Her business success came by design

Rebecca Barborak poses at her studio Corks and Colors in Gainesville, Fla., on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

Brett Le Blanc / The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013 at 4:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 18, 2013 at 4:08 p.m.

Rebecca Barborak hurriedly unpacked shiny silver pots from cardboard boxes and arranged them next to trays of fruit, skewers and cocktail glasses atop a cabinet. She jangled a spider web of power cords to make sure the pots were heating.

The simmering fondue pots looked slightly out of place beneath shelves of blank canvases and brushes inside the purple, black and white art studio.

A sign handwritten in green highlighter, taped to the glass door over the store’s hours, explained: “Ladies night — no men or children allowed, sorry!”

Inviting women to her business, Corks & Colors Studio, on a recent Friday evening to paint while eating, drinking and socializing is just the latest creative idea for Barborak, whose career has been a series of funky, free-spirited business strategies.

Her creativity also helped the 28-year-old UF graduate and native of Costa Rica in November win the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce Minority Business of the Year award for 2012.

Through the art studio she founded three years ago, located at 5200 Newberry Road, she offers canvas and pottery painting in what Barborak calls an “easy-peasy environment.”

“We don’t want people to be scared about creating art,” she said.

Tiffany D. Williams, events director for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, said five anonymous judges scored Barborak’s business based on criteria such as details of her business plan, what challenges she overcame as a minority business owner and how she helps other minority-owned businesses and charities.

The award carries added weight because the judges, members of Gainesville’s business community, recognized Barborak for her contributions to the city’s economy, she said.

“It’s the group as a whole coming together to say, ‘We think this is an outstanding business, a great addition to our community and something to be celebrated,’ ” Williams said.

Barborak began her career as an entrepreneur when she was 9 years old and living in Costa Rica. She picked lemons from a tree in her family’s back yard and packaged them in plastic bags of 10. She loaded a wheelbarrow with the fruit and wheeled it up and down her street, selling to neighbors.

“I have no idea why I did that,” she said. “I guess I saw my mom buying ... fruit and vegetables at the market. I guess I was just mimicking what I saw the market vendors do.”

Barborak moved to the United States with her parents and two siblings when she was in fourth grade, and brought her interest in business ventures with her.

Her mother, Damaris Barborak, said she remembers 12-year-old Rebecca taking a baby-sitting certification class at Santa Fe College.

“By the time she did the Santa Fe College course, she was looking for a job,” Damaris Barborak said. “And she never stopped.”

By 19, Rebecca Barborak bought her first batch of wholesale sterling silver jewelry, which she sold at craft shows. Sometimes, she traveled as far as art-hub St. Augustine to sell her wares.

It was then that she took her initial stab at marketing technology: She built her first website using a Yahoo web application to simplify the coding process.

She said it was empowering to realize she could give her business a professional online presence without having to pay a third party to do it.

“It … ignited the flame of me thinking that it doesn’t take an army of people to start a business,” she said.

Her next inspiration came when she attended a step-by-step acrylic painting class in Alabama. During the session, she painted a field of wildflowers and wrote a title on the back of the canvas: “Crazy, wild love.”

“I felt so accomplished,” she said. “I loved how I felt during the class. I love experiences like that, that set your spirit free. It did that for me.”

The memory of the class lingered in Barborak’s mind as she pursued a psychology degree at UF. To help cover tuition and living expenses, she started exporting name-brand clothes and handbags to Costa Rica.

She also kept remembering the Alabama painting class, and dreamed of birthing a similar creative experience in Gainesville. Once she graduated in 2009, she said she felt ready to try.

Barborak was still living on a student budget, but she began searching for a classroom space she could rent to hold art classes. Through a Google search, she located the Santa Fe College Business Incubator. She not only found space to rent, but also a community of support for entrepreneurs including workshops and brainstorm sessions that helped her launch Corks & Colors Studio.

To transform a Center for Innovation and Economic Development seminar room into an art studio, Barborak moved the tables out, cloaked the chairs with slipcovers she bought especially for the room and hung paintings on the walls “to make it look artsy.”

“We literally worked four hours for a two-hour class,” she said. “It was hours and hours of getting this ready and breaking it down, but we didn’t have another way to do it.”

The class drew about 20 people each week, she said. In November 2011, her fledgling business took flight, moving out of the CIED lecture room into the current studio.

Barborak said she’d already accepted early on that she wasn’t going to roll in personal profits immediately. During the first two years of Corks & Colors Studio, she said she put all of the revenue back into building the business.

“For a few years, you’re putting into your business. Otherwise, you’re sucking up all the cash flow,” she said. “It needs advertising, it needs more supplies. It’s really difficult for people to understand.”

It’s this kind of policy that has helped Corks & Colors Studio to become debt-free, she said.

Even though it sometimes involves tight finances, Barborak said, she thrives on the freedom of ownership, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think true entrepreneurs constantly pursue ideas. We hang on to the possibility that our ideas and visions are good enough to actually thrive,” she said. “I think that there will never be a moment in your life when you’re working for someone else and you’re happy and satisfied.”

Courtney South, 33, said she comes to Corks & Colors Studio because of the fresh ideas Barborak brings to the studio.

“She is one of those women who is always looking for new ways to make her customers happy, which is awesome because you never get bored,” South said.

South said she appreciates the BYOB sessions at the studio because it offers people above college-age another option for a night out.

“You don’t have to be around the younger crowd,” she said. “You can be creative and bond and still have your drinks and feel like you’re having a night out, but it’s not necessarily going dancing and clubbing.”

Now, Barborak said she has her sights set on incubating another branch of Corks & Colors in Ocala.

“The goal is to provide the same creative, free-spirited experience for people in every location,” she said. “It fills my heart when an accountant comes in and paints on a canvas and loves it. I know we’re achieving our purpose for non-creative people to be creative.”

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