Meet Quest Maker Jan Whitted
Quest Makers are women in their 40s and beyond who've declared
"now it's my time," and then set off on their own journeys to realize their dreams. Every month a Quest Maker is featured in the FREE e-newsletter, Your Next Quest Chronicles. Click here to enjoy archived issues.
Quest Maker Jan Whitted
From chafing at a conservative workplace to creating her own best job
Chafing at working for a large and conservative organization, Jan Whitted started asking herself: what would a creative environment feel like for her? At 47, she opened her first hands-on walk-in art studio and in the process created her own best job. Thirteen years and a second store later, creative ideas keep bubbling up for this entrepreneur.
When did you decide to embark on your journey?
It was about 17 years ago, when I was in my mid-forties. I had been working as a technology manager for 10 years. My job involved a lot of problem solving and I enjoyed that. By then I had finished a whole lot of challenges and I felt I’d reached a limit where it didn’t seem there would be a challenge any more.
I am a creative thinker and I was working for a very conservative organization. I began to chafe at that and to imagine what a creative environment would feel like for me. That's when the idea for ARTBEAT Your Creativity Source was formed—a place where you could try out new things before committing to them. I had always worked full time, and I was a mom, and like many moms I didn’t have a lot of time. What if you could have a creative experience in an hour without having to invest in a lot of materials?
That idea became so strong that it took hold of me. I developed a business plan for it. I stayed in that job for another four years because having the idea wasn’t enough. I was thinking about being in an entire new industry and a really different type of business and figuring out how that would fit. During that time I researched the industry to the point to where I felt ready to launch.
How did your quest unfold?
It took me a good three years after opening to feel I had really implemented what I wanted to. I had a lot of really nitty-gritty day-to-day things to learn because I was new to this. I had to figure out how to make it work and work out all the kinks. Then after awhile, my son began to get involved in the business with me, which gave me the one thing I had been missing -- someone to bounce ideas off. We work really well together in the business; however, it became really clear it had to get bigger. We weren’t sure how because we can’t expand in our first location.
First we launched our online store. From the moment we opened, people were asking if ARTBEAT could be a franchise; they wanted us open one in their community because it was something very special. A core part of ARTBEAT’s nature is that it belongs inside of a community, as opposed to in a mall. We began to think of growing. If we were going to have a location in another community, we asked ourselves what kind.
We had some criteria: it could not be within 30 miles of Arlington because so many of our customers drive here from a distance. It needed to be far enough away so it wouldn’t draw customers away from the first store and it had be close enough for Andrai to travel to and from where he lived. We looked at the communities near where he lived and Franklin stood out. It met all the demographics. Better yet, it had an organization devoted to revitalizing the downtown, exactly in alignment with our core vision and we decided it was the place to be. We opened that location two years ago.
How did you make time for your dream?
Even though I worked another four years full time, it was this totally interesting thing once I had the vision clear in my head. I had just finished my MBA and after that kind of grueling schedule of three years of night school, working full time, with two kids at home, nothing seemed difficult after that.
Also, most of what I was doing was in the mental realm. I was making my vision clearer: What it would look like. What it would feel like when I walked in—even before I found the right location! That’s why I was able to open that store in two weeks because it all came together as a complete construct in my head. I live in the world of imagination so my initial business plan came out of me in a matter of hours. I spent the next few years refining it.
And I had an amazing series of coincidences happen. Several times a year I had to take business trips so I would check to see if there was anything happening in the cities I was visiting related to what I wanted to do. Usually there was and I would add a couple of vacation days to experience them. I really believe in synchronicity. When you have that power of clarity it really does bring resources your way. For example, there would be a hobby industries conference in the same place where my own conference was happening. It happened so many times I’d laugh; it got to the point that I’d say to myself, “Of course there’ll be something there!”
How did you deal with obstacles on your adventure?
A lot of my obstacles came from not knowing things. That is what makes it so difficult to be an entrepreneur. While it is an obstacle, it is also a characteristic of entrepreneurship—you’re inventing things along the way. It is an opportunity to learn. I don’t really regret making mistakes. Not knowing things is an opportunity to find out more and to make changes. I guess, part of it is your attitude. If you look at obstacles that way, they can be pretty exciting.
What's been the secret to reaching your goals?
In a nutshell—never giving up. Not getting discouraged when things are discouraging.
What helped you stay on your quest's path?
I have had ARTBEAT for 13 years. It’s tremendous fun and I get a lot of satisfaction out of it. I created an environment for myself where I come up with ideas easily and can implement them at my own pace. I created my own best job! People respond to ARTBEAT positively. We’re giving people good experiences. What can be better than that?
Looking back, what's one thing you wish you had known as you set off on your journey?
I had been in business for myself before but I had always had a partner. Now I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off. What I was doing was new and different enough that there weren’t any models for it. It took me quite a long time to find and network with other business people. I wish that I had thought about that in advance. Maybe I could have found some mentors along the way sooner.
Life is better when there are more people. Everything is better when more minds are involved. I don’t mean in terms of avoiding mistakes—those are inevitable. Life is richer when you are sharing it with others. I had enjoyed having a partner and I missed having someone who was as fully vested in the same thing as I was.
What's the best quest advice you've ever received?
It’s something I learned from my former business partner and good friend Jude Goldman (now with The Lenny Zakim Fund in Boston): Ask for what you want. The worst that can happen is that they can say “no”. I take that one step further: Go for what you want. The worst that can happen is that it won’t work out the way you thought it would. In my experience, success comes from going for it, time and time again.
What is the one essential quality you'd tell women to pack for their own journey?
I think one thing you need is confidence in your own vision. You need to have such a vibrant and complete picture of where you’re going that you can imagine and feel it in your gut because you will run into all kinds of obstacles. There will be people who will say “You’re being unrealistic.” There will be so many opportunities for doubt along the way. You have to pack that suitcase with confidence!
Is there a particular quote, a movie, a book or a person that has sustained you?
"What ever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” I have Goethe’s quote posted on my wall. It helps me understand what’s behind my accomplishments, from insisting that I could go to college when my parents couldn’t help, to starting a business on a shoestring and making it work. It’s not me. It’s the power of commitment and clarity of vision.
Do you have a new quest around the corner?
Well, I do. We are the first place in Mass.—and probably anywhere else— that we know of that is a hands-on walk-in studio. I do have plans for how to bring Artbeat into other communities in the future.
One of the best things we do at ARTBEAT is have art-related birthday parties for kids. We are developing art party kits as a way of bringing art related activities to a family celebrations which we are planning to launch this summer.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
The importance of connecting with people who know more than you do. Whether we’re in the same business or not, when we are willing to share our expertise, we can all learn from each other.
|ARTBEAT's Arlington location.||
Jan holds a papier mâché cat that you can make in the studio, using any of the exotic papers displayed here.
If you'd like to read the essay and the Journal Sparker inspired by Jan's interview, click here to enjoyApril's YNQ Chronicles.