Between them, Jillian Cannan and Colleen Pandy (along with their husbands) have eight children under eight years old. After spending over a decade each away from their hometown of Buffalo with their respective military spouses, the two, the Mount Mercy Academy alums (from different classes), connected via Facebook after returning home and with their families in 2016.
They quickly discovered a shared desire to continue to have and be with their children while also starting a business that would allow them to take advantage of their creative backgrounds. Thus Buffalo Collective was born, with the intent of hosting DIY painting parties, the popular crafting activity for all ages which finds participants creating a work of art to take home. (When it’s adults, and mostly women, it usually involves wine as well.) Once they found their niche, that of offering clients the opportunity to paint on mostly wood, they launched the Loaded Lumber brand and opened their studio—that was around 2018.
Their original motivation for starting the business also included a good dose of Buffalove.
“Buffalo’s our hometown. We wanted to show pride and invest back into the city,” said Pandy. “Running a small women-owned business is not easy—we also wanted to show our kids that we can be whatever we want to be; that we can be at home a lot and also run a successful business.”
Now, after some growing pains and location consolidation, their brick-and-mortar DIY paint party studio happily occupies a 2,600-square-foot wood building in Buffalo’s happening downtown (nearby hotspots include Ballyhoo, Riverworks, Lockhouse Distillery and Bar, and a new Resurgence Brewery location). Business for off-site parties for all occasions and ages is booming as well.
While early on, Councilmember Chris Scanlon’s office pointed them to programs that help small businesses, they learned that it can be hard to get funding at the very beginning. They proceeded to self-fund, then turned to M&T Bank, which, they say, is “very kind to small businesses.”
Like many young businesses, one of the duo’s early mistakes was trying to do too much. “When we first started, we focused on having as many options as possible,” said Cannan. “It was expensive trying to stock everything. As we found the projects that clients gravitated towards, we slimmed our offerings. And when we stuck to fewer options, we started gaining momentum.”
They source locally as much as possible, including their pallets and other wood painting forms, which come from Len-Co Lumber. Their customized products are having the desired effect on their clients, with satisfied customers sending late-night, post-painting party reports of returning home and immediately hanging their projects on the walls.
At the beginning, said Pandy, “it was a lot of trial and error, sacrifice, risk, money, and time figuring out what’s involved.”
During the process, they conducted plenty of market research.
“We discovered that around the country, there are a lot of brick-and-mortar creative studios—as we looked at more business models, we noticed that the market for bringing the parties to the clients was doing a lot better,” said Pandy. They conducted a mobile pilot test in the Rochester area, and it was a hit. “Also, there’s less overhead and higher yields.”
Combined with their enthusiasm for sharing their concept without necessarily opening and running more locations themselves, they looked into licensing. And that is where they are now focusing more of their energy.
“Licensees get our name and experience, while also being their own boss and an entrepreneur,” said Cannan. “They are all creative in their own right, and can figure out what works for their market.”
Listed on their website are licensed locations across New York state; several in Texas, and one each in Colorado and Arizona.
“Growing a business is always a challenge,” said Pandy, noting that the partners have licensing deals done or in the works with additional locations including Kentucky, New Jersey, and West Virginia.
When they sold their first license, there was a rush of excitement and pride, say the partners. But, they advise others and themselves: that’s not the time to take a victory lap.
“After your first sale or first big success, it’s easy to say, ‘we made it!’ and stay right there,” posited Pandy. “You have to keep setting goals, giving time and resources to the business, and taking risks. We could have stopped at one studio, but we wouldn’t have had the success we have now. We decided to keep investing in ourselves, and it’s paid off big time.”
Locally, their success is enabling them to participate in fundraisers, make donations, provide sponsorships, and occasionally volunteer or offer free events for the right cause or organization—that’s all part of their plan to give back to the community.
And, they say, the business is paying off for them. Any challenges they face now are about scaling and planning their next moves.