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Rekindled romance leads to new business venture

Guard pilots go art and wine

Heidi and Ray Leonard, and Mark Logan at Pinot’s Palette’s opening night. Photo credit: Kier Smith Firstlight Photography

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In an effort to rekindle their romance after the birth of their first child, Washington Army National Guard helicopter pilots, Heidi and Ray Leonard, ventured into a Pinot's Palette studio for a date night in early 2015. Pinot's Palette provides an upscale paint and sip experience, a way to enjoy wine and art.

The Leonards found the evening at Pinot's Palette such a wonderful experience that it sparked the idea that this could be a business opportunity. The couple went home and began researching the company. They signed a franchise contract April 14, 2015, with Pinot's Palette and received a 10 percent military discount through the company's VetFran program. The grand opening for their new business, Pinot's Palette - South Hill Studio, was Dec. 10, 2016.

The couple work full time for the Washington National Guard while running their franchise.  They have created seven new jobs with their small business.  Recent retiree Mark Logan came on board as the studio manager with 42 years of military service.  Between the Leonards and Logan, there is almost 75 years of military experience.

Ray said, "We started the business for many of the same reasons as we serve, the idea that we can bring something positive to the nation and our communities. It is an amazing feeling to be responsible for creating new jobs. It is a truly humbling experience when you start to really look at the numbers and realize what else goes into job creation, which benefits the community."

"Being a small business owner helps motivate me to drive the company to be as successful as possible. Our employees trust us with their livelihoods, and that is a huge, humbling responsibility," said Heidi.

The couple offered some advice to veterans who are interested in owning a franchise or starting their own business.  Ray said, "Starting a business is as terrifying as that first jump, almost as complex as the MDMP (a complicated military seven-step decision-making process), and more satisfying than the first shower after leaving the field. Understand your individual risks and mitigate; plan carefully; prepare yourself mentally; now do it.  We just opened, and this has every appearance of being worth it for us."

Heidi agreed, "Also be sure to manage your expectations and have at least twice the budget that you expect to spend. There is a ton of learning, and you will make mistakes. Practically everything we have done to open our Pinot's Palette studio has been on-the-job training."

The couple chose to remain serving in the military while starting up their business.  For Ray, "Having a safety net was important for us as a family. Starting our business, while still having a full-time income and health benefits, was a key part of understanding and mitigating our risks.  We also understood that we would lose almost all of our "free time" at the beginning, and put a great deal of stress on the family for a short time.  Conversely, we believe that this business will both smooth our transition to civilian life and provide for more family time in the long run."

Heidi said, "Starting and running a business is a serious commitment which takes time, sometimes away from other aspects in your life. As Guard soldiers, Ray and I already have two jobs - running the studio is a third. We have a toddler, and are expecting our second child this March, and our mastiffs just surprised us with eight Christmas puppies. It's crazy, but it works for us because we are committed to being successful together."

The Leonards are also generous contributors to the local community. The two have hosted two complimentary "Paint it Forward" events; one for military couples and one for military, first responders and teachers.  

Pinot's Palette, by appointment, 10507 156th St. E., Suite 105, Puyallup, 253.387.9850,

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