RBA Creative is a co-working space, photography studio and art gallery that also offers professional, creative services and is owned by husband and wife team, Randolph and Erica Belle. RBA Creative has always been a graphic design, marketing, and consulting business that Randolph operated alone since 2007. Randolph and his wife Erica opened the brick and mortar space in May of 2017 in an effort to expand Randolph’s current business. They actually ended up with a business that is a lot more satisfying and community oriented than they originally set out for. They are in their third year and the business continues to evolve and be an exciting adventure for this duo. Here’s how it began…
If you know Randolph, you know that he is first and foremost an artist. That’s how his professional working career started. Air brushing clothing, painting, selling original pieces, creating graphics, signage, printing, etc. He’s had a few brick and mortar spaces in the past: The Loft, Spankin’ Designs (don’t ask), Support Oakland Artists, and Oakland Art (dot) com. He has always wanted to create innovative businesses that serve the public and the artist. He moved away from the brick and mortar life in 2000 to focus on building his graphic design business. Then life happened: marriage to Erica, two daughters, a home to care for, you know, RESPONSIBILITIES.
In 2016 after taking a business administration course, he got the bug again to fully jump into the entrepreneurial life with a commercial space; this time with the support of his wife Erica. Randolph’s many business relationships tend to serve him well as he approached Dr. Okamoto, a woman he created a rather elaborate sign for. She is an optometrist with her own practice.
Initially, they thought the business would offer fine art reproductions and large format printing in addition the current design business. They researched the market and received technical assistance from the SBDC in preparation. Meanwhile, Dr. Okamoto had gotten used to the idea of renting her extra space. She waited for Randolph and Erica, but had engaged with a realtor to sell her space to the market. It finally got to the point where they had to make a decision: continue with technical assistance and miss out on the space they found to be the perfect location or just go for it.
Against proper advisement, they went for it! They remodeled the space and began looking into purchasing equipment. They found out quickly, (since they were boot-strapping), that the equipment needed would be cost-prohibitive. Plans changed as they opened the doors in May 2017. They knew space was a commodity in this day and age so it didn’t take long to decide RBA Creative would be a co-working space and art gallery based on memberships for exhibition space as Randolph had actually done in the past.
At the grand opening they met many photographers wanting to exhibit. The feedback they received led to transforming the back area for use as a photography studio. With that came monthly memberships based on hours of use. One thing led to another and they discovered their space is also great for workshops and private event rentals. They then began to produce their own events for the community as well. Over the first 2 years of business they have discovered how to adapt to suit the environment they’re in.
Erica is running the space rental business as well as selling memberships to artists, creative entrepreneurs, and photographers. Randolph is still able to focus on professional services: design, consulting, and now, web development and multi-media production. They are settled into their positions and working as a team to grow all aspects their creative business. Running the business has been a privilege that makes them both happy, but it did not come without its’ challenges. Erica and Randolph understand the hustle is constant, but plan to be around for as long as possible, adapting to and changing with the times.