I wrote a post called How to Open An Art Studio for Kids a few months ago and the response really surprised me. It seemed to touch a tender spot for people who have been on a similar journey. You can read the post here. It basically shares my 20 year adult journey towards opening an art studio. Writing that post made me realize that there are also some concrete things I have learned about opening an art studio for kids that might be of value to you. I hope my journey inspires you to go for your hopes and dreams in a way that feels right from your gut and that our experience helps along the way.
*Almost all these pics are by Neil Apodaca
I opened Meri Cherry Art Studio for kids, almost two years ago. We will celebrate our two year anniversary July 1. It has been a whirlwind of setting goals, meeting them, setting more goals, learning, growing, on boarding, taking risks, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes and a whole lot more in between. In ways, I think our experience has been somewhat unusual for a new business, but in other ways we go through the same struggles and challenges almost all new businesses go through. The unusual part is that I was blogging for 6 years prior, building my social media following and teaching in LA for over 15 years before I opened the studio. Our journey did not just start when I opened the studio and our success did not happen in a vacuum. I think overnight success stories are an urban myth. I talk a lot about that in part 1 of how to open an art studio for kids.
I love to reflect on my journey and I hope that there are little or big golden nuggets you can glean from my experience so far here. At times I am overwhelmed with gratitude by our early success and my intention is to continue to learn and grow and serve our community as we keep going.
Here are the Top 10 Things I’ve Learned from Opening an Art Studio for Kids so far…
1. It Takes a Village
This one is the biggest for me. When I think of doing this on my own there is just no way. I immediately go into panic. Right out of the gate when we opened it was me and Olivia. Olivia had been working for me teaching at home classes when the demand got too big for just me. So when we opened Olivia was there to help me teach and get things going. Then came Eryn, our studio manager, in month 3 I think. I didn’t even know I was hiring until she walked through the door and all I could say was YES. It was the best thing I could have done because we were growing so fast. Hiring Eryn was a lesson in trusting my gut. I was scared at first to make the financial commitment but I knew I could handle it deep down. Now we are a team of 6. 2 full time, and 4 part time, and myself. My role is way more behind the scenes now as I work on new projects that I hope will serve our larger community. Our team runs the studio and I am forever grateful that I can help support and coexist with such incredible, capable and committed women.
When things were moving so fast right out of the gate I think it was normal for us to talk about expanding. People were approaching us weekly about a second studio or franchising and it was a lot to take in and hard not to get totally excited about. Even though we have big dreams of Meri Cherry Art Studios in select cities all around the world, we are learning to take our time. My husband, Ev, who is a big proponent of franchising, still reminds me, “We’re so young. It’s only been a year/a year and half/ two years. We haven’t even seen what this studio can do yet.” It was hard for me to hear that in the beginning but it was great advice. The studio continues to grow in ways I never imagined and setting up solid systems so it’s running like a well oiled machine has become our priority before talking about a second studio.
We moved homes, did a major remodel, and opened the art studio in a span of 5 months. It was intense! My girls really struggled in the beginning. Sharing their mama with 100’s of other kids in this new studio space wasn’t exactly on their wish list. We had to do a lot of soul searching, communicating, reading, and therapy to make it through those first few months. I learned how to talk to my girls about the studio and remind them that regardless of who I am helping, I always love them the most. My little one clung to those words like a an amateur climber dangling from a cliff. I was worried there for a minute. But we made it through and now we have certain boundaries in place to keep the studio a happy place for everyone. My girls stopped going to birthday parties at the studio, even if was a good friend. It was just too hard on them to share me. We took breaks from going at all in the beginning, just to keep it light. Now we’re in a good way and my girls love coming for Open Studio and we occasionally do family days together there. In addition to the kids, I think it’s crucial to have buy in from your life partner. I am blessed to have an incredibly supportive and business savvy husband who supports me every step of the way. I couldn’t do this without him and I’d say that having Ev on board on this journey has been everything for me. We are a team and I can’t imagine doing half the things we have been able to accomplish without his support.
For me having a good lawyer is peace of mind. Things come up when you have a business, sometimes scary things that can really put a wrench in your day to day anxiety level, especially if you’re prone to anxiety like I am. Having the proper waivers, contracts, signage, etc. is a real part of doing business. It’s definitely not the fun part, but having a support team here can make it way lighter and more manageable. If you’re in LA, we use Vero Law Group. What I really appreciate about this group is that you pay a monthly fee for all questions no matter what, rather than an hourly rate, which can be astronomical if there is something that needs attention. All specific projects are additional, but I can email my attorney any time with a question and get a quick response and I love that. So yeah, lawyer up.
I wish someone had made this more abundantly clear to me from the beginning. I just didn’t really get it. I knew I needed a place for people to park, but I thought “oh great, there are 3 spots here. That’s plenty.” Yeah, no. You need more than three spots to serve your community in this type of business. We’ve gotten lucky and figured out some ways around it and we make it work, but my next venue will have killer parking. Believe that.
I am part of an incredible business group with Jadah Sellner, called Love Over Metrics. Jadah also has a podcast called Lead with Love that I absolutely adore. I am learning so much from working with Jadah and listening to her podcast, and also working with the great women in the group with me. I can’t say I lead with love all the time yet, but I’m really working on Leading with Love in all areas of my life and business. It’s easy to do with the kids in the studio, but there is so much more to running an art studio than working with the kids. With so many real responsibilities, like rent, payroll, and making sure the bathroom is clean, it can be easy to get caught up on the endless list of todo’s. Jadah is teaching me to Lead with Love, serve my community the best I can, take imperfect action and let go of the other stuff.
Meri Cherry Art Studio is a Process Based Art Studio for kids. We are not a fine art studio. We do not do directive draws on canvases where each child will leave with a perfect painting of the Eiffel Tower. That can be really fun. It’s just not who we are. I had to get really comfortable with that fact, and encourage my team to get really comfortable with that, so that our community knows what to expect when they walk threw our doors. As we’ve grown and more people are hearing about us, we’re learning that we have to get even more clear on our messaging to make sure we match expectations and attract the right fit for what we do. Speaking our truth is like a muscle that gets stretched over and over again and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made and excited for us to get even more clear on our message and value system so we can better serve our community.
Being a business owner is not for the faint of heart. It is the real deal, with real responsibilities. I have to make thousands of dollars every month just to make payroll. Thousands. My brother has his own business and I would hear him talk about payroll responsibilities and just sort of think woah, that sucks. Now, I think woah, this is amazing. This is a real business that supports amazing women through a job they love. I want to work even harder to support my team and show them how much I appreciate them and how much I believe in them. Having said that, sometimes things change, and hiring the right fit can be a challenge. At the end of the day, the buck stops with me and I’ve got to step up to the plate. Eryn, our studio manager, went on maternity leave a month early this past year and we were not prepared. I had to work my butt off and not see my family pretty much at all for over a month and just make it work. And you know what, we did and I’m a better business owner for it, but I’ll tell you, big girl pants were on.
This is a business. You have to make sales or you won’t be in business. I remember Bri Emery from DesignLoveFest saying something to the effect of you have to be ok with shouting your name from the rooftops because no one is going to do it for you. I really took that to heart and started tooting my own horn. Be proud of what you offer and let people know about it. It’s great. Stand behind it and shout it from the rooftops. And ask your friends to shout about it too. I really learned this when I launched the Process Art Toolkit. I was so proud of what I had put together, I wanted to shout about it. I still do. I wanted to get it to every person I knew who was interested in Process Art. If you do great work, you’re doing a mitzvah (a good deed) by sharing it. The world needs Process Art and I am serving the world by putting it out there. That is something to shout about.
Not everything is going to be rainbows and unicorns. I remember getting a call from a home party we did about a year ago, saying the party itself was great, and everyone had a great time, but the mom was disappointed in the aesthetic presentation we provided. Our bins didn’t match, our mats weren’t all the same, etc. I was dying on the other end of the line, but you know what, they didn’t match, and she was right. We had gone from backyard business, to serving the greater Los Angeles area and it was time to up our game. You better believe I went to the store and picked out some fab table clothes and matching bowls. That will not happen again. I also thanked that mom from a very genuine place even though I was totally embarrassed in that moment. I am truly grateful for the feedback. So yeah, listen to your customers, they have nuggets of gold too and there is always room to make things even better.
Overall, at almost two years in, and seemingly lifetimes away from when I hustled from backyard to backyard doing what I loved in the pic above, I am truly inspired and grateful to have had this experience in my life. I am motivated to keep going and do my best every step of the way for the highest good. Being an entrepreneur and business owner is not always an easy road but it is an exhilarating one, and I am more satisfied than I’ve ever been in my life. I am learning everyday by stepping out of my comfort zone, taking imperfect action and listening to my intuition (and Ev. I always listen to Ev.)
I hope this is helpful to you and I am so excited to share part 3 along my journey. xo, Meri