Starting any small business in the middle of a global pandemic – especially an events-based one – would be a daunting task for pretty much anyone.
But that didn’t stop Hamilton entrepreneurs Ann Merritt and Ban Markos: two sisters who fearlessly quit their full-time day jobs last year and tackled the massive challenges of starting a new small business, all while balancing the titanic task of navigating pandemic life and motherhood on top of it all.
Their Hamilton-based company, You & I Paint, combines Merritt and Markos’ mutual passions for art and event planning by offering calming, luxurious experiences that pair expressive painting classes with samplings of some of the region’s best wine.
The concept of You & I Paint is pretty straightforward: this nomadic company breaks out the brushes and easels at one of the Niagara region’s picturesque wineries, then leads a stimulating art class for participants while they partake in wine tastings and take in some unbeatable vineyard views.
Though only just over a year old, You & I Paint has already pulled off dozens of events in the Hamilton area and beyond, forming partnerships with Niagara wineries like Locust Lane, Hare & Co., and Vieni Estates, all of which have played host to Ann and Ban’s special, hands-on events.
They haven’t limited themselves only to wineries, either; You & I Paint has had just as much success hosting paint nights in spots like Modern Design Studio on Locke Street, Sotiris Restaurant in Burlington, and Stonebrook Farm out in Bright, Ontario.
Given the company’s focus on live and in-person events, it wouldn’t have been surprising if You & I Paint got off to a rocky start upon launching back in March 2020, right at the outset of the COVID-19’s arrival in Canada. But the exact opposite occurred: they’ve been a smash hit since the beginning, regularly hosting their successful public and private events for a wide variety of clients and rolling with the pandemic punches all the while.
“The pandemic has been a huge challenge,” says Merritt, adding that they are proud of the myriad ways they’ve managed to adapt their business through numerous creative pivots.
During times when in-person gatherings have been permitted throughout the last year, they’ve gone above and beyond to make their events run smoothly and safely for their guests while adhering to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
Then, while lockdown measures have been in place, You & I Paint has successfully shifted their events to a remote format via Zoom, complete with local wine and paint supplies delivered straight to attendees’ homes. Even those virtual events have proven extremely popular, with some attracting over 200 guests at once.
Though You & I Paint hosts plenty of publicly accessible events over the past year, they’ve also amassed an impressive array of clients for private engagements, including Shopify, Deloitte, and the City of Burlington as well as wellness centres, corporate banks, real estate firms, elementary schools, and beyond.
“Our clients have been really diverse, and they all seem to enjoy the painting as it’s not only interactive, but also therapeutic and fun,” adds Merritt.
But things have only just begun for these two enthusiastic Hamilton entrepreneurs, who already have plenty of plans underway for the future of their company.
“We’ve made lots of deals with venues for future events to come!” says Merritt, making it clear that You & I Paint has zero plans of slowing things down anytime soon.
Of course, as Ontario gradually makes its way back to a semblance of normalcy, it’s not unlikely that fun, no-pressure, creatively invigorating events like the ones hosted by You & I Paint will be in very, very hot demand.
Written by Michael Kras