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Focusing on progress with excellence

A person with pink hair in a top knot, wearing white glasses, a black and orange tie-dye shirt with an artistic face design, and long orange earrings stands in front of a swirling beige background. They have tattoos on both arms and are smiling slightly.

Hillary Wall

Cork & Chroma

The Business

The Founder

Hillary Wall

The Concept

Where painting meets music, wine and your favourite people.

The Best Part

“I was pretty young, I was mid-20s and we didn’t really own anything so there wasn’t tonnes to lose if we gave it a go.”

The Biggest Learning

“What wakes me up in the morning and helps me keep going in business is just the feeling that we are able to create in a room full of people doing an activity.”

Go with the flow

“We wanted to be known as a place where people could go for connection and something to do. We wanted to bring the idea of art and creativity and painting into the mainstream.”

It was a “lightning-bolt moment” when the idea of paint and sip hit Hillary Wall one night – a space where art, fun and friends could exist as one.The yoga teacher had moved to Brisbane from America 18 months before and thought she might open a yoga studio one day. But it was her love of painting that provided her business inspiration one night out of the blue.

“When this idea came to me I was already, sort of, moving past that part of my life (with yoga) and I decided to give it a go,” Wall said.

“There was a lot of flow with the idea, so it just felt really right and the next morning after that lightbulb, lightening-bolt moment, I woke up and started working on it.”
Cork & Chroma is Wall’s first business venture, which she opened with partner B.J. Wall in 2013.

From early on, it was the couple’s dream to have three studios: In their home town of Brisbane, in Sydney and in Melbourne.
“I am a painter and I didn’t really have a place where I wanted to go paint because I just wanted to do it for fun. I felt too nervous to go to an art class. So, yeah, this was my answer to that. It’s basically what I wish existed when I first started painting in my dorm room at university.”

pure intentions

Wall says it’s the business’s “purity of intention” that sets it apart from other offerings and is behind its longevity.

Cork & Chroma now has a team of talented artists across its three locations who share in their founders’ passion and purpose. “We just really love to paint with people,” she said.
“The BYO is a really fun thing to do and it’s an important part of what we offer because it allows people to feel comfortable and it gives people a reason to make this a fun, social thing.”

But the success has not been without challenges, and Wall says there have been many.
“One of the main challenges was that it is our first business and so we just didn’t know everything,” she says. “We didn’t know how to do it all so a lot of it was just figuring it out as we go. So there’s challenges at every turn.”

They have included figuring out “how do we explain this to people so they book in”, managing three locations from one, ensuring the same quality across all studios, running a business through Covid and, now, figuring out how to keep evolving the business after 10 years.

“We want to stay true to the core of our brand and who we are but also find ways to push into new territory that I haven’t seen anyone else doing,” she said.“What does that mean and what does that look like for us?”

Business Connections

“Creating places where people can come together and connect over a shared experience is really important,” Wall says, adding that it feels more important following the shared isolation of Covid.

“The feedback from guests and my team, the way that we feel after a session is done, the way that guests say that they’ve made something for the first time since high school, or you talk to someone and they said they had an art teacher who told him they should never make anything again, like, that’s real stuff.

“And it’s nice just to help people find a connection to each other in that social space, but then really a connection to themselves within their creative expression.”
Wall says the five-year plan is not crystal clear right now, but she wants to add more ‘art therapy’ sessions in which participants don’t follow steps, but rather “infuse some of their own feelings, thoughts, ideas into that painting” for relaxation.
She says part of what she’s learned over 10 years in business is to let go of the idea of perfection.

“I used to be a lot more focussed on perfection and excellence through perfection,” Wall says.
“And I think now I just am a lot more focussed on progress with excellence. You know, the little steps, and always in alignment to who we are and what we’re trying to do.”

words of wisdom

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Follow your path: “The advice I would have for someone who is trying to find the courage to get started would be: If you have an idea that you feel extremely ‘on’ about, either it excites you to a level that you haven’t felt before, or it feels like there’s a lot of flow with it, just follow that path.”

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Seek support: “I think entrepreneurship can be a bit isolating. If you don’t have a good group of people around you who know what it’s like, it can be challenging.”

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Ensure consistency of brand and tone of voice: “We had a little guide that was the way we spoke and it was this brain dump that I put out on how we would speak. And I think just being able to clearly communicate that to the team in a service business, it means that every person in every act of service that they’re doing on behalf of our brand is in alignment.”

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Your staff are your brand ambassadors: “Most of our training is about who we are and what they’re signing on to, not so much, make sure the brush goes here, the pot goes here. Anyone can do that. We want to find people who can represent our brand in a way that we feel is the most true to who we are.”

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Secure your trademarks: “I would really stress to you if you haven’t done that yet, or it’s on your list, get it done. There’s a cost to it, but the cost of not doing it if something goes wrong; it’s much greater.”

“THERE ARE SEASONS IN BUSINESS AND THE BENEFIT NOW OF HAVING DONE THIS FOR 10 YEARS IS THAT I HAVE FELT THOSE - THE HIGHEST OF HIGHS AND THE LOWEST OF LOWS - AND EVERY SEASON WILL CHANGE, JUST LIKE NATURE ALL AROUND US.”

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