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Different strokes: LI artist swaps 'Paint and sip' parties for online crafts

Commack's Betty Cole says she has reinvented her art business because of the pandemic. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Before the coronavirus pandemic, "Paint and sip" parties were the life blood of Commack resident Betty Cole's art business.

But for Cole, who started Off Your Wall Art four years ago, "everything changed" when the virus put a sudden end to her "ability to go into people's homes."

At that point, she had no other choice but to get crafty: Cole quickly pivoted to making "Paint your own" arts and crafts kits people can enjoy at home, selling them online through her business' website and social media pages.

The kits — some kid-friendly like the "decorate your own flower pot," others like the "paint your own hand sanitizer" or "color by number wine bottle" tailored to adults — range from $5 to $25 and include supplies and a video tutorial.

In a matter of months, Cole sold about a thousand flower pot kits alone. "PTAs [Parent Teacher Associations] and class moms were ordering 30 at a time to keep kids at home busy," she said.

And what about the paint nights? "Well, I couldn't let those just die … they're too much fun," she said. Like scores of other LI entrepreneurs, Cole turned to videoconferencing platform Zoom, where she hosts the paid events "from the comfort of my own home."

Cole spoke with Newsday about the changes. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

One day you're hosting "Paint and sip" parties at clients homes and workplaces and the next, you're in your home studio, aka your garage, putting together hundreds of "Paint your own" kits to sell online. What was the most challenging part of it?

The high demand and the logistics. At one point, I had so many kit orders I had to recruit my daughters, my son, my husband … anyone that was available, to help me put them together. I had them assembly line-style, one pouring paint in little ramekins, another painting pots and wine bottles, everyone just working on something in their own little station of our garage. Before, I'd do a "Paint and sip" and collect all my paints and brushes, all my materials, at the end of the night. Now, that's just not the case. I'm making and shipping individual kits with materials people keep. Another challenge was sourcing enough supplies for the kits.

Did the demand for "Paint your own" kits translate into a profit increase?

No, unfortunately not. I'm working a lot more now, putting in more hours.. Keep in mind, all that packing and shipping takes time, too. Don't get me wrong, I'm still making a profit but there's no increase. It's a give-and-take. I'm not traveling to meet clients so I'm not spending money on gas but I'm spending more on materials than ever before. I'm buying brushes, paints, bags for supplies. I bought 2,500 restaurant-style condiment containers [for the five paint colors in each kit] and went through them in a week. It all adds up.

Will you continue your virtual parties after things go back to "normal?"

Oh, definitely! It's opened up a whole new world of possibilities. For example, in the past if I got an inquiry from a potential client in say New Jersey, I would turn it down because of the long drive. Now, I'm like 'Sure, let's hop on Zoom.' Ship the materials and boom, that's it. People don't even have to be in the same room. I've had families with relatives in other states reach out to me for a party. It's wonderful because everyone can join in on the fun from wherever they are … continuing is the only thing that makes sense.

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