Six Years. A lot has happened in 6 years. I have seen customers come, go, come back again, disappear after being regular fixtures to the studio, move away, get pissed at the experience or at me, been yelled at, been treated like trash, been looked down upon by artists, been hugged, been thanked, helped people celebrate, grieve, get through hurts and illnesses, painted so many things, cancelled classes we loved, taught classes we didn’t love, shampoo, rinse, repeat. One thing that doesn’t change is my why. Why did I open Lush Art? It certainly wasn’t for a get rich (fast or slow) scheme. It wasn’t because I just wanted something fun to do, didn’t want to work my tail off, wanted a little side job.
Lush Art has been a labor of love since before we opened our doors. I worked 80 hours a week at the beginning, for no pay. I didn’t pay myself for two years. TWO YEARS. That first year I lost SO MUCH MONEY and it took another year to recoup those losses. I kept going. Even when it was hard, even when it wasn’t what I expected it to be, even when people didn’t believe in my mission. Why? Because I believed in this idea. I knew what painting had become to me as a person, a woman, a wife, a mother. I had never painted really. Then I moved across the country from Arkansas to North Carolina with a baby and didn’t go back to work as a hair stylist. I was slowly losing myself day by day. Missing a creative outlet, missing adult conversations, missing my independence, missing me. I started painting because it was an affordable outlet. I taught myself. Looking back my artwork was mostly horrible. But it wasn’t about the art. It was about me, about who it was making me, little by little I came back to me. I even became more than who I had been. Painting was something that had nothing to do with being a mom, a wife. It was just for me.
Then my friend Jodie and I cooked up (well more likely we drank up) this idea of painting things we liked for our friends. It was working, slowly. And then my husband lost his job. And we ended up moving to Georgia. I DID NOT WANT TO MOVE HERE. DID NOT, AT ALL. I was angry, and sad, and disappointed. Jon saw how unhappy I was and suggested going to the bank and getting a loan and starting a Lush Art here. So we did. On a hope and a prayer and a small line of credit. I made a list of what I wanted, I found the space, and I fought tooth and nail to make it happen. I cried. I yelled. I cussed. I remember signing a three year lease and couldn’t imagine living here for 3 years. I even had a clause put in the lease if we had to move before the time was up.
I happy danced when I sold those tickets.
My first class has two whole people in it. Every month we barely squeaked by. I saw other businesses come and go. I realized the power in hiring help, and made the sacrifice to pay others before paying myself. Even though I had never owned a business before, I knew the importance in building it strong before paying my pocket. I hired Nancy, so I wasn’t teaching every single class, which would strengthen our offerings. I slowly added more staff.
I also made the decision at that point to think completely outside of the box. I pay my instructors in a way no other studio pays. I pay them a commission of their class sales. This makes my payroll so much higher than the standard but it also helps them to feel invested. They want to promote their own classes and the others at the studio. It has created an amazing loyalty that goes both ways. We have very little instructor turnover. It allows me the freedom to not live at the studio, I trust them all to get the job done, and done well each and every time.
And now I feel at home in Warner Robins, in my studio, in my life, in my roles of wife, mother, boss, artist, owner. Are there still bad days, God yes. Is it rainbow and unicorns? God no. Is it just all about painting and drinking? No. There’s constant things to do that have nothing to do with painting, paperwork for days, never-ending bills, inventory, responsibilities, compromises. Is it everything I thought it would be? No, I never could have imagined all the lives we have touched. There are still tears and frustrations and worry and being scared. But the laughs, the friendships, the pride in building something so amazing make continuing worth it.
What will happen in the next 6 years? I have no idea. I am sure it will be full of 14 hour days, frustrations, and quite a bit of fun. I am sure it will be full of our crazy band of employees who are more like characters from The Breakfast Club who are all so different and full of anxiety, unlimited creativity, an unhealthy dose of self doubt which leads to very relatable and understanding teachers. I am determined to enjoy the ride. I am lucky to have a Heather who dials down my big dreams with her dose of reality and I hope I have helped her dream and create more than she did without me. I will keep throwing the big ideas to her so she can find tune them and make it all happen.
Has my business been affected by the new DIY craze in town? OH yes. Drastically. Will this new franchise moving to town kill my business like chain/franchises have done all over the country? I don’t know. If you ask me most days if you should start a business I would tell you no. What I really mean is not unless you are ready to devote your life to something that may fail, to work your ass off, to put your all into it, commit to all the work and no pay so you can reinvest in your idea, if you don’t want to hire people who are invested in what your vision is. We have had some hiccups. Like the employee who left on bad terms, the few mean customers, when I have been treated poorly. I have had to learn as I went with a lot of trials and a lot of errors. I have made mistakes, had so much stress over the years, gained 20 pounds because I don’t take care of myself so I can get all the things done.
But I do know Lush Art has something those other places or any places that may come will never have and that is something I will continue to be proud of. So I plan to continue to kick ass every single month to create the best creative painting options for Middle Georgia. I plan to continue to provide a home for those who need a fun place to escape from their reality. A place for people to improve and grow. I will be over here with my own brand of sarcasm and snark cheering on my tribe of employees and customers. I will continue to do it so that other wives, moms, empty nesters, singles, men, women, children can find themselves one paint class at a time.
So join me and raise a glass to cheers to making it against all the odds. Cheers to yourself. Cheers to dreaming. Come see us and be a part of our tribe of weirdos.