Female Disruptors: Vernicia Respres of ‘Brushed Studios’ On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
When you have expectations of someone, try to put yourself in their shoes. Early in my business, I would hire artists and push them hard to not only be creative but ensure that customers had an A-1 experience. It wasn’t until I officially created the art myself and taught the classes, that I began to understand how much responsibility I was placing on others. It made me a better leader and helped me better design the customer experience as well.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vernicia Respres.
Having her business skyrocket more than 300% since the COVID pandemic began, Vernicia Respres, a truly inspirational entrepreneur and businesswoman has taken the creative initiative to help her already booming business, Brushed Studios grow and thrive in the most dire of times. We would love to arrange an inspiring interview with you and the black female-owned business entrepreneur to discuss her most successful year so far with her now Virtual Painting Parties. Vernicia is also available to discuss expanding her business having already booked digital corporate events with industry titans including Amazon and Microsoft, as well as discussing the importance of representation for black women in the business ad entrepreneurial space.
Based in Mableton, GA right outside of Atlanta, Vernicia brought to life Brushed Studios in 2018 as a creative outlet for herself and the community. Now strictly virtual, due to the pandemic, Vernicia took it upon herself to get creative with her new business and offer virtual painting parties for people around the world. Two months after offering the virtual classes, and through word of mouth with friends and colleagues in the area, her business took off on a national scale. Brushed Studios now offers worldwide shipping so people around the world can order their supplies from Vernicia and book virtual art classes. Having a creative outlet to balance her more corporate day job as Director of Digital Fundraising for Habitat for Humanity, Vernicia has found her creative and entrepreneurial balance for herself which has led to her massive success.
Growing up with two entrepreneurial parents, Vernicia was exposed to the world of business and its ups and downs at an early age. She also discovered her creative side and love of the arts at a young age which helped shape her into the businesswoman she is today. When Vernicia first began her professional career, she was hired as a radio personality at a local station. Her naturally shy personality lead her to stray away from being a radio personality and she began doing web design for the station and other businesses in the area. This transitioned into Vernicia working in the non-profit world. One of Vernicia’s many accolades include the creation of online fundraising for the American Cancer Society. After working with ACS for many years, an opportunity presented itself at the Carter Center for her to help them transition into the digital space. After working at the Carter Center for half a decade, Vernicia landed her now day job as the Director of Digital Fundraising at Habitat for Humanity where she helped take their online fundraising from $6million to $13million.
When Vernicia is not busy working at Habitat for Humanity or leading classes and corporate events with Brushed Studios, she can still be found being creative in her home space. She recently purchased her dream home in Mableton, GA and is hard at work on DIY projects around the house. Vernicia is also a big foodie and loves to cook and entertain.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
If you looked at my past — you would never guess that I would be where I am today. Born into an urban environment in west Atlanta, my grandmother’s early influence helped me understand that I should want for my life besides falling into the stereotypical traps that an urban environment often creates.
My parents had to find creative ways to provide for our blended family and have been entrepreneurs for as long as I can remember. I learned at an early age that the world can be harsh, and opportunities can be sparse, so you can either be a victim or you can turn your pain into passion.
As a teen, I helped my parents by working in multiple small businesses, and for better or worse, experienced the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Those challenges sparked a duality within me. I craved both the financial security that a traditional career can provide, and I also yearned for the personal freedom that business ownership offers. With those experiences in mind, I embarked on a complex and rewarding path; and I have juggled both a career as a non-profit fundraiser and the life of a business owner for almost 2 decades. Through countless lessons and trials, I have found personal fulfillment and purpose as the Founder of BRUSHED Studios. So far it has been a fun and wild ride, and I look forward to where this journey may lead.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
As an artist, and the owner of BRUSHED — a paint studio that offers a variety of creative offerings –I take pride in challenging the notion that one must be a “starving artist”. I have “tipped the apple cart” by both leveraging my business background and channeling my creative mind to create an experience that pushes past the boundaries of the typical “Art” business.
I believe that creative businesses no longer have to be hampered with typical pitfalls that include lack of funding, limited audience appeal and flawed business strategies. At BRUSHED, we were well on our way to success several months ago — with a full calendar of in-person paint party events.
AND THEN THE PANDEMIC HAPPENED AND IT ALL STOPPED…
Suddenly, as a last-ditch effort to save the business, I decided to tap into many years of digital fundraising experience and try something crazy: Leverage technology — and transform a 100% “in-person” business into a virtual experience. With a mix of fear, determination and necessity, a new idea was born: BRUSHED Virtual Paint Parties & Art to Go Kits.
Over the last several months, we have managed to redefine what it means to connect with others, during one of the most difficult times in U.S. history. Guests can enjoy an interactive activity in a way that transcends location, background and economic status. We have taken an age-old activity and made it something that almost anyone on earth can participate in and enjoy.
We have developed numerous processes, systems, and continue to stretch the bounds of technology to rethink what it means to connect with others. Thus far, we have served thousands of individuals, couples and families — and most recently some of the biggest companies in the world have patronized our little paint studio based in Mableton GA. Shifting our business to digital has led to exponential growth.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Besides the terrible paintings? Or a variety of inventions like a multi-person easel? Lol. Those were epic fails, but the mistake that makes me smile is when I casually broke a decades old business rule: Know your customers! During my time in this creative business, I have had the privilege of attracting clients from some very prestigious Greek organizations. As many of us know, many of these organizations have rich historical backgrounds. I however am not Greek, so early on in my business, I casually mistook one group for the other in conversation. THAT was a hilarious and almost costly mistake. The ladies I was speaking to pounced on me like a kitten on a laser pointer.
I had to charm, explain, and joke my way out of that situation — which was somewhat funny at the time. My business survived, but I made a serious business note: NEVER underestimate the power or importance of CRM (Consumer Relationship Management). I now meticulously track details on every customer and group that works with us — and If I ever have a memory lapse, I simply flash a charming smile and say… tell me more about your history (while I look them up in our database).
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
It may sound strange, but many of my mentors have influenced my life and business decisions from afar. I have carefully followed many powerful businesswomen and trailblazers, that I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting. In my mind (I have a vivid imagination), these women are my friends and colleagues — Charis Jones, owner of Sassy Jones, Mimi G — owner of a D.I.Y. powerhouse and of course, Beyoncé. I not only follow them publicly, I analyze their habits, business decisions and other notable things about their journey like how they balance domestic life with career goals. On a personal level, besides my mom who truly knows how to warmly engage and create experiences for others, a woman named Shayla Simpson changed my life. She exposed me to a world beyond my own at a young age and showed me how exuding grace and behaving tastefully would set me up for success. Finally, I have a WONDERFUL aunt and uncle that believe in me and my mission — and they are always willing to discuss and be supportive of even my most outrageous business endeavors.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
When I first started to explore this creative business, I was told that I needed to make several hundred thousand dollars of investment, I had to hire artists to cover the creative work, customers only wanted to paint certain types of paintings and that big brand paint studios dominated the market so I had little chance of success. I chose to challenge all those notions and disrupt all of those assumptions by building my own company from scratch.
I began to implement a different approach to everything I just mentioned — offering unique art choices, an upscale paint studio and new ways to engage with customers — including offering retail, leveraging strategic partnerships and deploying advanced marketing strategies such as developing constituent journeys.
Although most of this “outside the box” approach to this business has proven successful, there are definitely risks that have come with “disrupting the norm” within the art business. Those include:
1. Drawing attention to yourself — both positive and negative. When an industry is dominated by a “lucky few”, newcomers are rarely welcome. I have had to navigate rough waters with competitors — closely tracking my ideas, duplicating my business strategies, and even sending moles to garner critical information about my business. I try to handle it all with grace.
2. A percentage of time and effort lost on “not so great” ideas. In order to be successful, especially in a creative business, you have to test A LOT of new ideas. You win some, and you lose some — but investing in new concepts that might not appeal to audiences gets risky and expensive. I have tested dozens of concepts to see what works.
3. Some tough but necessary transitions cost you valuable customers –unfortunately, you will experience attrition on your journey toward innovation. Some people just won’t love the direction you are going in — but you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. If you stay the course, you will be rewarded with loyalty from some previous customers and interest from new ones as you evolve.
All in all, no matter how innovative and creative a business is, one thing remains critical, and that is consistency. Regardless of the idea, event or experience, we must offer consistent service and care for our customers — something they can always expect no matter what. A warm smile and a great experience can go a long way, and some in some ways can cover your flaws like a good girdle.
When is disruptive not such a good idea?
If by being disruptive, you must take from others — it isn’t a good idea. Taking from others and not respecting their intellectual or creative property is a big no-no in this industry. Naivety and ambition cannot be used as an excuse to not put in the work to develop your own ideas and concepts. Shortcuts are tempting, but sometimes when you take them (like stealing someone else’s artwork), generates bad energy and the sting of inauthenticity follows you.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. When you have expectations of someone, try to put yourself in their shoes. Early in my business, I would hire artists and push them hard to not only be creative but ensure that customers had an A-1 experience. It wasn’t until I officially created the art myself and taught the classes, that I began to understand how much responsibility I was placing on others. It made me a better leader and helped me better design the customer experience as well.
2. Search for purpose. When you find it, lean in and change the world.
I launched, managed and dissolved many businesses — and it wasn’t until many years into my work did, I really start to understand my gifts and my purpose. Suddenly it dawned on me that everything I have worked for has led me to this place — and that is to connect people and facilitate their journey to self-discovery and fun! Once I embraced that mission and calling, both my business and personal fulfillment went to the next level!
3. Buckle up for a fight when growth is coming. Be battle ready.
Many people like to share their victories — but you rarely get to see the battle scars they have collected along the way. Over the years, I have learned that with change comes challenges. The term growing pains CERTAINLY applies to scaling a business, but you don’t have to be blindsided by the troubles of every transition. When I know I am planning a major change, I have learned to heighten my awareness and be ready for the bumpy road ahead. Things will eventually level out.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I’d like to continue to further leverage technology to SCALE my business. I have some huge company events planned with major brands — and I’d like to see if I can harness the work of other industries to expand my business into the stratosphere. Why can’t a child in Africa join a paint class with a friend on the other side of the world? Why can’t we rethink what employee engagement looks like? Why can’t we offer ways for the most isolated among us to get creative and escape their circumstances — just for a little while?
Lastly, I’d also like to push the boundaries of diversity — because when most of us think of paint classes, only one or two people come to mind. Ultimately, I’d like art and creativity to become an integral part of many people’s lives- almost like a gym membership for the mind and soul.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Unfortunately for women, many people make the assumption that many business decisions are solely based on emotion or that decisiveness and confidence make them “mean”. Additionally, if you are a mom or wife with domestic responsibilities — you often have your fair share of societal pressure to be “a good woman” and play into historically female roles — cooking, cleaning, child-rearing and the like. Lastly, there is good ole Mansplaining (forehead slap) — the art of having your brilliant ideas or suggestions taken, reworded and shared back with you or others in a more digestible form. We still have a way to go before we can appreciate the need for women in leadership — but the world is rapidly changing.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I love this book: Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. By Lois P. Frankel.
We’ve all heard the stories — ladies in many cases have gotten caught in the trap of playing a maternal or subservient role in the workplace, and as a result — many times their career has stalled. I have absolutely nothing against administrative tasks or careers — but from day one, I have always been ambitious. This book taught me how to balance being kind with eliminating self-sabotage from my day to day work experiences. This is a lesson that I have had to learn a few times in my business career — but I think I have it now! The book discusses the negative impact of seemingly benign behaviors in the business setting — always taking notes, fiddling with your hair during meetings and the old classic-always getting coffee or serving others. The book taught me how to self-identify anything I was doing to make others take me for granted.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could, with a snap of my fingers, I’d inspire the world to leverage art and technology to help heal, connect & create hope. What if people from all backgrounds could join a meeting, paint together, listen to music and share a soulful experience simultaneously? Our society is in desperate need of new ways to connect with others and ourselves. We are overstimulated, under inspired and caught in a digital vortex looking for depth, meaning and ultimately human connection. Why can’t we have the best of both worlds? I’d like to provide tools, classes, technology and creative ideas that families, businesses, organizations and individuals can leverage to fulfill practical needs. Art is not just a hobby, it’s a necessity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Be the change you want to see. I want the world to be a more diverse and an inclusive place. Every industry should look deep into their hearts and ask themselves — who are we leaving behind? How can we push the business forward? In my case, I learned to appreciate people’s gifts — and embrace those that are brilliant but different. Changing the world is a tough job, but I am happy to do so in my own little way — one brush stroke at a time.
How can our readers follow you online?
If you’d like, you can follow us on Instagram at @brushedatl and say HEY. If you are feeling more creative, join our email list, purchase an Art to Go kit or book a virtual class with us on www.brushedstudios.com.