Recent Commentary
Jul 1

Written by: Jim.Currie
7/1/2009 10:29 AM 


Have you ever desired to allow your inner Van Gogh loose on canvas—if only for one night? What if you could bring along a fine merlot and a dozen of your favorite friends? That is the basic business concept at Corks N Canvas: deceptively simple—and fantastically successful.
While the concept of instructional art is hardly new, the process of surrounding the art experience with friends, wine and a lively instructor is rather novel. And this brainchild of Cathy Deano and Renee Malony has received rave reviews from art aficionados and novices alike. They founded the conceptual art experience following Katrina. In less than two years, their initial studio in Old Mandeville has blossomed into three locations within metro New Orleans and another in Baton Rouge. Better yet, they have begun franchising their turn-key art academy and sold two franchises last month. Several more franchisees are under review… per chance a national art explosion is now originating from right here on the northshore!
“This has been a wonderfully positive experience from day one,” says co-founder Cathy Deano. “Renee and I were walking the lakefront one afternoon brainstorming new business ideas. We had envisioned creating an architectural salvage business; but materials became far too scarce following the storm. While we aren’t professional artists, we are enthusiasts and felt that we could find a market for patrons who would enjoy themselves with an evening of art, laughter and bubbly. “The idea was an immediate success in Mandeville.
Word of mouth spread and soon the partners faced the challenges of a growing business. “We decided early on that part of our formula would be to keep the groups small and intimate. People would react differently if the class was too large of a group. It would feel too much like a lecture or an art class,” commented co-founder Renee Maloney. “We also had to find an ample supply of instructors and subject matter. We are constantly testing different images as to both what people will like and what they will be able to accomplish in the span of two to three hours.”
Deano shared that great instructors have become a hallmark of their business, “We have been very successful at attracting a strong staff. In fact, we now employ about 20 artists (half are full-time) making us one of region’s largest employer of professional artists.” Long-time instructor and Mandeville Manager Stacey Reilly is grateful to now work as a Corks N Canvas instructor. “I love this job, and had been working retail to make ends meet while I tried to establish myself in painting. This has allowed me to work full-time as an artist and also share my joy for creation with so many others. I love this work.”
Others love it as well. In fact, they return in droves bringing along friends and family to share a new experience. “We get lots of groups: the Red Hats, book clubs, and bachelorette parties,” adds Maloney. “One of our best recent groups was a reunion of Brother Martin graduates who wanted to have a group activity that their wives would also enjoy. I think those guys were pleasantly surprised with how much fun they had. Men are often our best students. We also get a number of corporate groups who use this activity for team building.”
Interestingly, the inclusion of liquor is neither the draw nor the highlight. “I think allowing a little wine makes the invitation to come paint much less scary. Many of our guests have a slight fear of trying to paint. We make it easy and painless for them. The canvas, paint and brushes are all prepared and ready to go. The instructor breaks the activity down into small, manageable steps. The enthusiasm of the room makes the process fun and contagious. At the end of the night, each person carries home a tangible reminder of can be accomplished with a good attitude and a little help.”
“The vast majority of our guests are painting something for the first time since grammar school. Most finish their project within the time allotted (that’s one of our key goals) and about 70% report back to us that they later decided to hang their finished piece in their home or office. That’s rather remarkable. How many other new skills can you master in one night and produces something you would publically display on the first try?”
Buoyed with the local success, the partners have now set a course for a national roll out. “We have worked very hard to grow smart and not just accept every request for franchising.” explains Deano. “We’ve been so very fortunate to have effective contacts within the franchising field. Our friends at P.J’s Coffee have provided us with excellent advice as well as an attorney experienced in franchise agreement work. My brother, Edward Deano sent us to Steve Bullock for our trademark work. The franchising process has been very smooth for us.”
“Investors see our concept is unique and fun and have become interested because we have a successful track record with three locations of our own,” adds Maloney.  “We’ve had very nice discussions with a string of franchisees and signed our first two franchise agreements in May. These locations have been for St Petersburg, FL and Lafayette. We have several more in the works for other territories in Texas and Louisiana.” The co-founders punctuated the business plan with a national roll out strategy that may take as little as three years to complete. Both agreed: this has the markings of one, really fun ride. 
Jim Currie is a freelance marketing writer with a secret passion for high art. Unfortunately his own painting talents are limited to use of latex on a roller across the two-story canvas that is his wood home. (Hey, sometimes it’s not the size of the medium, it’s how many coats it takes to achieve coverage). If you know of a local entrepreneur who is suitable for framing in this column, please forward your suggestion to

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