A Power Team Will Help You Do So Much with a Blank Canvas

by Martin Lieberman, Staples

Wine and paint parties are all the rage these days. Across the country, these combinations of bars and art classes have sprung up to add adult sophistication to a youthful activity. But what if the entire event could come to you? That's the idea behind Vine Van Gogh, a cleverly named business near Poughkeepsie, NY, that takes advantage of the area’s vibrant art scene and travels to its participants, bringing local instructors and drinks to everything from birthday parties to fundraisers and more.

Founders Tim and Melissa Palladino launched the venture in October 2013, and it quickly caught on. We spoke with Tim to learn why building a “power team” and giving your customers positive experiences have been the secret to their success.

What gave you the idea to start this business?

Whenever we would visit friends and family from out of town, we would be told such great stories about this “sip and paint” thing. As soon as we figured out what it was, not a week later, we had developed a plan to bring the idea home with us.

What makes Vine Van Gogh different from other businesses like it?

We’re proud to have our own spin on the concept by offering a mobile version, versus in a studio like most other “sip and paints.” This gives us the chance to go where the people are and partner with local bars and restaurants, and it gives us an edge when it comes to word of mouth.

What was the “a-ha moment” when you knew your idea was actually a business?

We live in a world that’s so rich in art and culture and we recognized that this was a way to share that with each other. So the “a-ha moment” was when we noticed the largest industries in our area are drinking and art. Put them together with group participation, and you have Vine Van Gogh.

What's your biggest challenge, and how do you handle it?

I would say being all places at once and doing all things at once. As a small business owner, you’re a pioneer. But that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Create your power team. Make a list of trusted experts in your area and ask, “Can I count on you to answer some questions as we’re getting started?” You would be surprised by how many people say yes and mean it. You’re coming to them, asking for “expert” advice. Who would turn down a chance to speak as an expert in their field? Not me!

Other than by sales, how do you define success?

That’s easy: By the smile on our participants’ faces. For example, last night, there was almost a line to thank us. People telling us how much fun they had, how much they needed this time away from reality and that they would be back.

That’s why word of mouth is our favorite marketing channel. Relationship marketing is the best and the cheapest way to get the word out. Just remember that people are more willing to tell negative stories than positive ones, so you have to wow them every time.

What's your secret for making more happen?

I’ll answer this in two parts. First, you must be able to have your customers know, like and trust you. Be human. If you offer a little humility and ask questions like “How we can serve you better?” and are prepared to act on customers’ suggestions, you will win their hearts and their business.

The second part is to have a plan. If you don’t know where you want to go, then how in the world can you get there? Plan, do, review — and then do it again. Every time you do this, you’ll gain the insight to make a more granular plan and be infinitely more effective.

What is one tool you can’t run your business without?

We’re constantly adding events to our calendar, and editing the information on the dates that need to be shared with our whole team at a moment’s notice, so I would say our iPad. When you’re on the go as we all are, it’s a true sidekick.

What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

I would say being independent of anyone who would slow me down. Being a small business owner, it’s very “all or nothing” sometimes, and this allows us to experiment — as opposed to getting comfortable, not growing at all or just getting the job done.

Ten years from now, where do you see Vine Van Gogh?

This may seem a bit lofty, but we have international visions. So I’m planning for “Vine Van Gogh” to be spoken in 100 different languages.

Do you have a great small business success story? Let us know in the comments section below, and we might feature you in a future article!

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