AR Workshop Franchisee of the Year: Joanna Rapuzzi
It’s not every day that you get recognized as the AR Workshop Franchisee of the Year, but that honor came to the owner of AR Workshop Westfield, Joanna Rapuzzi, and we are here for it! If you know Joanna or have been to her workshop in Westfield, New Jersey, this honor definitely won’t come as a surprise. She’s a rock star owner and amazing businesswoman. We had the opportunity to do a Q & A with Joanna to find out more about her and what she feels has contributed to her success in the DIY home décor niche. We hope you will read along with us and celebrate Joanna’s milestone recognition.
Q: Can you share a brief bio?
A: I grew up in Staten Island, NY. I have two boys, 9 & 5. My husband and I decided to start looking in Jersey after having my second son. We were looking for a better commute to NYC, great schools, and a nice downtown area, and we landed in Westfield which is where we currently live. I met my husband while in school at Marist College – Go Red Foxes! In my free time, I love to craft – hello!! LOL! I love a good project whether it be refinishing an old piece of furniture, interior design, DIY fire pits, planning a party, you name it – I am always up for the challenge! I also really love digital scrapbooking, an updated version of my original passion on paper. I try to make compact family yearbooks every year to recap our whole year of fun through photos! It makes me so happy looking through them. I always feel like I am running around from one thing to the next but I also really love watching my boys play sports!
Q: How did you first hear about Anders Ruff Workshop?
A: After visiting family in NC, I came across an AR Workshop, and knew this was it (the career change I was looking for–see below). This was the right fit – a combination of my passion for crafting along with my entrepreneurial business background. We had nothing like it by us, and knew that it would be a great addition to the community. Although owning a business, it sometimes feels like I took on more work, it really is the perfect work/life balance that I needed. love that AR was founded by two women that met at a preschool orientation – 2 minds that were passionate about crafting and wanting to share it with others. Being part of a women-run organization is so empowering! We have cultivated such a great group of people amongst our customers, staff, and community, and our mission is clear! We want to lead a DIY movement that inspires and empowers others through creativity. It is the best feeling in the world when someone comes into a workshop feeling very timid about using power tools, and by the end, they are googling where to buy it! Or when a customer is just so proud of their project, they cannot wait to hang it up (they share the photos too)! It makes us feel so great knowing that my staff and I had a part in sparking that creative side of a person.
Q: Why did you start your business?
A: I always wanted to own my own business, but I never knew what it would be and if I would take the risk! I went on to get my MBA from Pace University specializing in international business and entrepreneurship! Prior to owning AR, I worked for 7 years as a project manager for a real estate developer in NYC followed by a change in careers to administrative director in the department of psychiatry at a hospital. After having both of my children, I was feeling really stuck and wanted to make a change. I had been commuting to NYC for nearly 10 years and was feeling very absent in my children’s lives. I was missing major events, so I really wanted to find something more local. If anything, I really wanted to be there for drop off and pick up at school! Secondarily, while I loved all my various roles, I really wanted a profession that was more aligned with my passions.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned as a franchisee?
A: Be ready to pivot at any moment. Don’t get too comfortable.
Q: What is your favorite thing about owning a DIY workshop?
A: The flexibility. It has allowed me to be with my kids when they need me. I can be at all the sporting and school events while still having a full-time job. I feel productive and that I am contributing to my family and community. I love the creativity that comes out of the shop, both with customers and our own staff. It makes me happy to see people leave the shop proud of their work!
Q: What is your favorite DIY project that you offer?
A: My favorite project is the framed sign! It is sleek and rustic at the same time. Driftwood is my favorite stain for the frame at this time!
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced and overcome?
A: I would say opening the business was the start of the challenge. I had never owned a business, so from signing the lease, to the build out, to opening the doors was exciting but quite the challenge! I had just resigned from my job – scary – and now was challenged with getting this business off the ground. My husband and I did most of the build-out. I would go during the day and get whatever I could get done while the kids were in school. When the kids got out of school and my husband home from work, we would eat dinner and then hire a babysitter. My husband would go to the shop and work all night building, painting, staining – you name it! We were stressed, had a lack of sleep, would fight over silly things, but we powered through! The reward of that build-out phase was unlike anything we have gone through. We did and built things that we had never done before – used tools we had never used before. We became builders – well not really – but we felt like that! We look at it so proudly now! And each step after that grand opening was all little challenges after another, but taking the leap to do it was probably the biggest!
When the pandemic hit in about mid-March, we had to shut our doors! We had to think quickly, wrangle a skeleton team and come up with ways to reach customers in other ways in order to stay afloat – DIY to GO came about! This is all while our team, including myself, were feeling the full range of emotions with all the unknowns and hardships to our families. But we did it! We came together, and we provided the community with an outlet of creativity, something to do, a stress reliever while we are all going through this difficult time (and we still are!). In July, we opened back up to in-person workshops but at a much lower capacity. We used to be able to have 40 in a workshop and now it is somewhere between 6 and 12 on a good day. But this crisis allowed us to open another branch of business. DIY to Go is here to stay, and we are so grateful that our customers loved the concept.
Q: What is your best advice to new owners?
A: Think positive. Don’t be caught up in the things that go wrong, because things will! Stay focused on the goal. Put yourself out there. You are HEAD cheerleader for your business. Believe in the franchise operators, and try to use as much of the methods, tips, and tricks that they put out there for marketing your business! Be ready to pivot at any moment. Don’t get too comfortable – it will show in your sales. Have fun ! If you have fun and love what you are doing and putting out there, it will reflect and translate better sales and higher customer satisfaction.
Q: What does it mean to you to be named AR Workshop Franchisee of the year?
A: I am beyond honored and proud! I have been with the franchise for 4 years, and I strive to get better every year, but it was definitely a surprise! We have such incredible talent amongst our franchise owners, and I am so lucky to be part of this group. Being rewarded with this title just makes all the hard work that much sweeter, especially in a year like this one!
Q: What are your goals for 2021?
A: I would like to enhance my retail section and make it more robust and appealing as the one-stop-shop for giftables as well as DIY. [I’d like to] focus on more collaborations [and] increase the reach and customer base through schools. [I’d like to] incorporate live instruction into our virtual offerings. [I want to] reorganize and revamp the shop!
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