The Business of Adapting sees us meet Rose Lawlor from Tribe Art Studio in Kildare. I interviewed Rose via Zoom, over a cuppa, just before the announcement that we would enter Level 5 of the COVID plan. As there was so much uncertainty around how this might affect Rose, her employees and her students – this interview was tinged with worry and uncertainty for her. Roses story is heaped with resilience, sprinkled with hope and her passion for her craft strongly shone through as she spoke.
As always, support local and small businesses through this time and always, they greatly appreciate you!
Can you tell me about your business in detail?
I have an art studio in Kildare. Tribe offers classes with mostly kids – around 80% of our classes are kids- and adult groups. We offer painting, drawing and pottery classes along with birthday, team building and hen and stag parties. We also run community groups with older folks.
I’m in business since June ’19 so quite a young business. I feel like I was just finding my groove and I’ve been feeling sad that I didn’t get a good run because we had been steadily growing until March this year. After doing some online classes we came back in July and sold out all summer camps. But in August Kildare went back into lockdown so I found myself having to close again.
With the first lockdown how did you handle that?
In March when the schools were instructed to close, I decided it wasn’t safe for me to be open so I just closed up the studio myself. I felt sad and depressed feeling came over me for a few days so I had to try pull myself out of it.
St Patricks day was coming up and I felt awful for kids who were missing out on parades and the fun of it so I decided to run an online class. We had a massive turnout of 47 families on zoom. They all did a paint-along and dressed up for it, sharing their pictures afterwards. It was such a boost after everything that happened and a real sense of community and togetherness, so we kept it going with kids. I then extended it to adult’s classes online. These were paid and it was great to keep it going but definitely not sustainable for me long-term so I made a tough decision to go on COVID payments to keep afloat. The online classes just weren’t financially viable and everyone was thrown into online life that it was hard to build it enough. I did a few free classes to help people out and keep momentum going thereafter.
Do you have staff that work with you?
I have one colleague – Kelly. She’s amazing, so flexible and great at her job. I wouldn’t have a huge amount of hours for her but she’s always there when I need her. We’ve got a pottery teacher too and she does a few classes with us along with another teacher that was due to start but everything is on hold again for us unfortunately. There’s another lady coming in to do cupcake decorating in the future which is amazing as it really feels like a space were creatives can come together and shine.
We’ve a huge studio which is great because when we can open we have plenty of space to socially distance students but still give them a great experience with lovely, creative teachers. I really want to see it continue to grow into the place where all creatives and those who want to unleash their creative side, continue to come together.
If a Level 5 comes around again, what will you need to do to adapt your business to this?
I feel a lot more prepared this time so I’m hoping the community groups can keep me going. I have some workshops already planned online for businesses too so I’m trying my best to keep going and do what I need to keep the business going. It’s a struggle and it’s through no fault of our own so it’s frustrating. I have a Halloween camp planned and hope to put this online if I have to. I just feel so bad for the children through all this.
Have you had feedback from the online classes, do you think they help people?
Yeah, people really did like them and feedback was great, it’s just not the same when I can’t have that one-on-one with them.
What is the most challenging about being in business, regardless of COVID?
The biggest challenge with the nature of my business is securing numbers. Before each semester I would have myself in a state about how nobody would sign up and I won’t get my numbers but every term everyone comes back and the classes would always be full, but I can’t help the doubt each time! Our business is so reliant on people signing up, it means a lot to us.
What are your marketing tactics to reach capacity, what works for a business like yours?
It’s actually all social media and word-of-mouth. We offer such community-led groups, they’re social, relaxing and creative so I haven’t needed to drive it through flyers or posters because what we’ve done to date has been enough to get people in.
I use email marketing too to announce new classes and full lists of everything we have coming so we’d get quite a few sign-ups from email marketing.
What made you go into business initially?
I worked in childcare originally, in a preschool for eight years. I love working with children and art. Art is such a passion of mine, so combining the two was a dream for so long. I went to do it a few years ago but nerves made me pull out. I decided again to try slowly so I began with art classes in the schools and parents who knew me trusted me and signed up.
Over time, while working part-time in the preschool, I continued running classes in the primary school. I kept getting more and more interest so I saw a place for me and a business and decided to just go for it! If I didn’t I would regret it so much!
In general, what gives you the most happiness in your work?
What we give to people. When a child finishes up and a parent tells you that their child used art as their outlet and found it really helped them, that is everything to me. Or an adult leaves a review after a class and they say it gives them peace and relaxation and they never realised they’d be good at it.
Our biggest message is that you don’t need to be good at it, it’s more about taking the time for yourself and looking after your mental health.
Did you do any self-care for yourself through lockdown?
I paint and draw, it’s my relaxation technique. Walking the dog each day too, it gets me out and wakes me up properly.
Have you found some positives through this time?
The most positive thing is through online classes we reached a much bigger audience. People in Dublin, Cork and even Irish people in Lanzorote joined in! Local families found us online and wanted to then put their kids in classes when we were back in studio. It was a great way to grow the business in a way I never expected.
Also, just learning to sit with yourself. It’s something we really don’t do enough these days and it forced us to do it.
Where do you see your business going now? What’s the future of Tribe Art Studio?
There’s one very small change but it’s big for us! We usually leave out a buffet style table pre-COVID, but now we give individual cheese boards and it’s a simple change but it’s so much less cleaning and time needed for staff.
Any advice you would give businesses starting out?
Do not take on a premises right now!! Otherwise, I think if it’s a dream then just go for it! You’ll never know how it will work out so don’t hesitate to just go for it.
Check out and follow on Instagram Tribe Art Studio here. If you would like to be involved in The Business of Adapting series, I would love to speak to you. Contact me any time on firstname.lastname@example.org.