An Artful Expansion: How Lisa Riley Found Success as a Pinot's PaletteFranchisee

This story appears in the February 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Lisa Riley has opened three Pinot’s Palette studios in Tulsa, Okla., in just three years, but she didn’t set out to be a fast-growing franchisee. In fact, she got into franchising, she says, because she “wanted a slower pace of life.” 

Riley was working in Houston for a major oil and gas company, putting in 10-hour days and a three-hour commute, which kept her from spending time with her young son. She longed to relocate to Oklahoma to be near family but couldn’t find work there in her field. It was while enjoying a night out at Pinot’s Palette that a friend pointed out a possible solution: the paint-and-sip company’s newly launched franchise program. 

When Riley brought the idea to her husband, Ben, “he thought I was crazy,” she admits. After several months researching the concept together, they attended a painting class. “Not even halfway through the class, he looked at me and said, ‘We are totally doing this.’ He loved it.” 

While an artistic experience was enough to convince her husband, it was the company’s technology that won over Riley. “The places I’ve worked at are all Fortune 100 companies, so my bar was set very high,” she says. “But Pinot’s had this technology system behind the scenes that was so beyond what I had expected. I can run all three studios from my cell phone—it is that advanced.”

In July 2011 Riley became the company’s third franchisee, and the first to take the concept outside of Texas—a development that had an unexpected twist. While working to get the necessary licensing to begin construction, Riley learned that Oklahoma’s liquor laws would prohibit the franchise’s bring-your-own-wine business model. 

“You could have heard tires screech in my head,” Riley says. “But I called the corporate office immediately and explained, and [CEO Craig Ceccanti, president Charles Willis and I] said, ‘Well, let’s embrace it and make this happen.’” 

Riley was tasked with building a bar within her studio, and the Pinot’s corporate team got to work building the software to support it—with her input. “Two weeks before we opened, we rolled out the system,” Riley says. “It was a huge change, but it worked.” 

Ultimately, making the business model more flexible has benefited the franchise as a whole. Today, bar locations make up nearly half of the Pinot’s Palette system.

Riley’s first studio—complete with bar—opened in March 2012. Within four months, every class was selling out. Her second location proved just as popular, with 17 private parties booked ahead of its April 2013 opening. 

Despite some initial apprehension about whether a city with fewer than 1 million residents could support a third location, Riley took another chance. “We just opened our third studio in August,” she says, “and it has blown our forecasts of what it would do out of the water.” 

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