Aria & Keno Leighty – Art ala Carte PDX

Aria and Keno of Art ala Carte PDXFounder; Aria Leighty is a mother, wife, artist and passionate art advocate. Aria has 9 years experience working with Children and enjoys making an impact in childrens lives thru art and creativity. Co-Owner/partner Keno Leighty; is a husband, father, multiple business owner and marketing extraordinare. Keno has over 16 years in business development, promotions and management. Keno is also a board member for Prevent! Together in Battle Ground, VP of Tee Ball for BGLL and a youth mentor for Clark County.

What is your company?
Art ala Carte PDX is a kids art studio. I transformed salad bars into art bars for “all you can make art”. We have a studio location and a mobile unit that travels around Portland.

How did you come up with the idea?
Working with a small budget for art projects at the YMCA. I found the way art was offered to kids in the community was a little backwards. Wanted a space that embraced kids individual ideas instead of directing cookie cutter projects. My coworker was always listening to me discuss my ideas and pushed me to make the dream a reality!

Where did you find your first customer?
My first customer was my first business banker and her daughter. She had helped me set up accounts, months before opening and attended our grand opening. She loved my idea and was so great to support it!

How did you determine your target market?
I determined I wanted to make art accessible to everyone. So families with any income would be able to afford art time. I also wanted to make sure that it was targeted to all age groups, abilities and skill level. I did not want to leave anyone out.

What are you currently doing to reach them?
Facebook is huge for us, a great way to cheaply market to families. We also connect with schools, daycares and churches. We do many cross promotions with small businesses. With our community partners, they spread the word about us and in return we do the same for them. We send coupons and fliers to girl scout troops, mom meet up groups, sensory groups and community leaders. I try to be very active in the community. Spending time at farmers markets, kids events and libraries connecting with local families. It’s been great to personally introduce the community to our space and concept.

How much did you start up with?
A $5,000 grant and $1,000 in savings. The rest was collected supplies, hand me down furniture and faith. Looking back I have no idea how I did it! It was a huge risk and quite silly!

Did you bring on investors, get loans, or grow naturally?
No one would approve me or believe in my dream. I had to do it from scratch on my own. It was impossible to get a loan and a lot of spaces refused to rent to me. We grew naturally.

What’s the best advice someone has given you?
When Keno joined the business as he brought his wealth of knowledge on the business side. He gave a lot of value able advice in regards to budgets, bookkeeping and making sure we were sustaining the business. He saw I was trying to do too much and wearing myself too thin, which was counter productive. He helped me see the space as a business that was going to stick around for years to come. He has the business brain, I have the creative heart.

What’s the worst advice you have ever received?
Open in Sellwood! I had a few families tell me Sellwood would be a great place to open the space. It was not the right market for me.

When you started your business what was one thing you wish you knew?
I cannot pick just one thing. I made a lot of mistakes in regards to location choices, marketing investments and planning out events. I wish I had saved more money for living expenses and unforeseen costs.

What resources or books do you refer to regularly?
I have not found one book in particular. But I do ask other business owners for advice or ideas. I also pick Keno’s brain when I can!

Has your company experienced any close calls or lucky moments?
Our building was sold in 2012. It was my first year and everything I had was invested in the start up costs. I was going to close my doors. But generous anonymous donors saved the day and we moved to a new spot in NE Portland. This was the luckiest thing to happen to the business though I did not know it at first! Business has improved so much!

What does success mean to you?
Success means reaching as many families as possible. I want to make sure every child that walks in the door falls in love with art, finds their voice and creativity and grows from the experience. Success means being able to provide for my family by doing what I love the most and feel passionate about.

Where would you like to see your business 5 years from now?
I would love to open 2 locations by then. One in Vancouver and one in Beaverton. I would also like the mobile unit to be better developed by then. Bringing our mobile art vehicles to libraries, parks, schools and community centers all over the NW.

What do you need help with?
I need help with learning how to NOT be stubborn, to actually ask for help when I need it, and to not let negative things bring me down. 100 people can tell me my space is the best thing ever and if one tells me otherwise, my day (sometimes week) is ruined! I dwell on it and beat myself up over it. It takes me a long time to get over criticism.

How can people find you online?
Facebook: Art ala Carte PDX