A Heartwarming and True Art Supply Story

sp2col_wideHere is a real-life, Frank Capra-esque  story published in the Monterey County Weekly about the owner of our wonderful customer Searle/Art Max in Monterey, CA.

John Wiseman Saved Businesses, Helped Old Friends.

By Walter Ryce

Longtime high-tech businessman John Wiseman, along with his wife Vicki, moved from the bitter winters of Michigan and went into the art framing business in Monterey with partner Ronnie Barnes in 1991. They started with Max Wholesalers.

“We dipped into the last of our savings, bought a bunch of inventory, and opened a small warehouse in Forest Avenue,” John says. “It went well.”

So well that Wiseman took over the expanding businesses (two picture framing stores, two art supply stores and a wholesale warehouse) in 1996, swelled the employee ranks to 24, and cultivated a customer base in excess of 2,000.

“We couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Wiseman says. Over the years, he created a “fun” and respectful workplace; sponsored the Youth Arts Collective; built strong relationships with his vendors; and serviced a roster of top local artists and galleries. “I’m not an artist; I’m a business man. But these [stores] were my babies.”

But after 16 years, the couple decided to take an offer from a Monterey businessman to sell.

“The only thing I told [the new owner] was: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

The new owner didn’t heed that advice.

Wiseman said though the new owner didn’t know the business, he replaced long-time employees with cheaper, less-skilled workers, lapsed on vendor accounts and refused counsel from bookkeeper Vicki Wiseman. And he barred John from the business.

“I never set foot in [the stores] after that,” says Wiseman.

Sandy Lewis, a 16-year employee and art framing vet, says the new owners treated her like “dirt.”

“It was heartbreaking, to see all we had built just…” she recalls. “The atmosphere was really negative. But there weren’t a lot [of jobs] out there, so I felt stuck.”

Employees called Wiseman: “‘What do we do, boss?’” he recounts. “Most of them had been with us from the beginning. They have kids and [spouses] and mortgages. How could we just walk away from those people?”

After 14 months, and in the midst of the economy’s tumble, the new owner informed Wiseman, who held his note on the business, that he couldn’t pay and was shuttering the stores, and laying off all the employees. After he got over being incensed, the drastic news presented Wiseman with an opportunity.

Last December, he worked out a deal to take ownership of the stores again. Inventory had been depleted, unpaid vendors had cut them off, revenue was halved, even the utilities had gone unpaid. He hired back all his former employees and, after years of building up the business, together they started to rebuild.

“It’s been wonderful working with [the Wisemans] again,” says Lewis. “When John asked if I wanted to come back to work, I said, ‘For you? Hell, yeah.’”

With the help of trusting art suppliers like MacPherson’s, a loan by Rural Development, his “extraordinary” employees and his own reputation, they’ve been able to right the ship. It’s a challenge, still. “We get kicked in the teeth every day,” says Wiseman, who sighs when talking about the future and the economy. “But we’re a closer knit group than ever before.”

That kind of relationship with people sounds like promising firmament.

Fore the entire text of the article click here: Local Heroes

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