The Art of a Family Business

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The Art of a Family Business

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Karen, Eddie, and Karli Renz run a family business called Bay Arts Center
in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi and have been NASE members since 2005.


When and why did you start your business?

Karen has been painting since her childhood, and she always dreamed of opening an art studio to teach the skills of art. In 1997, after raising six children, an opportunity arose for her to start teaching art to youth and adults out of her home. Her success has continued through the years and the school continues to grow to this day. Karli, the fifth child, also had a love for art; she attended college and received a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts. This talented mother-and-daughter combo created the opportunity to expand the art school into an arts center. In the most recent expansion, they added an art supply store and art gallery. Eddie, the husband and father, lends a hand with accounting and handyman work, while their oldest son, Eddie III, is their webmaster. Bay Arts Center is a unique place where one can learn fine art skills, shop for supplies and local artwork, attend adult and youth painting parties, and hang their favorite masterpiece in the gallery.

Your business received a Growth Grant from NASE. How did that help you build your business?

Bay Arts Center’s newest addition of an art supply store and gallery opened earlier this year. However, we were limited on funds to purchase inventory. The NASE Growth Grant allowed us to purchase the proper quantity and quality of products in our store for our customers. Because of the NASE grant, we are able to provide supplies to our students, local artists, and the local schools. Making a first impression in the retail business is very important; with the NASE grant we were able to have the supplies our customers needed the first time they walked in, making them returning customers.

How did art become so important to your family?

Karen always had a natural ability for art. When she was younger, she received art lessons from a local artist in her community. She continued her learning in college by working on a degree in fine art. Karen’s love of art was then passed to her daughter, Karli, who also attended college for fine art. Although their painting styles are different, they share the same passion of making art and bringing art to others.

You have two sides to your business – Karen Anne’s School of Fine Art and the Bay Arts Center. Tell us about how one of those built on the other.

Karen Anne’s School of Fine Art began out of her home. Eventually, her school grew too large for her home, and she decided to rent a studio to accommodate her many students. After years of success with the school, Karen, Eddie, and Karli decided that they wanted to offer more to the community. They decided to create a center for art: Bay Arts Center. This opened many doors of opportunity for not only their expansion, but for their community. Bay Arts Center houses Karen Anne’s School of Fine Art, while also offering art parties, art workshops, an art supply store, and an art gallery.

What activities do you offer at the Bay Arts Center and how does that integrate you into the community?

Within Bay Arts Center we offer a place for beginning youth and adult to learn art in “Karen Anne’s School of Fine Art”. We also have private “Youth Paint-n-Parties” for children or youth groups, as well as “Sip Dip-n-Stroke,” which is a fun painting class for adults on the weekends. Throughout the year, Bay Arts Center hosts weekend workshops that are taught by various artists. We are very involved with our local schools and churches, and often donate paintings and gift certificates for classes to help them raise money for their various fundraisers. We also help by volunteering our time to support youth art education, and participating in the local Arts society.

How do you market your business?

We advertise in our local paper on occasion, and sometimes put an ad in local advertising publications. The Bay Arts Center can also be found in the NASE Small Business Locator under arts and crafts. However, we depend heavily on word-of-mouth. We have found that if we treat our customers well, they will do the same and tell their friends. When people enjoy their time here or experience great service, they want to come back and they want to help us by telling others. Social media assists in spreading the word about us, and it helps people spread the word even quicker. We recently started sending out a monthly email newsletter letting our subscribers know what’s new at Bay Arts Center. Also, our website helps a great deal when people want to know more about us.

What challenges have you faced in your business? How have you overcome them?

Time has been one of our biggest challenges. Because we are family-owned and operated, we handle almost everything ourselves. This requires that we spend the majority of our time at the center, arriving early in the morning and leaving late at night. So, to overcome this challenge we try to break away every now and then, but especially on Sundays. We value Sundays as a religious and family day, and the Bay Arts Center is closed. Another challenge we have recently faced is our online competitors. With our addition of a retail store, we have had the challenge of competing with online prices. Some online stores are able to offer their products at almost wholesale prices. If we were to offer the same prices, we would not be able to stay open. Our community has helped us overcome this challenge. We are based in a small community that believes in supporting local businesses.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?

The best thing about being self-employed is the satisfaction of knowing we are making a difference in people’s lives with the services we provide. Our Motto is: Art is our joy, our passion, our ambition, our delight, our fun, and our release, and we’d love to share it with you! To God be the glory!

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever
received from a customer?

Customers and students have told us on numerous occasions that Bay Arts Center has helped them through some difficult times in their lives. Through creating art and being in a serene atmosphere, they have been able to leave the world and their troubles behind when they enter our door. A specific example is a student of Karen Anne’s School of Fine Art who was suffering from depression. Coming to art classes made her happy and gave her relief from her pain. Her doctor actually gave her a prescription to continue art lessons!

Which NASE member benefit is most important
to you?

We enjoy all of our member benefits that are provided through NASE, but we are especially grateful for the NASE Growth Grant program. Without it, our retail expansion would not have been so successful. It helped us grow and expand our income while expanding our services to our community.

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