The Irvins have made it their business to have fun

Owners: Kermie and Algy Irvin
Location: The Woodlands and Kingwood, Texas
Number of full-time employees: 8 contracted artists
Founded: 2009
What it does: Lifestyle franchise that provides fun,
instructional art classes
2010 Revenues: $218,836
2011 Revenues: $272,253
2012 Projections: $327,600 (The Woodlands); $230,000 (Kingwood)
How They Made It: Strong community ties, aggressive marketing plan, and commercial clients that send groups of employees to Painting With a Twist to participate in team-building activities.

Kermie and Algy Irvin Jr. own two Painting With a Twist enterprises in the Greater Houston area. Their businesses are part of a trend toward “lifestyle franchises,” a segment in which both franchised and independent ventures cover leisure pursuits such as jewelry-making and beer brewing. The husband-and-wife team have found their niche by helping people unwind with a paintbrush in one hand and a glass of wine or a soft drink in the other.

The company was founded as Corks N Canvas in 2007 and began franchising as Painting With a Twist in 2009. It currently has 66 franchise locations nationwide. The concept pairs instructional art with friends, drinks, snacks, and a lively instructor to produce individual works of art. Customers such as Jennifer Martinez pay $35 for a two-hour class or $45 for a three-hour stint at the easel, surrounded by fellow art lovers. “It’s the most fun you can have with a group of friends and walk away with a great piece of artwork,” says Martinez, who takes part on a monthly basis, most recently with a group of 36 friends assembled using Facebook. “It’s so much better than going out to a bar.”

The Irvins purchased their first Painting with a Twist franchise in December 2009 in The Woodlands, Texas, and their second this past January in Kingwood. Lifestyle franchises took a hit during the economic downturn because people didn’t have the money to spend, says Max Jones, a business coach with The Entrepreneur’s Source, a franchising resource. “As people are feeling more comfortable about their financial future, they’re starting to come back,” he says. “Lifestyle is a big issue. People want to go out and enjoy themselves. That’s what these offer.”

There’s nothing quite like a natural disaster to make you rethink your life and work. In 2005, Kermie, 40, worked as an engineer in the maritime industry, and Algy, 41, worked in the oil industry and as a commercial photographer. The Irvins lived in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city.

That was a turning point for the couple, who relocated to Houston the following year. As part of their rebirth they decided to become business owners and invested $80,000 of their own funds to open their first Painting With a Twist location. Their initial cash outlay covered the building lease and franchise fees, the latter of which included all equipment, supplies, artist training, studio setup, and “a few months of buffer until the studio was self-supporting,” says Kermie, who still works as a maritime engineer.

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