ADDRESS: 425 SW Madison Ave., Suite G, Corvallis, OR 97333
PHONE NUMBER: 541-224-3797
OWNER: Mike Wiener
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 1½
WHAT THEY SELL: Art supplies, art classes, demos, art parties, and graphic design
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: The owner is knowledgeable and friendly, and his business model is unique. It’s amazing to find out how much is available from a store that occupies such a small space.
Whether you’re a budding artist, an accomplished painter, or someone who simply appreciates creativity, you’re sure to be fascinated by the Drawing Board. Occupying what may well be the smallest retail space in town, this business has the widest selection of art supplies in the area. The Drawing Board is the brainchild of Mike Wiener, and he knows the art supply business well. With his winning smile and friendly demeanor, Mike is eager to help you find what you need and to answer any questions you might have. And if you’re someone who thinks you’re “not artistic,” don’t be surprised if Mike succeeds in persuading you to give art a try. “It’s not about creating a finished product,” he explains. “It’s all about the fun and creative process of doing art.”
Mike, when and why did you decide to start your business? My family had an art supply store, so I grew up in the art supply business. I went to college to become a journalist, but ended up taking studio art, and I found that art was in me all along. My first job out of college was at the country’s largest art supply distributor [the company that supplies all the art supply stores in the US] so I learned that end of the business, as well. When I moved to Corvallis a couple of years ago, I noticed that the community makes art, but there were no art supply stores here. We had craft stores and places to buy yarn and textiles, but nowhere to buy art supplies. So I started looking at rental properties to open a business, and I realized the cost for rent and inventory would be huge. When I discovered a 9’ x 11’ room available in the old J.C. Penney building – a room the size of my first dorm room! – a friend challenged me to start a business for no more than $1,000. I took up the challenge, and that was when I decided to do a Sears Roebuck model and offer full-service orders. We have a showroom selection of essential art supplies, and we order from several wholesale catalogs that customers can look through and ask questions about. As for the challenge, it cost me just $1300 to set up my business. My initial inventory was my own art supplies, and my business model allows me to buy what customers want after I’ve been paid.
can get supplies for people faster than they would if they ordered on-line.
Tell us more about your products and services. I like to call my store “the showroom of art supplies.” It’s similar to ordering on-line, in that I have access to everything. But rather than keeping everything in stock, I display the essentials and then also a little bit of a lot of variety. I don’t have a full rack of everything, which allows me to keep the prices low. And I can get supplies for people faster than they would if they ordered on-line. What people don’t often realize is that when you order on-line, there’s the “hidden” cost of shipping. At the Drawing Board, shipping is free. I take a week’s worth of orders, and because I aggregate the orders, shipping costs are minimal for me. I’m here to answer questions and help people find solutions to problems – services that you won’t find on-line.
What are your specialties? I use a lot of artist’s grade spray paint, since spray paint has evolved into an art tool. I also like to keep cool exotic stuff that’s fun to try. People come in and say, “What’s new?” and I enjoy showing them. In addition to selling products, I rent adjoining classroom space to local art teachers. I act as their box office and help promote them. My aim is to get more people doing art. I also do graphic design, and I have some key clients, such as the Majestic Theatre and Burst’s Chocolates.
What challenges have you faced as an independent local business owner? The challenge I knew going in was the on-line competition. It’s a myth that chain stores and on-line sales are always cheaper. So my challenge is to dispel that myth. Just because my business is small and local doesn’t mean I don’t have bargains. The art community is pretty tight-knit in Corvallis, so word-of-mouth has been my best friend. Also, as a one-man operation, it’s a challenge to meet all the potential. I started teaching classes, as well as running the store, and the challenge is to keep it from getting stressful.
What is the impact of local independent businesses in Corvallis – and what does the future look like for local independents? It’s the independent businesses that give Corvallis its character. There’s such potential here because there are so many people looking for something to do. Once you’ve bought your toilet paper and groceries, there’s a desire to do something more – and that “something” can’t be met by a chain store. My role is to help people try something new. In general, the role of the local independent business is to help people one-on-one.
The future looks bright for local independents because of the young people. There’s such potential. If the most important thing in your life is paying less, then you get shopping malls. If you want a place that’s comfortable, where you can try new things, then you get a community like Corvallis.
What is your relationship to the community? I work closely with the Majestic as their graphic designer. I also serve on the Downtown Commission as their representative for arts and culture. I work with the Arts Center to provide supplies when I can, and I work with the teachers at the Benton Center to make sure their students get the right supplies. I’m a member of the City’s Healthy Streets Technical Advisory Group, as well as a member of both CIBA and the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition.
How important is sustainability to you and your business? Sustainability is important to me. I worked for the American Wind Energy Association in DC for three years, running their bookstore and convention booth. That experience taught me that the way to bring about change is not from the top down but from the bottom up. I recycle at my business, but sustainability is bigger than that. It’s about infrastructure. I have this notion that the big box stores and deliveries from China are going to crash at some point, and there needs to be something in place to help us survive the crash of the chain stores. If Borders had successfully driven out our local bookstores before it [Borders] crashed, where would we be? As a local independent business person, I’m helping us get ready for the time when we’ll need to be more locally-based.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally-owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Corvallis Independent Business Alliance.