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Thursday, May 23, 2013
Ashley Ribbon Cutting

“One of the most rewarding parts of this experience was when I had my soft opening and all my friends and family came – it was so much fun.  Everything came together so perfectly.  It was really awesome to see everyone having a blast at something I’d worked so hard on.”

The word “artist” has certain connotations:  Artists are creative types; free spirits.  They’re quirky – maybe even a little eccentric.  Artists are not, generally speaking, known for their business savvy or fierce entrepreneurial skills.  But Ashley Gardner will be the first person to tell you that she’s not your typical artist.

“I know, based on almost every artist I’ve worked with, that most artists think with one side of their brain – and only that side,” she says.  “I’m more businesslike in my thinking – I just happen to know how to paint.”

Ashley Gardner was hired as an artist at Pinot’s Palette in 2010, back when the company was a single studio in Houston’s eclectic Montrose neighborhood.  Since then, the company has become one of the fastest-growing franchises in the country.  And Gardner, who joined the company looking for an artistic career path, has grown, too.  She’s risen through the ranks from studio artist to corporate trainer – and now, three years later, she’s putting the final touches on her newest masterpiece:  Her own studio, located in her hometown of Oklahoma City.

 

From Painter to Corporate Trainer

As it turns out, Gardner’s “businesslike” thinking has been the key to her success with Pinot’s Palette.  Ashley, who studied fine art at Oklahoma State University, was instrumental in the development of the company’s artist training program.  Additionally, she helped develop the incentive system that keeps Pinot’s Palette artists motivated to create fresh, relevant additions to the franchise’s painting library. 

In addition to teaching classes, all Pinot’s Palette artists must create a minimum of one new painting a month.  New paintings are submitted to franchise owners for approval, and, if approved, the artist is paid for her time and the new painting is put on the studio’s class schedule.  The most popular paintings are added to the franchise’s “master library” – which means that they can be taught at any location across the country.  Each time an artist’s painting is taught, she earns a royalty.  It’s a powerful incentive for painters who, like Gardner, have a bit of an entrepreneurial streak.

“When I was still an artist, I created paintings like crazy – I probably submitted three or four a month,” says Gardner.  “And my paintings ended up being really great sellers.”

Gardner’s paintings were so successful that Pinot’s Palette owners Beth and Charles Willis and Craig Ceccanti eventually asked her to leave the Montrose studio for a promotion.  The company was expanding, and they needed someone to help train artists in other locations across the country. 

“I became the corporate trainer for all of our new locations,” Gardner says.  “I loved traveling to new locations and meeting studio owners and cool artists in all of these different cities.”

 

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Entrepreneur

Although Gardner loved most aspects of her career as an artist trainer, there was one thing missing:  her family.  One day, she approached the management team with an idea:  She wanted to open a franchise of her own in her hometown of Oklahoma City.

Everyone agreed, and Gardner left Houston in October of 2012 to begin scouting for the perfect location for a new studio.  Being an insider, she had some advantages:  She understood the importance of foot traffic, and she knew that she should find a “destination location” – someplace fun and hip, with restaurants, bars, and shopping nearby. 

Eventually, she found just the right space for her studio, and Charles Willis helped her navigate the build out process.

“Every franchisee has their challenges – and for me, it was learning the lingo the contractors use,” she says.  “The space used to be a warehouse.  It was built in 1904, everything in the building had to be pulled out so we could start from scratch.  Luckily, Charles was there to give me a side lesson in all of that stuff.”

The building’s age gives the space a decidedly artsy vibe – but it has also been challenging at times.  “I’ve got a whole wall that’s made of brick.  But it’s historic brick, so I can’t drill into it,” she says.  “I had to hang a hundred paintings on the wall – without drilling.  We ended up using Velcro.”

It’s been an exciting process for Gardner, and she’s been thrilled with the level of support she’s received. In addition to supporting her throughout the build out process, the marketing team has helped her come up with fun ways to generate a buzz before her studio’s grand opening. 

“I’ve been able to do a ton of marketing – I’ve gone to charity events, festivals, and other unique event activities,” she says.  In addition, she has used social media and traditional media buying to help get the word out.

Gardner has also received lots of help and support from her family.  “They have been incredible in helping me get ready for my grand opening,” she says.  “My dad, stepdad, mom, and stepmom have all given up their weekends to come help me out.  One of the most rewarding parts of this experience was when I had my soft opening and all my friends and family came.  It was really awesome to see everyone having a blast at something I’d worked so hard on.”


Disclaimer and Pre-Disclosure
Entrepreneur Magazine 2013 Franchise 500 List
Entrepreneur Magazine 2013 Franchise 500 List
Entrepreneur Magazine 2013 Franchise 500 List
Entrepreneur Magazine 2013 Franchise 500 List
Franchise Business Review 2014 FBR50 Franchisee Satisfaction Award Winner
International Franchise Association