Air Force Retiree’s Michigan Business Dishes Up Fun, Therapy and Education
During her 24 years in the Air Force, Alaina Turner mainly worked in maintenance of aviation electronics on various types of aircraft, from helicopters to fighter jets. She indulged her lifelong love of art in her free time as a way to alleviate stress from her high-pressure Air Force responsibilities and as a creative outlet.
After retiring from the military as a master sergeant, Turner turned her avocation into a vocation by opening a Painting with a Twist paint-and-sip studio in Grand Rapids, Mich., this past April. She calls it her “happy place” and “the best job for me.”
Turner’s love affair with Painting with a Twist began several years ago in Florida, when she visited as a customer. Soon she was instructing and entertaining at events and began to think about owning her own studio.
The Lead-Up to Investing
Turner looked before she leaped into a franchise, though. She talked to other military veterans who had launched businesses to determine whether entrepreneurship would be a wise move for her, and she took a course in which veterans learn more about the demands and skills required to run a successful business.
Military veterans typically do well as franchisees because they are accustomed to collaborating and following a system, and her service experiences figured into Turner’s decision to move forward as a Painting with a Twist franchisee. “I was lucky to have joined the military. It taught me so much and allowed me to see and learn things that most people could never even imagine. I have traveled to 21 countries and counting. I completed my associates and bachelor’s degrees and started my master’s before I retired. I had a family, made lifelong friends, laughed, learned, cried and grew. I discovered Painting with a Twist while stationed in Panama City, Fla.”
Painting with a Twist Offerings
Turner’s medium of choice is acrylic paints, the same as in Painting with a Twist studios. “It dries fast and allows quick-and-easy fixes if a customer doesn’t like something about their art. It also allows us to create art that can fit into a scheduled event and is accessible to all levels of experience. A customer can walk in at 5 years old or 95 years old and still create something wonderful.”
Painting with a Twist customers can tackle various styles. “We have abstract, still life, animals, landscapes, family/kids’ art, waterscapes, couples’ paintings, masterworks, people and seasonal art,” Turner says. “We offer art creation on 16-by-20-inch wrapped canvas along with various upgrades ranging from wood paneling, shiplap, framed canvas, porch leaners, cutouts and various other shapes.”
She further blows up any notion that Painting with a Twist is a one-trick pony by saying: “We have countless offerings such as black light painting events, private parties, paint-pour events and add-ons such as glitter, fairy lights and wineglass painting. Customers can also create soy wax candles, choosing a scent and container customizations. Next summer, we plan on introducing daytime/weekday camps for kids.”
Turner happily markets all available options. “I advertise primarily through an online marketing platform called Eulerity, along with social media – Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Google – and local print.”
Turner’s Experiences with Franchise
Her Painting with a Twist experiences have been interesting and heartwarming. “When I was teaching as an artist in Panama City before I became an owner, a couple was arguing at the check-in desk. He obviously didn’t want to be there. I interrupted and tried to assure him he would do OK and have fun. I was trying to defuse the situation and hoped to help him have fun. By the end of the event, he brought me his painting to show me all the things he had done and how much he had learned. It was wonderfully reaffirming with what we do at Painting with a Twist – we help people relax and have fun.
“And now I have some repeat customers, several of which come for unofficial therapy. Our concept helped people through Covid and other difficult times in their lives. One of our regulars, a father-daughter duo, return whenever she flies in from another state to help him through chemo. It’s an outlet for them to just enjoy the moment.”
Customers paint in one of two rooms at Turner’s franchise: The main party room can accommodate 47 customers, and the private party room has a capacity of up to 24. She has eight part-time artists on staff. The studio is in a standalone building that’s shared with one other business. “We are near similar demographic interests such as big-box retail stores that include homewares, clothing, arts-and-crafts stores and restaurants,” Turner says. Studio hours are typically 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, and weekend events are held throughout the day.
About the Painting with a Twist Franchise
Although Turner is an artist, that’s not a requirement for franchisees. Painting with a Twist leadership says the best franchisees are those who have a passion for people. Business skills are a plus, and community involvement is a must. Turner, for example, hosts fundraisers for nonprofits and donates art supplies to schools.
Painting with a Twist’s headquarters team teaches franchisees how to hire and train instructor artists so they can break down the session’s example painting into easy-to-follow steps for visiting novice painters. When Turner has needed help or has questions, she has tapped support from various sources.
“Understanding the business side of things has been a challenge as this is all very new for me. Marketing, financials, operations, employees, taxes have all been a learning experience. When I can’t figure something out with my own research, I ask the franchise, other veteran business owners and other franchisees in the system, who have all been invaluable. I also use a tax specialist.”
No matter how bad the day is or how much I have on my plate, coming to the studio and doing what we do, everything melts away and I am truly in my happy place.
No Regrets, Many Joys
Despite the learning curve, Turner practically gushes about owning her Painting with a Twist franchise. “It’s amazing! I absolutely love working with the artists, the customers, the work we do. There is nothing else like it. My artists love working here, and many work here for fun. I think that speaks volumes.
“When I was an artist working at the studio in Panama City years ago, I realized that I NEEDED to do this. I had to figure out how I could make this happen and still take care of my family financially. The hardest part was reaching out to the franchise for that initial talk. It was SO scary, but after I spoke to the franchise development coordinator and Katie Richard, director of franchise operations, I knew I was on the right path.
“As I have said before, no matter how bad the day is or how much I have on my plate, coming to the studio and doing what we do, everything melts away and I am truly in my happy place – as are my artists and customers. This is hands-down the best job for me!” Painting with a Twist has more than 230 studios open or in development in 39 states, and is actively seeking owners in many markets throughout the country.
For more information, visit https://paintingwithatwistfranchise.com/.