Craig Ceccanti - Founding Member & CEO of Pinot's Palette

Date

Mar 11, 2013

Bio: Craig Ceccanti is a founding member and CEO of Pinot’s Palette, Houston’s first and premier, upscale BYOB Painting Studio. As a pioneer in the newly developed and rapidly expanding Sip and Paint industry, Craig has directed an innovative start-up business with one location to a ten-unit concept, which is now being franchised nationwide. Under his leadership, the company has experienced unprecedented growth in 2012 and is on track to open 14 studios this year, in addition to signing 15 franchise agreements.

His contributions at Pinot’s Palette have involved strategy, financing, architecting proprietary studio management technology, developing and standardizing operations, fundraising, building a team-based culture and a purpose-driven brand.

An MBA graduate of Rice University’s Jones School of Business, Craig actively supports young entrepreneurs through The Jones Graduate School Entrepreneurs Organization, as well as charities and alumni chapters in Houston.

  1. Tell us about the Pinot’s Palette concept.
  2. Charles and I have a history of tossing around potential business ideas on the golf course and we had discussed the possibility of opening a Paint and Sip concept. It wasn’t until Beth brought up the market power of girl’s night out and date night that we decided this was the perfect opportunity for us. Within a week, we had a business plan and we opened our first Pinot’s Palette in Houston in May 2009.

  3. How and when did you become involved with Pinot’s Palette?
  4. Charles and I have a history of tossing around potential business ideas on the golf course and we had discussed the possibility of opening a Paint and Sip concept. It wasn’t until Beth brought up the market power of girl’s night out and date night that we decided this was the perfect opportunity for us. Within a week, we had a business plan and we opened our first Pinot’s Palette in Houston in May 2009.

  5. What was your background prior to joining Pinot’s Palette?
  6. Prior to founding Pinot’s Palette, I was involved in management and strategy consulting for various industries. Most notably, I was a technology/custom software consultant, which would later come in handy as I left my job to focus on Pinot’s Palette full time, particularly the brand’s innovative technology, which is one of our top three differentiators.

  7. What are some of the advantages in being a Pinot’s Palette franchisee?
  8. Pinot’s Palette has proven systems and extensive corporate support that differentiate us from our competitors and make us an ideal franchise opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to bring a strong Paint and Sip concept to their city.

    Customer Excellence - Pinot’s Palette studios provide the highest customer service. Our training system provides franchisees with invaluable experience and the confidence to handle any situation. We also provide draft email templates to answer the most frequent questions they may encounter on a daily basis.

    Marketing Strategy - Our business flourishes by word-of-mouth endorsements, so our marketing strategies have been created to generate that type of “buzz.” We share our techniques for reaching the ideal customers in an affordable and effective manner.

    New Product Development - We pride ourselves on setting the industry standard. Bringing fresh, fun and creative ideas to the calendars each month keeps our repeat customer percentages high.

    Pinot Culture - Taking the time to express and create our business culture has defined the type of people we hire to be part of the Pinot’s Palette team. This philosophy creates a customer experience unachievable by our competitors. Our culture, often described as Team Pinot, is an integral part of our business plan and is of the utmost importance to the success of the organization.

    Community Commitment - Giving back is a top priority at Pinot’s, and the ability to support local artists garners a strong, positive impact on the local art community. We donate to multiple community fundraising events throughout the year.

    Environmental Awareness - Every day, small steps are taken to improve the environment through practices such as recycling, the use of environmentally-friendly paint products, and more.

    Innovative Technology - We lead the pack with our high-quality reservation and management systems. These systems allow the computer to do the work, and free up time to focus on running the business and marketing to your local community.

  9. Who is your ideal franchisee?
  10. We are looking for qualified candidates who want to own a rewarding business; someone who has the motivation of an entrepreneur and the drive of an entertainer. Our franchise system is comprised of doctors, consultants, engineers, IT project managers, and pharmaceutical sales, proving the background doesn’t matter as much as the character. Artistic background is not required; a franchisee’s responsibility is management. The candidates we’re looking for should have good people skills, they should have values that fit comfortably within our culture, and they should have the ability to provide leadership in their studio and generate good will in the community.

    Financially, we require that all of our partners have a minimum of $80,000+ of liquid assets. This estimate covers costs associated with start a business, including the franchise fee, business licenses and permits, leasehold improvements, fixtures, furnishing and equipment, computer systems, initial inventory, grand opening advertising, initial three months of capital and more.

  11. Tell us a little about the Paint and Sip Market?
  12. The “Paint and Sip” industry competes with other “Girls Night Out” establishments, including wine, sushi and martini bars, as well as date night options such as dinner and a movie. Other competitors include pottery studios and companies that offer instructional-based, create-your-own-product concepts such as gourmet meal preparation. The price points associated with each of these activities and services are substantially higher than a night out at Pinot’s Palette.

  13. What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?
  14. The number one lesson we have learned is staying true to our mission and values and constantly evaluating ourselves against those. We pay special attention to bringing on team members that believe in the same things we do.

    There were a lot of people that told us franchising was the wrong way to go, but Charles, Beth and I are passionate about working with other entrepreneurs and teaching them how to do what we’ve done. Our background is in consulting, so we wanted to help them open their own successful businesses.

  15. Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?
  16. We have had a lot of mentors over the years. Personally, I’m involved in a CEO roundtable at my alma mater, Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business. The Jones Graduate School Entrepreneurs Organization is made up of other CEOs that are also Rice alumni. We meet monthly for several hours and, collectively, they have served as mentors for me both from a professional and personal standpoint. I tell franchisees and budding entrepreneurs that they really need to build a support system around them.

  17. What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a franchise?
  18. Be very thorough and complete your due diligence. Write a full business plan. Ensure that you’ve gone through all the details of how things will work. Understand all the ins and outs of owning a franchise. A lot of franchisees skip that. Really get to know the leadership of that franchise. It’s a long-term business partnership and they need to understand, believe in and trust in the leadership’s vision of that company. It will impact them greatly down the road.

  19. In your opinion, why do you think that Pinot’s Palette would be a great opportunity for someone?
  20. The growth of the Paint and Sip industry has been substantial over recent years and has proven long-term stability through product diversification, proprietary innovations, centralized marketing and operating systems that are difficult and expensive for independent contractors to replicate. In this economy, Pinot’s Palette is also a very achievable investment requiring low start-up capital and minimal competition. Our franchisees also find gratification in their daily job and offer a worthwhile contribution to the community.

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