There’s serious wisdom in the advice to have a hobby outside of your work, and this is something that Charlene Ridlon, owner of Art As You Like It, understands intimately. Art As You Like It is an all-purpose art studio out of Waite Park, Minnesota, that’s been open for 10 years and, with creativity and invention, weathered the storm of the latest recession.
“One thing I’ve learned,” Charlene told me, “Is that people do not eliminate hobbies and interests. They may cut back, but people need a creative outlet. Coming to a studio to do art is a non-essential which can make business unpredictable, but we’ve done a good job of recognizing those unpredictable times as soon as they happen and running a special or promotion to get people in.”
There is also only so much people are willing to invest in hobbies. “We cater to the customer that’s crafty but not knowledgeable,” she said. “Most of our customers have an interest in pottery making, for instance, but not enough to go buy a wheel and keep it in their dining rooms. We’re who they come to instead of trying to start an in-home studio.”
When Art As You Like It started back in 2003 it focused on pottery and clay making exclusively but as the economy bottomed out the studio had to find something less expensive to appeal to a new type of budget. “That’s why we introduced glass fusing back in 2008. It gave customers an inexpensive option for art and helped carry us through too. We also noticed the wave of paint your own canvas gaining popularity and started classes on that last year.
“Most of what I do is R&D for new techniques, new products, and emerging trends. It helps keep me interested in doing other things and has given Art As You Like It a lot more product offerings.”
How does a studio establish an online presence?
The web continues to level the playing field for small businesses to emerge and prosper, and Art As You Like It takes advantage of multiple outlets. I know from my own personal experience that having a Facebook page, a Pinterest, a blog, and a website to keep up to date while running your business gives me a brain warp. But while we may complain about additional workload or having too many outlets, it is unarguably a great way to grow your business.
“The internet gives small business an upper hand,” Charlene reflected. “We have a better competitive advantage over larger businesses because we can really use it to set expectation and connect with our customers. I look at it as a brochure to sell before our customers come in the door. It lets people see the price beforehand and makes it so they don’t have to ask the (often embarrassing) question of how much it costs.”
Word on the web used to be that you should keep your price sheet off your website so as to not scare people away, but more and more service providers are laying their costs out there to be seen ahead of time. “I see our website setting expectations because parents want to know if they can afford to bring all three of their kids in but then if they find out it’s $15 per child that’s something they’ll have to budget for. Knowing this up front can help parents save to treat their kids when they time is right for them.”
As far as using social media for the studio, Charlene has found power in pictures. “I look at Facebook as almost another website. It helps to establish trust and interaction with customers. People love to see pictures of themselves and will share that with friends and family. If we put a picture of a girl painting pottery up on our wall and then the parent sends that to the little girl’s grandmother, the next time grandma’s in town she might just treat her to pottery painting.”
Art is everywhere but in today’s infinitely connected world, the artist can have a hard time knowing where to fit in. “The bottom line,” she said, “is art brings joy. It starts conversation, creates inspiration, sparks discussion and observation. Artists are usually not able to please themselves as easily as they can please others, but receiving a piece of art is like getting a little piece of joy.” The internet, perhaps, just makes spreading that joy a bit more viral.
Online Scheduling for the Studio
“We mostly use TimeTap for reservations and classes,” Charlene told me. “We still drive a lot of business from walk-ins, but for group bookings or birthday parties, your system works fantastic!” Art As You Like It uses TimeTap online booking to help keep the staff organized and block out time slots.
“It helps me to expand studio time virtually,” she added. “If people want to make a reservation at 2:00AM on a Sunday night, be my guest. It’s another way to connect and let customers see availability. We see a huge spike in traffic each year around October and it’s great for customers coming in large groups to be able to book bigger tables so their party can sit together when they come in the studio on a busy Saturday.”
Using the Google Calendar sync also helps the staff stay organize so everyone knows the availability for any particular date. “It took some time for me to get everything set up the way I like it, but now that it is it saves me time and extends our studio hours.”
Art As You Like It has been a TimeTap user since September 2012