Devices down, brushes up: At this paint and sip business, tech blends into the background

You don’t need a sommelier to endorse pairing wine with art—the success of the paint and sip industry is confirmation enough. But while the concept of holding a paintbrush in one hand and a drink in the other seems like a no-brainer today, it was almost unheard of back in 2007, when Painting with a Twist founders Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney held their first paint-and-sip event.

Now the largest and fastest-growing paint-and-sip franchise in the United States, Painting with a Twist had humble beginnings. “We thought we would open one little studio in Mandeville, Louisiana,” says Deano. Ten million paintings and 340 franchises later, Painting with a Twist has stretched far beyond its small-town Southern roots.

A photo of Painting with a Twist co-founders Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney.
Painting with a Twist co-founders Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney.

Forty minutes north of its famous neighbor, New Orleans, Mandeville is Painting with a Twist’s headquarters, and the little city Deano and Maloney call home. The two women, both Louisiana natives, met there more than a decade ago while volunteering in their children’s kindergarten class, and have been friends ever since.

In 2007, their city was still struggling with the devastation Hurricane Katrina had caused two years earlier, and Deano and Maloney felt called to do something to help bring hope back to their community.

When a friend suggested they organize art classes to raise people’s spirits, they decided to go for it. After all, Deano was already the president of the local art association and says she’s always been a creative person, and Maloney could offer practical business experience from helping run her family’s orthodontist practice.

Neither Deano nor Maloney were artists, so they recruited an art teacher friend to lead the class, then picked up supplies at a craft store and took a leap of faith. After the first class, “We asked everybody, ‘would you come back and do it again?’ and they said yes. And then we said, ‘would you pay for it?’ and they said ‘yes,’” Deano recalls. The idea for a small business was born.

At the time, Deano felt it was “no big deal,” but within their first year they realized they were onto something. The ‘a-ha!’ moment came one brutally hot night when the power went out in the middle of a class. Deano and Maloney told students they could set their paintings aside and come back a different night for a free class to finish. But the students wanted to stay.

“Neither Renee or I are artists, so we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s something bigger going on here,’” Deano says.

Two of the participants parked their cars to face the studio windows, and the class finished their paintings in the glow of the headlights. “We asked them, ‘why are you doing this?’” Deano says, “and they said, ‘you don’t understand. When we’re here, we don’t think about our husbands, our kids, the storm, our jobs—all we think about is our painting and getting it done.”

That night was their epiphany that the paint-and-sip business wasn’t just about painting and sipping—it was an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

A photo of a Painting with a Twist class
A professional artist guides a Painting with a Twist class through creating a painting step-by-step.

That hustle and bustle usually includes a barrage of email, texts and push notifications, Deano points out, which are refreshingly absent during their classes. “I think that’s part of our allure—people are forced into a digital detox. When you’re painting with us, you’ve got your paintbrush in one hand, your glass of wine in the other, and the only time you pick up your phone is to take a picture and post it—if you even want to.”

While Painting with a Twist customers are setting down their devices to pick up a paint brush and a glass of wine, technology is nonetheless humming behind the scenes.

“People think of paint and sip as a very DIY, crafty thing,” says Trey Manthey, Painting with a Twist’s director of technology, “but the customer journey—from learning about us all the way to making a reservation to coming to a class—it really relies on technology.”

A photo from one of Painting with a Twist's
“Paint Your Pet” is one of Painting with a Twist’s most beloved classes. Participants send in a photo of their own pet in advance, then complete a portrait of Fido in the studio.

Specifically, on Microsoft technology. Painting with a Twist builds everything from their website to their franchises’ class reservation system on Visual Studio Professional, then hosts it all on Windows Server 2012 IIS. SQL Server allows users to store and analyzes data, which helps the company track what classes or paintings are most popular, so they can offer more of what their customers love.

Since nearly 90 percent of Painting with a Twist’s revenue is processed through their website, it’s crucial that they can adapt quickly online. “Having all our ecommerce and point-of-sale hosted in the cloud has allowed us to be pretty agile and make changes to meet different market needs,” Manthey says.

Though thriving now in 39 states, Painting with a Twist has never forgotten its early days of bringing hope back to its community. The company hosts system-wide fundraising classes three times a year, with franchises across the country donating proceeds to communities hit by natural disasters.

In addition to the company-wide fundraisers, individual Painting with a Twist franchises also hold monthly charity events to support their own communities. So far, Painting with a Twist studios have raised $4 million for local nonprofits, from March of Dimes to wildlife sanctuaries.

A photo of children holding a painting at Painting with a Twist.
Painting with a Twist also offers summer camps to introduce elementary-school-age children to art.

When Deano reflects on the last decade of running Painting with a Twist, those philanthropic efforts and the opportunity to make art feel accessible have been two of her favorite parts of running the business. The company introduces elementary-school kids to art through summer camps, invites animal lovers to immortalize their beloved dog or cat, and helps couples create a painting whose two halves make a whole.

“Art is not just for the multitalented, it’s not just for the rich,” says Deano. “It’s really for everybody, and everybody should feel comfortable with art.”

All photos courtesy of Painting with a Twist.