worked in sales and marketing, starting his career at a Fortune 500 company right out of college.
“I was always behind a desk, and I was high-stress and all that, a lot of deadlines to meet,” O’Donnell recalls. But at Painting With A Twist, which he runs alongside wife Megan and mother-in-law Cynthia Fujieki, he actually looks forward to going to work every day. “Everybody always says you will never work a day in your life if you love what you do, and now this is something that has brought that to me.”
When Andrea James started Create A Canvas Oahu as a way to supplement her income as a high school art teacher, she figured the market for this type of business was wide open.
That was in 2012, and while perhaps that was true then, the industry has since experienced an explosive lurch recently, mainly within the last 12 months. Wine & Design has been hosting mobile events for the last year, and opened a studio in June. Painting with a Twist, which has been named the top paint-and-sip franchise by Entrepreneur Magazine for the last three years, opened in August, followed by Wine & Canvas in October.
When those multiple national franchises began to open, James admits she was nervous. “I was concerned (and) saw it as a threat to my business and future growth,” she says.
But curiously, James has found that her fears have so far proved to be unfounded; she reports that Create A Canvas has continued to see steady growth. And, somewhat remarkably, growth seems to be norm for local paint-and-sips across the board (“better than expected” was a common way the owners described their profits). For Wine & Canvas, things are going so well that they aim to open a studio by the end of the year, while continuing mobile operations. O’Donnell says that Painting with a Twist sells out a lot of nights for its public classes and often receives party requests (they hosted 40 private parties in December alone).
In part, it seems that they’ve all been able to coexist thanks to some business savvy — each has its particular niche. Wine & Canvas, for instance, is adamant about making its service available to all parts of the island, while Wine & Design has a breadth of kids’ programs. All classes at Create A Canvas are led by DOE art teachers like James.
For the paint-and-sip industry, it seems to be a “rising tide lifts all boats” situation. Rather than oversaturating the market, the influx of paint-and-sips seems to have created a greater market awareness.
“There are all sorts of companies out there,” White says. “But to be honest with you, anyone who is bringing art to the masses and really helping everybody realize that we are all creators, we think that is amazing.”
That notion perhaps sounds a bit idealistic, but it’s one that other local companies echo.
“So far, it seems as if the more competition there is on this small island, the stronger our business has become,” James says. “There is a growing demand for this type of business, and I can only conclude that the competition has only created more awareness for this type of event, and so it has created more business.”
“I think we are marketing for each other — we are not really in competition,” O’Donnell says. “If people at least get the paint-and-sip concept out there, then (customers) can decide which one they want. We don’t focus on (other businesses), and they don’t focus on us, but I think we all kind of help each other in a roundabout way.”
WHERE TO PAINT AND SIP
Create A Canvas
Mai Tais And Monet
Paint The Night Away
Painting with a Twist
320 Ward Ave., Honolulu
Wine & Canvas
Wine & Design
25 N. King St., Honolulu