Hands reach for wine and sandpaper – in spirited proportions – on a recent Thursday night at Anders Ruff Workshop, in quaint downtown Pineville.
Ladies, many dressed for a night out, snap photos of each other wielding power drills and brushing stain onto wooden planks, and in a little more than an hour, they’ll hoist their finished products and take group selfies with their new personalized wooden signs or lazy susans. Most will instantly post on Facebook.
This is the hottest new DIY trend in Charlotte.
And the two women who launched this place, Maureen Anders and Adria Ruff, are powerhouses in the world of graphic design and DIY workshops – so much so that just nine months after opening this flagship location in Pineville, they now have licensees opening AR Workshops in 12 cities across the country, with four new locations from Boulder, Colo., to Alexandria, Va., just this month.
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The vibe is farmhouse chic: If it feels like HGTV’s Joanna Gaines (from “Fixer Upper” fame) designed it, that’s on purpose. Heavy canvas artist dropcloths serve as curtains. Canvas aprons hang on hooks that are upside-down hammers painted the muted teal that is the workshop’s signature color.
Anders and Ruff are on-trend graphic designers and astute entrepreneurs to be sure, but it’s their keen sense of knowing how people want to feel while being crafty that might be key to this chapter of their success.
How they got here is another story.
From etsy to celebrities
It was seven years ago in the halls of their kids’ preschool that Anders and Ruff struck up a conversation and quickly keyed on what they had in common.
Both had design backgrounds (Ruff in fashion, photography and graphic design, Anders in engineering and art) and small entrepreneurial design businesses they’d been nurturing while raising their young kids. After just a few playdates in their Fort Mill homes, they decided to launch an online graphic design business together.
No consultants were called, no marketing managers hired. The two settled on the name Anders Ruff because it was alphabetical and non-specific.
They started by designing party goods they could sell on etsy – but instead of customers buying the actual paper items, they pay a fee to download PDFs of Anders Ruff designs, then print those onto invitations, signs, banners and more.
Soon, they were creating party photo shoots for their blog and getting high-profile jobs.
Tennis pro Venus Williams hired the pair to create paper goods for the launch of her clothing line, and Better Homes & Gardens Magazine called, asking them to create and style a multi-page spread for their special Halloween edition. (They’ve continued to do that spread for the magazine every year for the last six years.)
“They found us,” Anders said. “Every time I’d try to reach out to people, nothing would happen. But then, we just kept putting good stuff out there, and we’d get noticed.”
Ruff recalls: “We were watching ‘The Bachelorette’ the season (Charlottean) Emily Maynard was on, and sure enough, she ordered invitations for her daughter’s party from us. We asked, ‘Do you need help with her party?’ and we styled her whole party with the ‘glam camping’ theme.”
Then, the movie studios called.
From paper to wood
Anders and Ruff were hired by Universal and Sony to create downloadable printables for the DVD launches of movies including “Bridesmaids,” “Angry Birds,” “One Direction” and “Hop.” (They created a buffet of items people could print out to decorate their homes for home-viewing parties.)
Even with national attention, about two years ago the printables market was becoming saturated by free downloads, and Anders Ruff sales started to slide. But the women’s blog traffic stayed strong – a sign to them that the craft/DIY market was still healthy.
The pair had worked long distance for a couple of years (Anders’ husband got a job in Milwaukee, so the family moved) and the moment Anders’ family moved back in August 2015, she and Ruff began scouting locations for a craft workshop.
If painting-and-wine businesses and pottery painting remain successful, they figured, so could a boutique painted-wood workshop. After all, wooden signs sell well in stores and boutiques, and customers would enjoy the mix of socializing and creating items they semi-design themselves.
“I think there’s a lot of gratification that comes from doing it yourself,” Anders says. “They hang it on the wall and they’re constantly reminded, ‘I really truly made that myself.’ That satisfaction of making it yourself is way better than going out and buying it in the store. It makes people feel good.”
The former billiard hall in downtown Pineville was dark and dingy, but the pair saw potential. They agreed that everything inside would be DIY, from the giant rolling work tables (built by Ruff’s husband, Matt) to the handsome wood bar (also built by Matt), the hand-painted metal pendant lights and the wooden sawhorse table that holds big rolls of craft paper.
They launched in June 2016 and filled their first classes with friends, with the hope word would get out and business would snowball.
What’s the next trend?
Now, it’s a buzzing girls’-night-out spot, as well as a venue for children’s birthday parties, church group outings, couples date nights and mom-and-daughter activities. Most planks and lazy susans cost around $65; painted pillows are $40 and there are lettering classes for $65, among other offerings.
This month, there are 46 workshops at the Pineville location alone, which holds 30.
Anders and Ruff say they field requests for licensees weekly.
Wood and canvas projects remain their most popular, and they’re constantly expanding and refining their choices for customers. At a wedding show last month, they showcased signs and wood products for farmhouse-style weddings and items that can be given as gifts – giant signs to put over a couple’s bed, customized with a lyric to their wedding song, for example.
They know farmhouse chic won’t be in forever, and that painting wood signs will one day be replaced with another new trend.
“Once that goes away, in five or six years, we’ll have to find something else people can create,” Ruff said. “The DIY trend won’t go away, it’s what people want to create that will change. We have to constantly stay on trend with what’s out there in the design world.”