Engage Art Studio, Schwenksville, PA

When Melissa Thurman, owner of Engage Art Studio, earned a bachelor’s degree in printmaking from Temple University, she wasn’t sure about how to translate her love of art into a career, let alone a thriving business. Unsure of what the future held, she took a part-time job at an art studio and taught children painting, drawing and sculpting during summer camps, birthday parties and family days.

Her love of the arts, combined with the joy of working with children, helped the business thrive.

Recognizing opportunity

Realizing that she’d like to have her own art business, Melissa struck out on her own, offering private lessons in her clients’ homes. With a desire to grow her business further, she found a space that would enable her to offer larger classes, which would expand her client base while leveraging her time more effectively and profitably.

She approached her banker, Ray Porambo, who at the time was at Univest, and was approved for a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan that helped her get off the ground.

Just five years later, Engage Art had already outgrown its facility.

Seeing potential, not obstacles

Fear stops many would-be entrepreneurs from launching and growing businesses when the opportunities before them seem daunting. That could have been the case for Melissa, too, who was looking at moving her business from a location with a couple of thousand square feet to a four-story, 10,000+ square foot building.

Instead, though, Melissa recognized it as her dream location – an historic former inn, Weldon House, in Schwenksville, outside Philadelphia. In Weldon House, Melissa saw new opportunities everywhere: In every room, on every floor and even in the parking lot.

Making her dream a reality with an SBA 504 loan

Melissa had such a great experience with her first SBA loan that she didn’t hesitate to go that route once again. Still, although her bank wanted to support the project, Univest couldn’t fully fund the loan alone.

That’s when Univest put Melissa in touch with Pursuit and our team worked with Melissa and her bank to make her business-expansion dream a reality. Univest and Pursuit leveraged an SBA 504 loan for $435,000 to purchase the property, with a 10% owner-equity contribution. Melissa also opened a line of credit with the bank for additional working capital.

“That part of my business’s expansion, actually purchasing a commercial property, was so brand new to me and outside of my comfort zone,” explains Melissa.  “But the Pursuit team was great, they helped at every step. Overall, I’ve been extremely happy and I’d highly recommend that any entrepreneur who needs funding meet with Pursuit to find out what’s available and how they can help.”

In 2019, Melissa closed on the loan under Engage LLC, a real estate holding company she created for this transaction. The existing operating company, Engage Art Studio, moved in.

With a mix of art classes, summer camp, events and art-themed parties, Melissa’s business quickly took off, attracting her core base of children, and also families who participate together.

“Our offerings expanded from about 22 classes weekly to 35, with summer camps, events, a retail market for art and home goods, and even a flea market in the parking lot when the weather’s nice,” Melissa says.

Another common fear that grows from expansion is whether financial projections can be met. As Melissa explains, though, if you plan and execute well, you will meet your goals.

“When I put together financial projections as part of the loan process, it seemed surreal to forecast revenue at twice the rate that I could achieve in the former space,” she explains. “But when I did my year-end books, I was shocked to see that we had essentially made our numbers. To see that on paper is to realize that this is legitimate, it’s real. It’s amazing! It’s totally energized me and inspired me to keep moving forward.”

Focus on your goals and get support to make it happen

Asked about insight she has learned and wants to share with other entrepreneurs, Melissa says, “You know when something’s right, you can feel it in your gut. And when that happens, you’ve got to find every available resource and make it happen. When you make that commitment, you really can do what you love and be happy, even when you work incredibly long hours and put every ounce of energy into your business. It’s a lot of hours, but they’re happy hours.”

She adds, “Having the right support team in place is so important. My lending team was essential to securing the property and I’m lucky to have the support of my family and friends, who are always pitching in to help spruce up the building. Our staff, which has expanded from one part-time employee to a team of six, is critical. The artists in the community have been phenomenal, offering great ideas and energy. And our clients are great, telling their friends and neighbors about us, too.”

Fifteen years after trying to figure out what to do with her life, she’s created the life of her dreams in a location that offers potential for growth and fulfillment beyond anything she could have imagined.

She sums it up enthusiastically, saying, “I’m realizing dreams now that I never even knew I had!”

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