With pottery studios and ceramic art increasing in popularity, retail centers are searching for different types of entertainment options to keep shoppers coming back.

Color Me Mine is an "art as entertainment concept," says Mike Mooslin, president and CEO of the Van Nuys, Calif.-based company. "It's one of the few recreational opportunities where everyone can enjoy doing the same thing, while at the same time doing their own thing."

The studio benefits nearby retailers, too, he says. Customers come to the shopping center at least twice - first to do the artwork and then to pick up the finished product.

"There seems to be a growing demand for unique, positive, wholesome entertainment," Mooslin says. Although the ceramic painting industry has grown steadily over the past eight years, the sharpest rise has been in the past two years.

"Most people are coming to us for recreation," he says. "There are not a lot of interactive, communal-type events where people have fun ... and can talk to each other and visit."

Color Me Mine offers classes for adults and children, does a "to go" business where customers can take ceramics home to paint, sells finished pieces that people can buy on consignment, and features party options both in-house as well as catered elsewhere.

Each location has approximately 300 to 400 pieces of white bisque, or raw product, available to paint, Mooslin says. He distinguishes the chain from its competitors because of its depth of product, the consistent quality of each finished piece, and the expense that goes into each location.

"We're making a much stronger statement when you walk in," he says. "It's a cleaner, more sophisticated, more hip environment with a larger variety of product."

Customers pay a flat fee or by the hour to sit and paint; they also pay for the ceramic piece they select. The studio supplies instruction, painting materials, images for their project, and the firing and glazing process that creates the finished product. "The average ticket is $20," Mooslin says, depending on location.

The idea behind Color Me Mine was conceived in 1992 by a young couple who wanted to create custom products for their home. They enjoyed experimenting so much that they opened their own business in Los Angeles. "They made it very easy and opened up this pottery painting concept to the mainstream, not just to ceramic hobbyists," Mooslin says.

The studio caught the attention of Irvine, Calif.-based Koo Koo Roo, a home-meal replacement company. Approximately 35 locations were opened under Koo Koo Roo before it was sold last year to The Versent Corp., Toronto.

Color Me Mine is a franchised concept, which Mooslin says is the only way it could work. "It takes a hands-on owner/operator who's real passionate about the business," he says. But there is a lot of company backing, including marketing materials, financial and electronic support, and communication, along with less expensive product due to economies of scale.

Today, approximately 50 studios are open, with a dozen more under development, Mooslin says, adding that he expects to open at least one location a month beginning next year. "We're not going to have thousands of these, but we'll certainly have hundreds." The company will consider sites anywhere in the United States. It also has studios in London and Toronto, and hopes to open in Japan next year, he says.

In its site selection, Color Me Mine looks for a population density of 100,000 people within six to eight miles and a family income of at least $35,000 or higher. The company prefers an upper-end lifestyle/entertainment/community center or old town-type retail area.

"We want to be where other recreational/entertainment activity generators exist," Mooslin says, adding that good pedestrian traffic and visibility also are key because "40% of the business is impulse."

"It's not a high-volume business on a per-square-foot basis, but it does attract the right kind of person and gives the right kind of feeling."

Retail outlet: Color Me Mine

Headquarters: Color Me Mine Enterprises Inc., 14721 Califa St., Van Nuys, CA 91411; (818) 989-8400

Real estate contact: Mike Mooslin, president and CEO, (818) 989-8401

Number of units: 50

Average size: 1,200 sq. ft. to 2,000 sq. ft.

Niche: contemporary ceramic painting studio

Expansion plans: one studio each month, beginning next year