Five Kids, a Full-Time job, and the First-Ever Pinot’s Palette FranchisePinot's Palette
“The most common question I hear is, would I do it over again? Would I open a Pinot’s Palette if I knew then what I know now? The answer to that is, yes. I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Alan and Kerrie Barnard always knew that they wanted to own their own business one day – but until a little over two years ago, that dream was still fairly distant. As it was, they had plenty to keep them busy. The couple has five children: the oldest, a son, is in college and the youngest, another son, is nine. Their three middle children – all girls – are active in competitive cheerleading; an activity that often means travel to out-of-state events. Alan has a full-time job in pharmaceutical sales.
They’d start a business someday, they told themselves. They’d do it when they had time. They’d do it when they found the right opportunity.
And then, the right opportunity found them.
“We heard about the wine-and-painting concept from some friends of ours,” says Alan. “They asked us if we’d tried anything like that before. I’d never even heard of it, but it sounded like a cool concept – so we did a Google search to learn more.”
Before they learned about Houston-based Pinot’s Palette, the Barnards checked into a couple of other, similar franchises – but they were turned off by what Alan described as a general lack of communication.
“You couldn’t just pick up the phone and call them,” Alan recalls. “They wanted to do everything by email – I’d ask to speak to someone in person, but they didn’t want to talk. I thought it was very strange. They just weren’t a good fit for us.”
Disappointed – but still intrigued by the Paint and Sip concept – Alan did some more research and discovered Pinot & Picasso (the original Pinot’s Palette name). Then, he and Kerrie signed up for a class. They made it their “date night” – they brought a couple of bottles of Bud Light Lime, and they painted a picture of a guitar. Although neither of them had painted before, the couple had a blast.
By the end of the evening, they were hooked.
The Waiting Game
The day after their class, Alan and Kerrie called studio owners Craig Ceccanti and Beth and Charles Willis to express interest in opening a franchise near their home in Katy. At the time, Pinot’s Palette was a stand-alone studio in Houston’s ultra-artsy Montrose district — and although franchising was part of the long-term plan, Ceccanti and Willis told the Barnards that they weren’t quite ready to expand.
“They didn’t turn us down – they basically told us, ‘let’s do this slowly so we can make sure we do it right,’” explains Alan. “Craig and Charles didn’t want to move forward until they were sure that they were ready and that they had the right support systems in place.”
Alan and Ceccanti stayed in touch, and the two occasionally went to lunch to discuss future opportunities. When the timing was right, Ceccanti contacted Alan with plans to move forward. About a year after their first painting class, the Barnards signed the paperwork to open a franchise of their own under the company’s new name, Pinot’s Palette. They found a spacious location near an upscale Katy shopping area – it had been vacant for two and a half years, and it only needed minor changes to be converted into an art studio.
They opened quickly – very quickly.
“We signed our lease the day after Thanksgiving 2010, and we held our first class on December 28,” Alan says. “So it took us less than a month to get up and running. That’s faster than most studios – but it really helped that the location was pretty much ready to go, except for some minor things like plumbing.”
A Learning Experience: Training, Growth, and the Birth of PTS
The Katy franchise was a learning experience for everyone: Because it was the first-ever Pinot’s Palette franchise, Ceccanti and Willis sought feedback from Alan and Kerrie as they fine-tuned their extensive franchisee training program.
“We were learning from Charles and Craig as much as they were learning from us,” Alan says. “I think it was a good way for them to determine how they should best structure and implement their training for future franchisees.”
The Barnards also got a firsthand look at the development of the Pinot Technology Suite (PTS), a proprietary software system designed to streamline administrative tasks. Ceccanti, a former software developer, created PTS to help franchisees like the Barnards ensure a better work-life balance.
“Craig and Charles are always striving to do more and to make our lives a lot easier,” says Alan, “When we give them suggestions, they find a way to do it.”
Alan says the system’s upgraded POS system has helped him manage time more effectively since it went live a year ago.
“Before the new POS system, credit card transactions were time-consuming. We had to fill out a credit card authorization form, and then we’d process the payment separately via PayPal, and then we’d enter all of the data into the Pinot’s Palette legacy system,” Alan says. “But now, all I have to do is hit a couple of buttons, swipe the card, and all of the information goes directly into the system. It’s awesome, and it’s very user-friendly. I think that enhancement alone reduced the time we spend on administrative tasks by about 25 percent.”
“There’s More to it Than Meets the Eye”
Today, the Barnards’ franchise is flourishing: In addition to their regular painting classes, they book many private parties – Pinot’s Palette is a popular choice for bachelorette parties, corporate teambuilding events, and children’s birthday parties. They’ve even partnered with a local wine bar to co-host special events.
It’s rewarding – but challenging – work for the busy couple. Kerrie, a former elementary school teacher, handles the studio’s day-to-day operations. Alan, who kept his full-time sales job, helps out most nights – and he steps in when Kerrie accompanies their daughters to out-of-state cheerleading competitions. Additionally, Alan and Kerrie also find themselves doing a fair amount of mentoring – Ceccanti and Willis occasionally send franchise candidates to the Katy studio to get a “behind-the-scenes” look at the business.
“I think the most important piece of advice I can offer is this: From the outside looking in, the business model looks very simple,” Alan says. “But when you’re the business owner, you have to spend a lot of time preparing for classes and handling logistics. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.”
Despite the hard work and dedication it takes to run a business, Alan says that he and Kerrie have never regretted their decision to open their franchise. “The most common question I hear is, would I do it over again? Would I open a Pinot’s Palette if I knew then what I know now? The answer to that is, yes. I would do it in a heartbeat,” Alan says.