By Holly Hammersmith | Photo by Gery Petrof
Unbeknownst to Kaman, the dream job that carried her through high school and college would manifest itself into a lifelong business and a career.
“I thought that getting paid to draw personal portrait sketches of the guests that were visiting the park for the day was the greatest job I could imagine,” Kaman says.
Kaman is now the president and founder of Kaman’s Art Shoppes in Chagrin Falls. Her company runs many of the caricature vendors that patrons see at more than 50 popular entertainment venues, parks, and zoos nationwide and in Canada, such as Cedar Point, Busch Gardens, Kings Island, and SeaWorld.
During the summer season the company employs roughly 2,500 seasonal employees. Five hundred of them work year-round in theme parks. The company’s administrative office has about 50 year-round employees.
“We go into the art schools and the high school art departments, and we recruit the artists from those institutions,” Kaman says. “We do portfolio interviews and carefully select based on their talent and their interview. They go through a training period where they practice the skills they would need for doing these quick sketches in the parks. We also train them in customer service.”
Working for Kaman’s can be a stepping stone into the arts industry or a full-time career. For students, the work fits their academic schedules, as most parks are only open three to four months at a time, Kaman says.
“It’s a perfect summer job for students because they can return to school and come back and find the job the following summer and even after they graduate,” Kaman says. “We have retained a great number of our full-time management this way.”
Each of these accounts has a full-time manager and assistant in charge of the accounts. Kaman says her business began in 1971 through a referral, and referrals continue to be her main source of business today.
“We’ve been in this business so long that we just have a track record of working with the schools and colleges as well. They automatically just send their best to us,” Kaman says.
Kaman’s just completed its 47th season in business. Kaman says her first account was at Geauga Lake Park in 1971. The owner of the park contacted her via a mutual connection at Cedar Point. Kaman had recently gotten married and moved to Cleveland. There was a need for a portrait concession stand at the park. She agreed to work it. “I thought it would maybe be three summers, but it took on a life of its own, and I loved it,” Kaman says.
Kaman went to the Cleveland Cooper School of Art and The Cleveland Institute of Art. She recruited friends from school to help her run the booth. Before she knew it, managing the booth became a full-time endeavor. Next, she had a SeaWorld account on her plate. “It just kept growing from there,” Kaman says.
Today Kaman’s is the largest operation nationwide of its kind, Kaman says. “We are from coast to coast,” she says. “We have the majority of the market. It has just grown so steadily over the years.”
Kaman’s offers more than caricature booths and artists. They also run and manage booths that offer hair wrapping, face painting, antique photos, and airbrush artists.
In addition to referrals, Kaman says she attends a conference held each year in Florida by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions to market for new accounts.
While the company continues to grow, Kaman says she and her husband, Rich, who helped co-found the company and has worked full-time in operations since 1986, have their eyes on succession planning. Their son, Ben, began running the day-to-day operations of the business about two years ago, and the business will transfer to his care by 2019, Kaman says.
At that point Kaman says she plans to retire from the business; however, she will continue to stay active in the arts with her painting studio at the Murray Hill Studio/Gallery. Before retirement she wants to reach 50 years in business with Kaman’s.
A lot has changed in the last half-century. In a world heavy with digital influence, Kaman says the hand-drawn arts are still as relevant as ever.
“I think it’s the experience (that attracts people),” she says. “The end product has to be done well, and it takes a lot of practice and skill. The guests are in this massive crowd, and here they have the chance to sit down and have a unique experience with real-life artists. It’s not computer generated. It’s just something people are fascinated by, watching this creative process and being a part of it.”
For more info: kamansart.com