The Art of Paint-and-Sip Franchising

The paint-and-sip industry is a little more than a decade old. People show up to drink while an instructor slowly guides them, step-by-step, through the creation of a prechosen design. The idea was pioneered by Painting With a Twist, which two women in New Orleans started while looking for a reason to gather after Hurricane Katrina; it now has 200-plus locations, more than a third of which opened last year. Based on growth, it was rated the No. 1 franchise in Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list.

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A typical Paint Nite teacher is a young, full-time artist or an older art teacher. Many, like Boston’s Callie Hastings, who is now on staff at the company, once taught preschool. She says teaching 4-year-olds how to paint isn’t all that different from teaching drunk people: “They have short attention spans. So you have to talk in short sentences.” She was surprised to find that people didn’t choose classes based on date or location, but on the painting itself. They will drive an extra 45 minutes, past two other Paint Nite locations, to execute the pastoral landscape that will go perfectly in their dining room. To avoid copyright issues, all the paintings have been created by Paint Nite artists, and there’s a huge selection. One of Paint Nite’s first crises came when artists got mad that other people were using their works in classes. Now instructors give $10 per session to the creator of the work.

Choosing the painting that brings in a crowd is an art in itself: The work can’t look so challenging that you’d have trouble reproducing it drunk; it should involve nature and have enough contrast to look good on social media; and, if possible, it should knock off a famous impressionist. Most artists learn this the hard way, despite the advice in Paint Nite’s starter kit. “A lot of them pick paintings based on what they like,” McGrail says. “One artist, Raisin—that was his first and last name—had a giraffe coming out of an elephant penis. Not surprisingly, it didn’t sell that well.” After years of pushing artists to hire a nude male model—Hermann and McGrail wanted to call it Asstastic night—without anyone taking them up on it, they recently got an instructor to do it in Boston in June. Demand was so high they had to rent out a theater.

—Joel Stein, in Bloomberg Businessweekprofiles a franchise with a $39 million valuation called Paint Nite, which arranges painting classes led by artists at bars. Participants pledge not to use the words “mine sucks.”

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