After ‘Shark Tank’ Surprise, Wine & Design Trends Upward
An inside look at one of the Wine & Design studios.
Shortly after the economy crashed in 2008, Wine & Design CEO and founder Harriett Mills had been laid off from her job in sales and was in search of a new one. It was on a weekend trip with a friend that she would find the inspiration for her concept, which is now a national brand. “We had made a trip down to Charleston,” North Carolina, “and had stopped at this paint-and-sip spot,” said Mills. “The kids and the husband weren’t along so it was a treat. I’m really not a painter and here I thought my picture would turn out terrible, but by the end we had had so much fun, drank too much wine, and I left with this incredible painting.”
Mills enjoyed the experience so much that she wanted to take part in expanding the concept. She ending up asking the owners if they would be willing to let her franchise and open another location. Fortunately for Mills, she ended up receiving a no, which pushed her to start her own paint-and-sip brand, Wine & Design.
The first Wine & Design location opened in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2010 and was a huge success, she said. Mills wanted the studios to look very “modern.”
“Our studios are very white, gray, and black. They’re all very chic looking,” said Mills as she talked about how well the business went over when it opened. “We had people driving from over two hours away to come and experience what we had to offer.” Because of the lack of brands in the paint-and-sip genre, Mills and her team weren’t sure at first how to approach pricing a session at the studio. “We started out more lean than we are now because we weren’t sure what the appropriate pricing was.” A year later, Mills began to take on franchise partners and expand across the country.
In the following years the brand continued to expand and by 2016 it had more than 50 locations. When talking about how the brand expanded so fast, Mills made it clear that they hadn’t spent a ton of money on advertising. “It was the customers who were sharing the good experiences they had with others or posting on social media. Most of our growth was very organic.”
The expansion led to Mills’ infamous episode on the TV show “SharkTank” in 2017. During her spot on the episode she would wow the judges by bringing a nude model on set. Kevin O’ Leary, one of the judges on the show, was so impressed with the presentation that he invested $500,000 and is still a member of the brand's board. Over the next two years 19 new franchise partners would sign on and join the brand.
“I think people are attracted to the values that we have as a brand,” said Mills. Wine & Design also has one of the lowest franchise fees in the paint-and-sip genre at $25,000 and its initial investment range is between $69,950-$221,200, including the franchise fee.
While most of its customers are women, it does offer events and specials for people of all ages. “Bachelorette parties are very frequent bookings,” said Mills. “We also have some bigger corporations book a night to do team-building exercises.”
The brand offers some other unique services that revolve around lessons for kids, and it also has a special called Wine & Design on wheels where the customer can pick the venue and receive the same experience, or they can partner with parties to donate a portion of their profits to a charity of the customer’s choosing.
As 2019 comes to a close, Wine & Design will end the year with more than 80 locations and has recently broken into the West Coast market. Mills talked briefly about the expansion of the brand looking ahead to the next couple of years.
“We are expanding slowly and opening about 10-to-15 locations a year,” she said. Due to the success each studio has had, Wine & Design isn’t handcuffed by only being able to exist in a certain market or cater to a certain demographic; Mills thinks it will excel anywhere a studio is opened. “I think people are attracted to the values that we have as a brand,” she said.