In this Salute to American Success, we’re taking a look at Pinot’s Palette and co-founder Craig Ceccanti. Growing up near New Orleans, Ceccanti worked as a technology consultant after college. A few years later in 2005, his life changed as a result of the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina. Today, the franchise has opened 100 locations in the U.S., and has committed to opening studios in Canada, too.
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Ceccanti was born in North Carolina and moved to a town just north of New Orleans, Louisiana at a very young age. He went on to study at Louisiana State University, graduating in 2003 with degrees in computer science and information systems. Ceccanti began working as a technology consultant, where he built custom software for different companies.
When he was about 24-25, Ceccanti’s mother brought the family to a painting class. He and his brother did not want to go, so they decided to bring along some beer to “have some fun.”
In 2005, disaster struck when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, leaving Ceccanti jobless and looking for work.
“After Katrina, I moved to Houston and found a job quickly,” said Ceccanti. “I had to reestablish my roots in the city.”
While working at his new job, Ceccanti signed up for the MBA program at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, and earned his degree in 2008. While there, he met his future business partner Charles Willis.
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All the while, Ceccanti says the concept of a paint-and-sip business stuck with him. He kept pitching his idea, but no one was taking him seriously. Eventually, in 2009, his dream became reality and Ceccanti, despite having no prior experience with art, co-founded Pinot and Picasso with Charles and Beth Willis in Montrose, a neighborhood in Houston, Texas.
“We put $14,000 into starting the business, but never thought it would grow,” said Ceccanti. “We didn’t know what to expect… there was no industry at that point. Our general goal was to have a hobby business to run on the side.”
At first, the business started off slowly, only offering three classes a week.
“Charles, Beth and I, along with four other original artists, had very small classes for a couple of months,” said Ceccanti. “Charles and Beth sat in classes sometimes, pretending to be customers.”
In 2010, the business’ name was changed to Pinot’s Palette. By the end of the year, the company had opened five locations- three being franchises and two of their own. The next year, the business added 12 more franchises.
“We did the franchise concept right away,” said Ceccanti. “The franchise model really thrives with the owner/operator, since they really know their community.”
THE BUSINESS TODAY
In 2014, Ceccanti says Pinot’s Palette opened “about 30 locations” and its system-wide revenue totaled “$14 million, which was up from $5 million in 2013.” This year, he projects the business will continue to expand and expects “40 locations to open and system-wide sales reaching $22 million.”
Currently, Pinot’s Palette employs over 700 full and part-time artists and is ready to open its 100th location (out of 111). Soon, the company will add eight international locations in Toronto, Canada. Ceccanti, who has since quit his former job to focus on Pinot’s Palette, points out that most of the locations are owned and operated by female entrepreneurs.
“A lot of our owners are stay-at-home moms,” said Ceccanti. “We recruit people who are passionate about the concept and we have a very talented pool of people to pull from.”
ADVICE TO FUTURE ENTREPRENEURS
Ceccanti stresses the importance of managing money and creating a good support network, things he’s learned over the years of running his business.
“You can’t manage the money like it’s your personal wallet,” said Ceccanti. “Cutting corners will jeopardize the business. “