Lisa Rickert had an MBA in finance, a career at a large corporation in New Orleans and a limited budget with which to decorate her dream house. She found herself seated on the floor at Barnes and Noble, frustrated and overwhelmed by her unsuccessful attempts to create a European aesthetic in the Lakeview home she'd recently purchased with her husband. But at one serendipitous moment, the title of one of the strewn-about books jumped out at her: Creating the French Look. A few pages into the book by British painting and decor maven Annie Sloan, Rickert was hooked. The style guide's old-world aesthetic and do-it-yourself appeal helped jump-start her creativity. "I told my husband, 'We're going to do everything ourselves,'" she remembers. "We didn't need to go out and spend thousands of dollars on new furniture."
She barely paused when she learned that the key to Sloan's method — the eponymous chalk paint the artist had developed — wasn't available for purchase in the U.S. due to the lack of a distributor. Rickert ordered some from England for her own use, hoping it would live up to its description. From her first application attempts, she says, she was "in love." The paint came in a variety of colors, had a beautiful finish, and best of all, required minimal prep work and expertise. "I consider myself a creative person, but I never really had an outlet or the time for it," Rickert says. "I didn't have years of training, but I fell hard for this product. It took so many steps out of the painting process."
That's when the seed of a career-changing idea took root, and Rickert contacted Annie Sloan directly. She learned that Sloan, a painter, entrepreneur and bestselling author, was open to selling her product in the U.S. — she'd tried a few years before, but the attempt had fizzled out with little success. Rickert was taken with Sloan's story, vision, sense of humor and commitment to educating her fans. Rickert felt confident that her head for business, coupled with her husband's family background in distribution, could be the ticket to the brand's success in the U.S. "I'm not a very risky person," Rickert says, "but something about Annie and the product spoke to me. It became not so much the question 'Should I do this?' but 'How am I going to do this?'"
She's since figured it out. It took eight months to sort out the nuts and bolts of getting the paint imported, but in July 2010, the chalk paint made its statewide debut in three locations in New Orleans via Rickert's company, Jolie Design & Decor Inc. (247-3788; www.anniesloanunfolded.com). The city seemed a natural choice for Rickert, not least because she's lived here her whole life. "New Orleans is the closest you can come to a European city in the U.S.," she says. "I was confident that the look of the paint would tie in with the aesthetic here and that people would respond."
She was right, and not just about the local market. As of February 2012, Jolie Designs routes Annie Sloan Chalk Paint to more than 140 locations in the U.S. and Canada, and continues to expand. Rickert is on the cusp of branching into Australia and New Zealand, and the paint has recently been featured in a number of national home decor magazines, including Country Living and Kitchen Living. She credits the green movement with much of its success: "Nowadays, people are more interested in repurposing old things."
In March, Sloan will embark on a multi-city tour of the U.S. to meet face-to-face with her growing fan base through a series of all-day workshops and book signings. Budding painters will get a chance to hear about Sloan's technique, learn her views on color theory and see demonstrations of the various finishes specifically engineered to work with her chalk paint, including the craquelure (which creates a multicolored, shatter effect when applied to furniture) and the dark waxes (which add a distressed finish). The tour also will coincide with the release of a new shade of pink to raise breast cancer awareness, and a percentage of every can sold will go toward various breast cancer research and support organizations.