STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
Research built up throughout the last decade has repeatedly shown people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather than material objects.
“We found that people receive more enduring pleasure and satisfaction from investing in life experiences than material possessions,” said University of Colorado assistant professor of psychology Leaf Van Boven, who has been studying the topic for almost a decade, in an article on the university’s website.
Studies also show that consumer spending is following suit. A June study by the consulting and business advisory firm Boston Consulting Group found customer spending worldwide on luxury experiences has grown 50 percent faster than sales of luxury goods.
Now businesses are finding ways to capitalize on the trend – creating marketable experiences or customizing their products and stores to the point that buying something becomes an experience for the customer. Think Apple and Starbucks Coffee Co.
Durango’s businesses are catching on, too, and two of the newest businesses on Main Avenue are joining from an artistic angle. Both aim to provide opportunities for people to create their own art, but with the setting, supplies and social atmosphere that makes the experience matter just as much, or more, than what customers walk home with at the end of the day.
“The idea was to create a whole experience around it, not just an art class,” said Lorie Naylor, owner of Cocktails & Creations, at 858 Main Ave. “It’s more social painting.”
The business provides night and weekend-painting classes that offer step-by-step instruction, along with a social atmosphere complete with drinks, snacks and music.
Customer are guaranteed they will have “laughed and sipped (their) way through a lively and fun art class,” the studio’s website said.
Get Fused, a glass studio and art gallery, also takes a lighthearted, welcoming approach. The glass studio, at 600 Main Ave., provides all the supplies for people to make glass creations such as plates, wall decorations and earrings. The studio relies mostly on drop-in clients and uses just a few tools, said Pam Schwartz, who started the studio in May.
“I want to have this be totally accessible art for people,” Schwartz said.
She doesn’t charge by the hour so people don’t feel any pressure to finish their piece, she said. One of her clients is a banker and says the glasswork is his stress relief, she said.
Schwartz sets her prices, which range from $15 to $30 on average, with the goal of making the experience affordable enough that people can come back regularly.
Naylor said many of her customers have gravitated to Cocktails & Creations because it provides a social experience that is outside the norm. She has hosted birthday parties, bridal showers and bachelorette parties and seen the studio become popular as a destination for date nights and girlfriend get-togethers.
“It’s something different and something fun for people,” she said. People also like taking something home with them at the end, she said.
Cooking classes offer a similar experience-focused service and have served as inspiration for similar business models, said Lauren Slaff, a chef and owner of Kitchen Koach, a cooking-class business, who is the culinary arts and ProStart teacher at Durango High School.
There is a certain value to making something rather than buying it, Slaff said.
“Culinary students gain so much more pleasure in being part of process that creates what they end up with rather than simply buying an item,” she said.
Since Cocktails & Creations opened in April, demand has grown steadily, Naylor said.
“April and May, we didn’t have as much on the calendar. Now, we have Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday classes, and three classes on Saturday,” she said.
Durango’s affluent, educated population helps create an opportunity for these types of businesses to succeed, said Joe Keck, director of the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center.
Before starting her business, Schwartz said she talked to residents and visited local businesses. She found that people here value having a creative outlet.
“People enjoy making things,” she said.