Canvas Art is an online digital art studio that turns a favorite family photo, even a phone pic, into hand painted artworks on canvas. The business was started in 2005 with Family in mind but also has an interesting backstory rooted in the nasty business of international counterfeiting.
The year was 1996 when Jay Andre and his wife first founded an Art company called Electric Art. The company made a popular line of framed artworks accented with LED and Neon lighting effects which were sold nationwide in stores. Old car scenes like “Rosie’s Diner”, Lighthouse images like “Nature’s Majesty” or City Skylines from New York or San Francisco all had special lighting effects that brought the pictures to life.
You’ve probably seen these in Art and Gift stores. Business was good for years. Spencer Gifts had them in the storefront window and placed orders by the truckload. The company’s business was growing and all was good until one fateful day in 2003 when everything changed. While at a popular trade show, a Chinese national approached the wholesale booth for Electric Art. After surveying the products on display he tried to place an order for samples.
His inquiry was declined because he was unable to identify himself as a retailer (he didn’t have a store and therefore wasn’t really a customer). The Chinese man walked away but continued to lurk nearby. Then, when staff at the booth became preoccupied, the Chinese man returned, physically picked up a featured product sample, and ran away with it. It was a day of drama and intrigue back in 2003. The owners of Electric Art knew what the man was after, and for the most part why, but with a growing business to tend, tried not to dwell on the incident.
What happened over the next 2 to 3 years is a scene all too familiar to those in creative fields from Art to Film works. Electric Art had all their most popular art titles illegally replicated right down to the company name and box markings. The goods were being made in China and shipped into the port at Los Angeles from 4 to 5 different companies all at once.
It wasn’t long before the phone began ringing at Electric Art from customers complaining about the quality of goods they thought were real but of course were not. They weren’t even electrically safe. Other wholesale customers called citing the lower price of the Chinese imports as too good to pass up. The result: a vibrant company with over $25,000,000 in sales was mortally wounded and almost put out of business. The owners were furious but nevertheless had to decide what to do next.
Jay’s answer was to reinvent his Art company with a kind of DNA he knew the Chinese would not typically follow. It was clear the main targets for these foreign competitors were goods that could be mass produced and then resold for incremental profit. So in 2005, Electric Art started a sister company called Canvas Art: A new company that would turn favorite family photos into Art. Orders were taken and fulfilled one at a time. The work was both creative and individually personalized. Not something foreign counterfeiters were very good at.
Today CanvasArt.com thrives with an online presence in the business of personalized hand painted artworks But the road to success was paved with significant obstacles that took time, hard work and patience to overcome.
Challenges the company has faced are not unlike those of other innovative firms with a brand new product. Until now, those wishing to commission a hand painted portrait would pay an Artist fee in the $thousands. When President Obama left office his official portrait had a price tag over $25,000. Working with clients over the web and by using a digital workflow Canvas Art could reduce costs and only charge a few hundred dollars. Getting this message out or the idea of a product like this was now available to the average person was a significant challenge.
The upside for a company like Canvas Art is large. Demand is potentially worldwide. At the end of the day everyone has Family. And this is basically what the Company helps people celebrate. Simple, meaningful memories turned into Art at a price almost anyone can afford.
Asked for advice the owners of Electric Art and Canvas Art would first say be aware of your metrics. If sales start to slide over time do the research as early as possible to find out why. While not every company will battle with counterfeiters, all companies face competitive forces and should absolutely understand where they stand and what their current trajectory is. Understanding how you measure up against the competition will give you reason to plan. Next, keep an open mind and an even broader set of sources for advice. In business there is usually a solution for every problem. Finding the right one will often take patience and a willingness to listen to other points of view.