Today we’d like to introduce you to Natalie Meza.
Natalie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I had a knack for art at an early age. Throughout my schooling, I was considered the “art kid” – the one teachers asked to make posters & whatnot. When my parents divorced in 6th grade my self-esteem began to plummet. I felt I wasn’t allowed to have my own emotions & tried to be agreeable while my parents went through their drama. This is about the time that art and music became an expressive outlet for me.
Once I reached high school, I was an insecure death rocker (goth) and really relied on my art electives to get me through school. I loved the guidance, structure, and feedback that my classes provided. I was able to learn a lot of techniques that I wouldn’t have on my own and several of my instructors took a personal interest in my artistic growth. Although I didn’t feel like my talent wasn’t anything special, my teachers recognized it and helped pull out my creativity by challenging me with higher-level assignments & encouraging me to enter a few competitions which I won. They also supported me by purchasing artist quality supplies with their own money and let me hang out in their rooms making art or printing photos during school lunch breaks. I enjoyed everything from drawing & painting to clay, art history and photography.
Because of my high school art experience, I knew I wanted to follow in my mentors’ footsteps and one day teach art to kids. After high school, I went to college and pursued a career in graphic design. I eventually worked full-time as a professional web designer in the then-emerging e-commerce industry. I earned a position as Creative Director working on websites for clients such as Toshiba, Sotheby’s and Best Buy. When the technology industry crashed in the early 2000s, I found myself out of a job.
I freelanced for a while, got married, and just when I decided it was time to go back to college and see about getting my teaching credentials, I became pregnant. Having my little boy, Avery, changed my universe. I desired a new career path that would incorporate motherhood and art. I envisioned opening a creativity studio where I could raise my son while helping to nurture a love of art in children just as my own teachers had done for me. With public schools eliminating art programs from their curriculum I knew there was a niche I could fill and Averyboo Arts was born!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Actually, no. There have been many challenges over the last 11 years.
I opened my art studio for children in 2009 amid the recession. During my build-out, I was denied a startup loan from the bank because Wall Street literally crashed the same week I had applied. I bootstrapped my own business by drastically paring down my initial offerings, accepting help from friends & family and also held off on hiring staff for nearly two years – all with a toddler in tow.
Those initial two years were HARD – I did *everything*; client management, bookkeeping, made marketing materials, website, customer service, cleaned, and of course, entertained my child all by myself. It wasn’t all about art, it was all business.
Since I was working alone, I had a policy that my services required pre-registration or were by appointment. This allowed me to find childcare on days when I would be really busy. I remember one morning, all these moms started showing up 30 minutes before I was scheduled to open and discovered a playdate had been planned to meet up at my studio without notice. They insisted that I allow them to come inside instead of waiting for opening time… their children started running around and then I sort of freaked out after learning that the playdate had been posted in a mommy group of over 200 local people that could all potentially show up. I suppose this would’ve been a great opportunity if I had at least four more people on staff to help, but instead, I had a crying 3-year-old. I asked that the group be contacted and explained that I could only accommodate 10-12 children… Well, that didn’t go over well. Even though they were members of a mommy group that helped support each other in mommyhood, they had no compassion for me.
In addition to the bad feedback generated by that experience, I had little money for advertising. Eventually, the parents in my neighborhood trickled in and quickly became not only my friends but also my cheerleaders. Thanks to their positive word of mouth, I was soon able to roll out my art classes and birthday party packages.
Over the years, I’ve had my ups and downs mentally. I don’t think most people realize that their local brick and mortar shops are owned by passionate people who are sometimes struggling. They struggle to acquire new customers, to make enough to cover their increasing rents…They struggle with wages & taxes while trying to keep their pricing as low as possible. They struggle to balance work-life with personal time. There is pressure to participate in community events, to donate to schools & other organizations when they don’t necessarily have the extra time or money to do so. When there are personal issues or illness they often don’t have the staff to take days off they need. The stress can be immense at times but I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t love it.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Averyboo Arts – what should we know?
Averyboo Arts is an art studio for kids ages 3-12 in Bixby Knolls, Long Beach. We are nearing our 11th year of offering unique, high-quality art experiences including Art Classes, Birthday Parties, Art Camps and specialty workshops. Adults can also gather ten friends for their own customized art event at our studio or we can travel to your location. I employ local artists as instructors who add their own experience and point of view to our service offerings.
I’m most proud that my studio grew organically and that we don’t conform to any educational standards. Averyboo is my own creative expression and so my staff & I are always coming up with interesting ideas for classes or camps. Each week we provide new projects that incorporate a variety of materials & techniques so that kids can discover what speaks to them as an artist. I want our students to grow skills that will allow them to manifest their own masterpieces. Averyboo Arts provides a space where kids have access to artist quality materials, learn that mistakes help us improve, and feel accepted & inspired just like I did in high school.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
There have been many who have helped & supported me along the way. My parents and husband have always come through when I really needed extra assistance or needed to work on DIY projects…I wouldn’t have lasted my 3rd year if it weren’t for a few wonderful moms who offered to trade services for helping out at the studio…I’m also fortunate to be located in a growing business district with an association who provides mentorship. Most of all, my current staff is AMAZING. We are a small but powerful team and I’m so lucky to work with friends who want to see this little business succeed. Thank You – Di, Brandis, Hilary, Jenn, Anna & Avery!
- Monthly Art Classes (Drawing, Painting, Sculpting, Mixed Media) $75-$180
- Birthday Parties starting at $295
- Workshops & Camps $30 & Up
- Saturday Creativity Lab (drop in) $14 p/hr
- Homeschool Classes (Grades K-7) $175
- Address: 3908 Atlantic Ave
Long Beach, CA 90807
- Website: http://www.averyboo.com
- Phone: 562-912-4800
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/averyboo_arts/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AverybooArts/
Personal Photo 1: Tom Underhill @underhillphoto; Photos 2-5: Natalie Meza