A fire saved Fat Paint.
Victoria Lambert and her brother Bradford were just months into their business venture on Front Street manufacturing chalk paint and selling refinished vintage furniture when the neighbouring EL Lewis building was destroyed by fire in October, 2013.
While the Lamberts’ shop wasn’t touched by the flames, the historic building it occupied was so heavily damaged by water and smoke, it had to be torn down.
But rather than defeating the Lamberts, the fire forced them to confront the stress that had been weighing on them since they opened their storefront in February of 2013. They decided, as soon as they found a new home, to transform their business to strictly manufacturing the unique, thick paint that is renowned in the film industry and furniture refinishers for its versatility and ease of use.
That conversation actually started as Victoria and Bradford watched the fire from the balcony of her condo on Carnarvon Street. Much of the store’s 2,000 square feet was dedicated to selling pieces of furniture they’d found, fixed up and revitalized with their chalk paint. The actual mixing and manufacturing of the paint was done in a repurposed kitchen in the back, not much of a leap from where they’d first started on the kitchen countertop of Victoria’s former home in Queen’s Park. The cans they filled fit easily into a six-foot-high by three-foot-wide shelf, while the rest was shipped to their 25 retailers.
“It was just a humble little amount of paint we were selling,” said Victoria.
Instead, they spent much of their 10-12 hour days keeping the storefront busy with furniture that was so popular pieces sold almost as quickly as they were put on the floor. It was labour-intensive, time-consuming work.
“There we were with a piece that took 13 hours to complete, and when it sold you had to fill the hole in a big empty store,” said Bradford.
The effort was taking a toll.
“We were both stressed about selling furniture when really the business was about making paint,” said Victoria.
The fire forced the Lamberts to confront that hard truth.
“It was numbing,” said Victoria. “We had gone and changed our lives to do this, and now, not even a year later, we had to change it again.”
The siblings talked about the direction of their shop. Neither had come into the venture with business experience; they were making it up as they went along. But they knew mixing paint and refinishing furniture wasn’t sustainable.
The first affirmation of their new course came from the hundreds of messages of support on the shop’s Facebook page. Then their retailers started emailing them with orders. Suppliers offered to defer invoices.
“What that meant for us is we had a business,” said Victoria. “We knew money was going to come in. We just had to get set up again.”
By November, only weeks after the fire, the Lamberts signed a lease for a new location at an old auto repair garage at the foot of 11th Street that had been forlorn for years. Ironically, it was a space the siblings had considered when they first searched for a storefront, but then it was too big and its industrial surroundings weren’t conducive to browsing shoppers.
But with their newfound direction as a manufacturer, it was perfect.
“We knew we needed an actual shop floor that would allow us to have the correct plumbing and load-in,” said Bradford. “We knew we needed to facilitate the amount of paint we were going to produce.”
The pair started making paint again even as they renovated the space. Less than a year after the fire, they were operating at full tilt, with bigger mixers and four employees.
Fat Paint is now in nearly 100 retailers stretching to almost all four corners of the continent, although the California market remains elusive. Last year they started a collaboration with renowned designer Amanda Forrest.
And they’re planning for even further expansion.
“We’re having to redefine how we manufacture,” said Bradford.
They’ve come a long way since that dark night on Victoria’s balcony, their dreams alight by the fire consuming their business just two blocks away.
“It gave us a kick in the ass essentially to make the right decisions,” said Victoria.
The Fat Paint Company is located at #140-131 Eleventh Street.