Felicia Stevens | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Felicia Stevens

Background:  

Felicia Stevens started the TDP Art Studio in New London in November 2010. The studio had two homes before moving to its current location on State Street five years ago. A second location was added in Westbrook three years ago. The studio is known as The Home of The Drunken Palette, a name that helps in the studio’s marketing, and has served about 33,000 customers. Born in Georgia and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Stevens came to Connecticut as a Navy military police officer. A large part of her mission, she said, is making art affordable and accessible to average-income people. TDP, which specializes in painting, coordinates mobile events including fundraisers and house parties.

The Mistake:

Not knowing how to market.

Figuring out the marketing was pretty hard. I had no training in it. I had to keep costs low but I wanted to create and keep a presence. It was a huge gamble starting this business. It’s such a niche business.

I found print advertising didn’t work. Advertising on the radio didn’t work. It was initially very frustrating.

It was a huge gamble starting this business.

The Lesson:

Art is very personal and I learned that the marketing has to be personal. Word of mouth and social media is what works. That’s what gets the greatest return. It’s making social connections and speaking in front of people. I hadn’t done that very much before starting the studio.

In my police work I was involved with people but not always in the most positive ways. Now I want to interact in a positive way and I’m succeeding at that. I want to make them happy.

A lot of communication is done through art. It’s about breaking down barriers. Things happen to people that are hard to comprehend. When they engage through art they come to understand something that they didn’t before. I help them translate their experience into something visual and that stays with them.

With adults there are more barriers to break down. Children are sponges.

I’ve learned the value of looking someone in the eye. Keeping things interesting and changing is important to keeping your customers. The art world is definitely not static.

The Drunken Palette is on Twitter at @TDPArtStudio.

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