Paint the Town

story and photos by Cindy Ruggieri

Having grown up with an entrepreneurial father, it is no surprise the three Fennel siblings – Charlie, Liz and Meredith – are following in his footsteps. As the owners of Paint the Town in Elmira, these young entrepreneurs have put their own stamp on a business that continues to expand its reach to multiple regions across the country.

Paint the Town is a personalized décor and souvenirs company, originally started in Massachusetts with clients based predominately in the beachside towns and mountain areas in New England.

“We all grew up working in the family business, and were interested in taking advantage of that knowledge and owning our own business,” Charlie explained. “When Paint the Town came up for sale, it seemed to be the perfect fit for us.”

Charlie was able to take advantage of his own background in sales and the wood industry. Liz had been looking to move back to the Finger Lakes Region after a stint in New York City as a sales rep in the gifting business. Liz was graduating from college and ready to move back home to Elmira to start her own career in business. They became the new owners in February 2020.

The excitement of a new business lasted just a month until things came to a screeching halt due to COVID. For a new business venture that had a big market in tourism, it was difficult. It also had a silver lining.

“The response from a lot of the stores that sell our products was very innovative, offering curbside pickup and online sales,” Charlie said. “It was awesome to see how these small businesses would push through at a time of adversity. In turn, it also kept us going.”

The Fennels used this slower time to complete their relocation from Massachusetts to Elmira, which included moving their room-size printers into their new location and organizing their woodworking shop. They also used the time to create new designs and come up with plans to diversify into new markets.

“We wanted to bring our own fresh new designs into our region here in the Finger Lakes and grow the business beyond just the New England area,” Liz said.

“We also wanted to come up with clients that were still able to operate in outdoor spaces due to COVID,” Meredith added.

The siblings designed new catalogs of products for wineries and breweries, golf courses and custom brand products for small businesses. There was a huge marketing push to offer these new product lines, which also helped to sustain the business.

Their products include wooden signs, coasters, mugs, ornaments, magnets, towels – items that can be customized with a business name, location, graphics and text – anything that can be used as home décor, or as a warm memory of a place visited. “We do mostly wholesale to businesses, but we also sell online to individual clients who want personalized products for the home,” said Meredith.

“That’s what sets us apart,” Liz stated. “We can customize in small quantities when a business wants to test a new product offering, and can fulfill large quantities for repeat business.”

With the move to Elmira, Paint the Town also made a push to source locally as much as it could. The white pine wood blanks for its signs are provided by Sunshine Woodcraft in Himrod. The Fennels get the magnet supplies from Rochester, and all their packaging material is from Syracuse.

Each sibling has their own area of responsibility. Charlie manages the sales and marketing end while Liz manages the floor and production line, and Meredith is responsible for the back-end office such as billing and customer service. But as in any small business, they pitch in wherever they are needed.

The day I visited they gave me a tour of their production facility, including a demonstration of their huge printer. The demo was for a few dozen coasters, but the printing surface allows for hundreds at a time. “Coasters are a popular product,” said Charlie. “They can be easily personalized to a business or family name, and are a cost-effective souvenir for folks to bring home from their travels.” Paint the Town offers hundreds of coaster designs which include the tried-and-true coastal graphics along with plenty of fresh and fun colorful options, all with a personalization choice.

Paint the Town’s reach now extends across the country from the New England coast to as far as California, Colorado and Wyoming and continues to expand to new markets.

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