Wise beyond her years, young business owner shares tips and experience

Erika Tonnelier, of do-it-yourself art studio Corks & Colors Studio on 3415 W University Ave., has owned the seven-year-old business since July of 2016. While she cannot imagine working anywhere else, Gainesville-native Tonnelier did not always plan to run a small business. Tonnelier attended the University of Florida to study sociology and environmental sustainability. After graduating in 2013, she had plans to go to graduate school. Around this time, Tonnelier began working at Corks & Colors.

“Over those first two years, I fell more in love with the business – not just the obviously fun parts associated with an art studio, but also the day to day managerial tasks,” Tonnelier said. “By December, 2015, I had become very involved in the operations of Corks but didn’t see any long-term opportunity in such a small business. When I told the original owner, Rebecca Smith, I was looking at going back to school and wouldn’t be able to manage the studio, she proposed the sale of Corks to me within the month.”

Despite leaping into this unplanned career path and facing some obstacles along the way, Tonnelier said she loves working at her shop here in Gainesville.

“Maintaining and growing a small business is exhausting, but Corks is such a unique space,” Tonnelier said. “I thoroughly enjoy what I get to do and appreciate the relationships created through the studio.”

Tonnelier relies on positive word-of-mouth to attract new patrons, which she claims is the best way of advertising for the store as it lends an air of authenticity. As for her tips for aspiring small-business owners, Tonnelier explained that having a solid staff is crucial.

“Even with a pre-existing business, you can never predict your success, [but] Corks has exceeded my expectations in the past year,” Tonnelier said. “We focus on having an informed and personable staff, and we truly value our customers and their experience. Creating a sense of community within the studio is a priority, and it is clear that the appreciation is reciprocated.”
For those unfamiliar, Corks & Colors provides the services offered by many art studios of its kind but also hosts parties and sells beer, wine, mimosas, sangria and all-natural sodas.

“We hope everyone who comes in has a fun, relaxing and creative experience no matter what age or skill level,” Tonnelier said.

By Haley Clement

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