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From Idea to Startup

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From Idea to Startup: Artist Molly Friedman Cowan brings the painting party to you

By Caroline McMillan Portillo
cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/17/16/50/12kkd3.Em.138.jpeg|475
    - COURTESY OF THE CREATERY
    Molly Friedman Cowan talks with bars and restaurants to determine days she could come to teach painting – usually on slower nights as a way to boost foot traffic – and then people peruse upcoming classes at the-createry.com and sign up. The Createry has been in business about three months.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/17/16/49/JHa2t.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - COURTESY OF THE CREATERY
    “It’s (Groupon) gained me about 100 customers at this point,” Molly Friedman Cowan said about getting the word out about her new business, “and it’s people who would not know about The Createry had they not seen it on Groupon. … ”
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/17/16/50/1ijils.Em.138.jpeg|473
    - COURTESY OF THE CREATERY
    Through her traveling business called The Createry, Molly Friedman Cowan brings painting parties to Charlotte bars and restaurants where artistic novices are most comfortable.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/17/16/50/UuRRN.Em.138.jpeg|369
    - COURTESY OF THE CREATERY
    Through her traveling business called The Createry, Molly Friedman Cowan brings painting parties to Charlotte bars and restaurants. She has already hosted parties at Mellow Mushroom in Ballantyne, Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub in uptown, Revolution Pizza and Ale House in NoDa, and The Peculiar Rabbit in Plaza Midwood.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/17/16/50/1t8EMV.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - COURTESY OF THE CREATERY
    Within three months of graduating from college with a degree in painting, Molly Friedman Cowan, 23, had launched a small business called The Createry, which brings painting classes into restaurants.

Within three months of graduating from college with a degree in painting, Molly Friedman Cowan, 23, had launched a small business.

And though many of her peers at Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design are now holed up in traditional artist studios, Friedman Cowan is stationed at bars and restaurants, working with beginners.

Her business: a traveling painting party called “The Createry.”

A fusion of the words “create” and “eatery,” Friedman Cowan’s business works like this:

She talks with bars and restaurants to determine days she could come – usually on slower nights as a way to boost foot traffic – and then people peruse upcoming classes at the-createry.com and sign up. Past projects include paintings of the Charlotte skyline, a colorful rendering of three martinis and a piece with flowers.

The two-hour classes cost $35 each, and Friedman Cowan provides all the instruction and supplies including paints, brushes, aprons, canvasses and easels. She gets all the proceeds from the classes, while the restaurant gets all the proceeds from the food and drink people buy while there.

“It’s a lighthearted way to teach people,” Friedman Cowan said. Plus, booze and art – “it’s a good pair. Historically, painters would have a brush in one hand and a drink in another.”

Employee-turned-entrepreneur: So far, she’s hosted parties at popular bars and restaurants, including the Mellow Mushroom in Ballantyne, Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub in uptown, Revolution Pizza and Ale House in NoDa, and The Peculiar Rabbit in Plaza Midwood. Her parties have had as few as three people and as many as 25.

Familiar with the paint-party business model, Friedman Cowan spent her senior year working for a company called Paint Nite, which hosts painting events at bars and restaurants in more than 25 cities around the country.

Friedman Cowan alone led 150 parties in nine months. So after graduating the spring, she decided to start with a new blank canvas: Charlotte.

Taming expenses: Though her business model isn’t completely new – many art aficionados have opened studios for painting parties in recent years – Friedman Cowan’s plan makes for low overhead costs, which she needed.

Just getting the business license, supplies, website, business cards and other logistics cost around $5,500, she said.

Over the last couple of months, Friedman Cowan has run specials on a number of daily deal sites, including Groupon. Though running a Groupon itself isn’t very lucrative – at 50 percent off, she’s making $17.50 per person, and then Groupon takes 50 percent of that proceed – it is getting her name in circulation.

“It’s gained me about 100 customers at this point,” Friedman Cowan said, “and it’s people who would not know about The Createry had they not seen it on Groupon. … The hardest part about a startup is letting people know you’re there.”

Getting the gig: Before approaching a bar or restaurant, Friedman Cowan looks at Yelp reviews and the spot’s social media presence. If the pages have a lot of activity and customer interaction, she knows she has a better chance of getting the word out about her offerings.

When she walks in to speak with an owner, she has a one-minute PowerPoint presentation about how her paint parties will bring them business and allow for little disruption. For example, the paint she uses is nontoxic and washes off with soap and water. If the business is interested, she books a date right away.

Though she just started three months ago, Friedman Cowan’s calendar is getting full.

She has about 20 events scheduled for November and another 10 for December. She’s also now taking her painting parties to retirement communities.

“It’s so funny how timid people are when they first sit down,” Friedman Cowan said. “Then people have a glass of wine and suddenly they’re more comfortable. … These people are so excited and pleasantly surprised when they see what they made.”

McMillan Portillo: 704-358-6045; Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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