Susan Garman and Rita Polizzi

Fort Pierce, Florida

Swig of Color

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Rita Polizzi and Susan Garman, Owners of Swig of Color, are busier than they've ever been and they couldn't be happier. Swig of Color brings the party to you in the form of paint lessons at various venues around Florida's Treasure Coast. The venues include restaurants, bars, breweries and various spaces that combine sips, strokes and an entertaining 'class' led by Rita. The result is an unforgettable experience where art lovers are born and amateurs, with the help of a little wine, are convinced their setting sun is a masterpiece.

We asked Rita and Susan about the origins of Swig of Color, including where the name and tagline came from. Susan explained, "I was working for a non profit arts organization where my role was to organize educational events around art. At the time, art lessons were slow so the idea came up to bring painting to people at different venues. We went looking for an artists to lead these classes and that's how we discovered Rita. About a year into that role, the organization folded and Rita and I, who had become friends at that point, decided we could continue doing these classes together." As for the name? Rita explained, "Swig of Color was the result of a collective effort of family members enjoying some wine and pairing different words associated with art and libations. Our tagline, Our Van Goghs To You, was all Susan." If you're curious, they don't have an actual van, but they're working on it.

Between their packed events calendar and their growing business of private parties, Rita and Susan are very busy. "We've reached a point where we're actually looking to hire someone, or possibly two people, to help with paint lessons and some of the administrative type work," said Susan. They're also having a real impact on the local community with testimonials and reviews that capture the incredible experience that Rita and Susan have worked so hard to bring to their customers. So what can customers expect? Susan explained, "First of all, don't worry if you can't paint. We teach you how to paint. We paint one image during a two to three hour event. We want it to be a very creative and relaxing experience."

This past October, Swig of Color was honored at the 33rd Annual St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce Business & Industry Awards Banquet. This recognition was the result of persistence and not giving up. Like every great entrepreneurial journey, Rita and Susan faced and overcame plenty of adversity along the way. Susan explained, "We started with no money. Someone asked if we would go to their place and teach people how to paint. We did and we ended up using that money for our corporate filing fee and to open a business bank account. The success of that first event empowered us. We would go to places that seemed fun to be at and would ask management if we could come and paint." Rita jumped in, "We were actually fired once from a venue. The manager said it wasn't working. The whole thing has been sort of a crap-shoot. You throw it out there and see what sticks." Their journey has been full of ups and downs, but more often than not, what they "threw out there" stuck and today, Rita and Susan continue to add venues and attract clients looking for a great experience.

We asked about the future of Swig of Color and how their business model might change over time. "We're looking at possibly having a physical location," said Rita. "We're getting requests to host art lessons, art camps, birthday parties and for that, we would need our own location." Susan offered up another reason for having their own location, "We would like to have an incubator space for artists. Painting projects can last for days and they can take up your entire living room. It's nice to have somewhere to go where other artists are going. A place where you can share the energy and not worry about making a mess." Even if the idea of a physical location comes to fruition, they still plan on hosting events at various venues. They'd also like to expand their business around private events at places like nursing homes, senior centers, 55+ active living communities and even in private homes. In addition, they look to expand their corporate events for team building, co-worker socials, and client appreciations as well as fundraisers for non-profits and causes.

Rita and Susan offer up some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. In addition to being persistent and never giving up, they also encourage entrepreneurs to plow through situations that might not look optimal because you never know what it might look like on the other side. Susan gave us a great example of this. "We went into a venue the other night that they overbooked. As a result, over twenty of us got crammed into a tiny space. Rita and I were feeling out of sorts about it. We had to redo how we normally run our event. Because of the noise and lack of space, we had to go around and take turns instructing to several tables of about five people each. What started off looking like a headache turned into one of our most rewarding evenings to date! We were able to sit down with our customers and connect with them on a more intimate level." The old cliche of making lemonade out of lemons is something entrepreneurs must embrace if they're going to succeed. Rita and Susan also recommend getting involved in your local community and attending business seminars offered by groups such as chambers of commerce, SBDC and SCORE.


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