They are all the rage these days: upscale, BYOB paint studios in which women — and men, if they so choose — can get together with friends and family to relax, listen to music and engage in step-by-step painting classes meant to adorn living rooms and foyers with personalized artwork.
And anyone who can effectively combine hanging out and drinking wine with creativity — and most importantly, philanthropy — is certainly a #WomanCrashWednesday in my book.
Efe Cierkowski, owner and operator of A Sip of Art in West Orange, has taken her paint studio one step further by donating portions of the proceeds from every Bachelorette party, date night, corporate event and more to local charities and causes.
Attend a public class at A Sip of Art and a percentage of your fee will be donated to the St. Barnabas Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; host a private event and you have the choice to send that percentage to the charity of your choice; or, throw your child a birthday party, and help support your child’s school’s PTA. All in all, A Sip of Art has partnered with more than 10 national and local charities and causes so that each and every attendee can find one that resonates with them.
“The idea is so simple, really,” Cierkowski said. “My favorite quote is, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ I truly believe in that idea so it naturally followed that … A Sip of Art is a business with social consciousness.”
Cierkowski left behind a six figure salary and a nearly 13-year corporate career in order to realize her dream of entrepreneurship.
Born in Ghana, Cierkowski immigrated to the U.S. in 1999 to attend Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. After she graduated in 2002 with a self-designed undergraduate degree in financial economics and information technology, Cierkowski began her career as a business analyst with Hewitt Associates before moving on to Lehman Brothers in their corporate human resources department.
It was there that she applied and was selected for an executive MBA in partnership with NYU Stern. After earning her degree in 2008, Cierkowski would work for Liz Claiborne and ADP before becoming a business owner herself.
“While it has been tough to balance all of what I am doing, I am grateful every day for all that is on my plate,” Cierkowski said.
Please, enjoy this Q&A with Efe Cierkowski, owner and operator of A Sip of Art in West Orange:
NJBIZ: What do you love most about your new job?
Efe Cierkowski: I love that this is a business with a philanthropic twist that allows me to combine my love for art, party planning and creativity, as well as provide me with an outlet to give back to the community and to causes close to my heart.
NJBIZ: How did your prior career experiences shape your decision to become an entrepreneur?
EC: While earning my executive MBA at NYU Stern, I took several courses in entrepreneurship and eventually specialized in leadership and change management. The lessons I learned stayed with me throughout the rest of my corporate career. I knew that I belonged and wanted to be in a place where I could design and build something from the ground up – this was an opportunity to apply the various tools and skillsets that I had accumulated over time.
In launching my own business, I had to draw upon experiences from my corporate career, be it administrative and financial, project development and planning, business analysis or human resources. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all these experiences were preparing me for the role I am in now.
NJBIZ: What are your current short and long term goals for your business?
EC: I am still in the ‘ramp up’ phase of the studio, assessing and establishing standard operations and procedures. I would like to continue building a solid customer base in order to establish ourselves as the go-to paint and sip studio in New Jersey.
Additionally, I am working on partnering with more organizations and individuals in the community to find innovative ways to create more programming, fundraising and ways to give back.
I am also working on developing our summer camp program this year, which will run from July 11 through August 26. The camp — with half day and full day options available — will offer kids the opportunity to explore a variety of art styles and media in a fun and creative environment.
Long term, I would like to open up additional studios in New Jersey and beyond by partnering with other folks — particularly women — to help them realize their own dreams of owning a business.
NJBIZ: What would you consider your most valued accomplishment throughout this whole process?
EC: Early on, I interviewed with, but decided not to go with, the franchise model. While I have loved the autonomy and freedom to build and create the business the way I wanted, the downside was that I did not have the support or framework that a franchise would have provided. Building this business from the ground up has been extremely eye-opening and challenging, but also, gratifying for me.
NJBIZ: How did your education help you succeed in creating your own business?
EC: Having come to college to the U.S. from Ghana, I had to learn to adjust to and navigate a new cultural and educational landscape. I also self-designed my major — an undertaking that sowed the initial seeds in that there are some available things you can ‘let go’ of in order to work towards creating an alternative you desire.
NJBIZ: What advice would you give to young women in school today?
EC: Explore all of your options; take as many different classes as you can; participate in many clubs, activities and experiences to discover what you truly love and where you naturally shine. Once you discover what that is, pursue it wholeheartedly.
NJBIZ: Would that advice stay true for young professionals?
EC: Yes. Be open to all opportunities and also be proactive about communicating your needs. Keep your long-term goals in mind while you navigate short-term. Build relationships, and if possible, find a mentor or advocate that you naturally connect with.
NJBIZ: What would you say are the Top Five things that successful women always do well?
1. They know themselves well, both their strengths and weaknesses, and seek opportunities that play to their strengths.
2. They communicate effectively across all levels of management and colleagues.
3. They build strong, mutually-beneficial relationships.
4. They network extensively and are more likely to find mentors and advocates.
5. They ask for what they want.
NJBIZ: One of the major challenges for women in business is work-life balance and time management. How, as a new business owner, are you faring?
EC: I would say I am devoting almost 50 percent of my day to building my business. Ideally, I would like that percentage to decrease to about 30 percent.
I think the key is knowing yourself and what fulfills you and make sure that you are carving out enough time for that in your life. Make time for the things that bring you joy and recharge your soul – eliminating as much as you can the things that don’t. Work-life balance looks different for everyone and will vary over time. At every point, you have to evaluate and make decisions about what you are willing to ‘trade off.’
NJBIZ: And when you are not building your business, what is it that you enjoy doing?
EC: I am a wife and mother of three girls 5 years and younger so most of my free time is spent enjoying down-time with my family. There is nothing I love more than hanging out on the back porch, dancing to music, playing and having fun with my girls and my husband. I also love to explore new places, so we will often take long, spontaneous drives to explore and pick fun, new spots in which to eat. And, now with my art studio, the girls love having access to lots of art supplies and classes to draw, paint and get creative!