As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan to Rebuild In the Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Lewis, CEO of Painting with a Twist.
Joe Lewis has over 25 years of business and legal experience in franchising and developing businesses for multi-unit expansion. He has extensive experience in strategic planning and developing franchise programs to expand concepts into both domestic and international markets. Lewis is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Painting with a Twist, which has over 300 units nationwide. Prior to Painting with a Twist, Lewis served as Vice President & General Counsel of Smoothie King Franchises.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Of course! After obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a major in Finance from University of Louisiana at Lafayette, I went on to earn my Juris Doctor degree from Louisiana State University Law School with a concentration in business law. Since then I have been working in business and law, particularly as they relate to franchising and developing businesses for multi-unit expansion. I was part of the executive team for Smoothie King, fortunate to play a part in that brand’s growth to over 950 units in the U.S. and internationally. Currently, my mission is providing a carefree escape that makes an impact on people’s lives as CEO of Painting with a Twist. I am also part of the adjunct faculty at LSU, where I teach Franchising Management.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I am an avid reader of business books, so it’s hard to pick just one. We’ve actually read a few great ones as part of the book club we started with the Painting with a Twist leadership team. “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek is a good read and very relevant to our brand. Working through that book helped us get back to our roots. Another book we have read together was Emotional Intelligence 2.0. We read about how to handle different types of people in stressful situations and manage relationships. While the timing was pure coincidence, this book is specifically relevant to the current pandemic, where EQ levels drop because people are under such stress. As a team, we were well prepared for the fall out through that exercise! I also teach a class at LSU in franchise management, and one book I use there is “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” especially the chapter “Begin with the End in Mind”. This chapter helps you integrate your personal mission statement and core values with your business or career plan.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Painting with a Twist was started while rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina and the purpose has always been to provide a carefree escape that makes a difference in people’s lives. This purpose holds up, especially today, when you don’t know what someone might be going through in their lives, a lost their job, loved one, or something else important to them. When they walk into one of our studios, those worries melt away and we spend the next two hours making them laugh, encouraging connections and practicing a little art therapy. Of course, the wine always helps too! Painting with a Purpose, a core activity from the very beginning, is also a big part of our purpose. Every studio hosts monthly events giving back to the communities they live in. We believe it is because of our universally appealing purpose that we will survive this pandemic.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Operate your business based on your strategic plan and guiding principles. This helps guide me through the ups and downs and makes decisions clear when circumstances often present difficult options or opportunities to choose from. For example, when Covid-19 impacted our business, we were able to innovate with new products and adapt quickly to the environment because the team was clear that the changes we were making were consistent with our mission and principles.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Regarding my personal and family life, I’ve been pretty blessed through this pandemic. My wife is amazing and can truly handle anything. Over a decade ago, we went through Hurricane Katrina, so I compare this year to Katrina a lot. Our home was damaged and we were displaced for a month. There was so much destruction. The difference with COVID is that you can’t physically see it. You wouldn’t know anything was happening unless you read the news every day or someone close to you gets sick. Of course, we are taking necessary precautions, but we are treating it as just another circumstance because we know what adversity is. Everything going on right now has as much power as you give it.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Being in the franchise business, it is upholding the relationship with our franchise owners. We have 300 locations shutting down because we are not an essential business. Revenue was cut off and no one knows what is going to happen next. The biggest challenge that we’ve had to work through is communicating new business strategy and tactics through a totally new remote environment. When the pandemic swept the nation, we immediately started communicating every day through a video call with the whole franchise system. We also implemented virtual regional operations support meetings. At the height of everything, we were having six calls a week, then eventually able to drop to five, then four, but at least 150 people were there for every call. We would answer any questions they had and find out how we could support them better through the crisis. Now we are down to one call a week, with updates on crisis planning and new programs to help our owners navigate through this changing environment. I think the fact they had a lifeline with us they could turn to when their world was turned upside down was instrumental to helping them find the strength and focus to tackle their business issues. This whole experience has improved our relationship with our franchise owners and our culture within the company.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The first thing is to make sure that they know you are there for them and communicate. Similar to the video calls with our franchise owners, that personal communication to talk through the things that are making them anxious are critical. My daughter is only a year out of college and living on her own in Los Angeles, so being with her, even if it was only on video, was a great help for both of us. Another principle we focus on with our family and in our business is to have a plan, but live short-term and in the moment during challenging times. That view prevents you from getting overwhelmed with the “what-ifs’ and allows you to control the things you can control and gives you a feeling of accomplishment amid all the chaos.
A way that my team and I have been supporting our network of franchise owners beyond the standard calls for crisis planning is weekly virtual happy hours where we allow ourselves to have some fun. The happy hours are a bright spot in everyone’s week and we always make some of the team and owners share something good that happened to them that week to lift our spirits. We once brought a couple local musicians onto the call to perform and everybody loved it. Sometimes the small things can make the biggest difference.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I believe one of the biggest opportunities for many of us is to take full advantage of is the new virtual capabilities. The ability to use video conferencing to enhance your training, support and office flexibility while reducing costs is going to be huge for companies. If handled right, it will be a big boost to work quality of life, corporate culture and the ability to obtain and retain talent. Covid has now given everyone an opportunity to see how it works. Another opportunity is being able to market to this growing remote culture. One way we are doing this is our Twist at Home initiative. Of course we pride ourselves on the escape that our in-studio experience provides, but the pandemic forced us to quickly innovate and put together a program for our hundreds of franchisees. People can now virtually follow along during a paint-and-sip event in the comfort of their own home, with both curbside pickup and shipped options. Since mid-March, more than 25,000 have been sold and it’s helped generate revenue for hundreds of owners nationwide.
We’re also seeing an opportunity for virtual team building events and leveraging video conferencing platforms, , now that everyone is used to it. Our franchise owners are hosting virtual private events, whether they’re for families who want to paint with one another long-distance or corporate events designed to keep up a positive company culture, which is more difficult now than ever with so many people working remotely. People are social animals, so getting together and socializing is still important and always will be. We are just taking a multi-channel approach to it now.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Because of the virtual opportunities, I think Covid has the potential to accelerate change in where people live, how they work and their amount of travel, especially for business. Employees will look for employers that will give them greater flexibility in where they will be able to live. It will be interesting to see how this will impact downtown areas and real estate in cities if more employees are allowed to work remotely.
At the same time we are social animals, so a lot of life will remain the way it was before. Take the movie industry as an example. Over decades, there have been cinemas, VHS tapes, DVD’s, and streaming services, but no matter how society and technology evolve, people still enjoy getting together to go to a movie. Post-pandemic, there will just be more options and alternatives to things we knew before.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We plan to meet our guests where they are. We will provide the best in-studio experience to our guests who want to get out and socialize with their friends; however, we now have the platform because of Covid to allow our guests to Twist at Home or at work. We will continue to adapt our products and tweak our messaging while still following our strategic plan and brand mission to provide a carefree escape. I think people will be yearning for the escape Painting with a Twist offers more than ever once we get through the worst of this pandemic.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Stay on your course, but ask, “How can we adapt? What can we take out of this period with us that is still aligned with our core concept?”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite life lesson quotes is from Mike Tyson. “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Life is most certainly going to knock you down sometimes, but it’s all about how you respond to it. 2020 has certainly been a punch in the mouth for a lot of us, but let’s make sure we use this opportunity to become a stronger person and business.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can keep up with me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/joe-lewis-4a058395/. Keep up with everything going on at Painting with a Twist at www.paintingwithatwist.com or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/paintingwithatwist/.