In an AR Workshop you can create anything from a checkerboard to a canvas tote bag or a wood porch sign with perfectly stenciled lettering and colors to match your home.
No artistic skills required. Can’t draw a straight line? No problem.
“You pick out a design, we will cut the stencil; George will cut the wood,” said Miriam Sellers, who co-owns the AR Workshop Dothan with her husband, the aforementioned George. “We will have it ready for you when you come for that class. We will walk you through it; we’re not going to just throw you out there and say, ‘Good luck, we’re going to lunch.’ It’s not that way. We’re holding your hand through the process.”
Do-it-yourself arts and crafts businesses are nothing new. You have your ceramic studios as well as painting party businesses and even DIY wood sign studios. AR Workshop takes it up a notch with jewelry projects, pillows, chunky-knit blankets and all sorts of wood craft projects like trays, pet beds, signs, clocks, lazy Susans and game boards.
People come either in groups or by themselves and spend a few hours painting, talking and laughing while they work on a project. Since most workshops are in the evening, people often unwind and relax as they build.
For some AR Workshop customers, it might be the first time they’ve ever sanded a piece of wood or used a nail gun. But the end result, Miriam Sellers said, is usually something the customer can be proud to put in their home.
“You’ve got a beautiful project that you made,” she said. “And the sense of accomplishment − I made a tray for my house; I made a lazy Susan; I made a Christmas gift for my family.”
AR Workshop was started by two friends – graphic designers Maureen Anders and Adria Ruff from Charlotte, North Carolina. The AR stands for Anders Ruff. The flagship AR Workshop opened in 2016 in Pineville, North Carolina, and there are now more than 100 franchise locations all over the country. In Alabama, there are AR Workshops in Auburn, Dothan and Mobile.
Miriam and George Sellers opened the AR Workshop Dothan in October 2018.
The couple grew up together in Northwest Florida near Wewahitchka. They married, had two daughters and moved from Florida to Texas and then Northern Virginia with George’s job in building integrative computer systems for companies like Halliburton KBR and IBM. Miriam worked as an administrative assistant, including a job at Mary Kay Cosmetics working directly for founder Mary Kay Ash.
But by 2015, their daughters were grown and Miriam decided she needed to be closer to her aging parents, who were living on a family farm in Geneva County. So she headed to the Wiregrass while George worked to find something closer to Alabama.
In April 2018, Miriam saw where a Facebook friend had liked an AR Workshop coming to Northern Virginia near where they used to live. She checked out the AR website and liked what she saw. Miriam, who likes to scrapbook and has always been crafty, contacted the company about opening a franchise in Dothan. George was supportive but suggested Miriam actually visit an AR Workshop and build something first.
“At that point I’d never been to one,” she said. “I’d just seen all this stuff online for heaven’s sake.”
George and Miriam went to an AR Workshop studio in Smyrna, Georgia, and loved it. They went to training in July, built the tables they needed for a Dothan studio in August, moved into their retail space in September and had their grand opening in October.
AR Workshop makes things simple by having specific projects for customers to choose from along with 60 paint colors and six different stains. Projects can be customized with color choices, techniques and even stenciling.
“It’s exciting to see people that don’t think they’re creative and after they see their project … it’s just very satisfying,” Miriam said.
AR Workshop Dothan hosts private parties, team-building exercises for local businesses, and will even do special workshops in other locations. Most of their workshops are scheduled in the evenings or during the day on Saturdays. They can schedule projects during retail hours but they don’t usually take drop-ins due to the prep work done before a project begins. You can also browse some of the completed projects during retail hours at the studio in Fountain Plaza.
The Sellers get two types of customers – those who want to build something and those who want to buy something already built. And then there are those who come in just to see what the business is exactly.
“We enjoy meeting people; very often we will have folks just come in the front door because they don’t know what we are,” Miriam said. “They will walk around and next thing you know, they start telling us about their life stories or what makes them tick or why they’re in Dothan.
Sometimes they’ll buy something; sometimes they don’t. George and Miriam encourage those visitors to come back for a class, but they often don’t see them again and that’s OK. As George puts it, the studio has still served a purpose.
“Even if it’s to allow folks a chance to relax and unburden themselves for a little bit,” Miriam said. “We have a lot of customers who come back over and over again and say they just like being here. They like the feel. They enjoy visiting with us. It helps them de-stress and relax.”