SHELTON, Conn. — The team at the Gigging Pig Art & Party Studios is laughing a little louder this month, having won three major nods at the annual Stevie Awards for great employers.
Hannah Perry, owner of the 5-year-old business with stores in Shelton and Bethel, won silver awards for Female Entrepreneur of the Year — Consumer Services, 10 or Less Employees and Maverick of the Year. And The Giggling Pig won a bronze award for Engagement/Happiness Team of the Year for its work with people with special needs.
The Stevie Awards for Women in Business are considered the world’s pre-eminent business awards for women entrepreneurs and executives and the companies they run. This year’s awards ceremony took place at the New York Marriott Marquis in November.
“I was at the awards ceremony and it was amazing!” said Perry. “We were in the ballroom surrounded by over 500 other nominees for different entries and I was proud to be among so many amazing business women.”
Perry was a cash-strapped single mom when she took a chance and opened The Giggling Pig in a 350-square-foot storefront in downtown Shelton. The company, which offers art classes, camps and parties and other creative programming for children and adults, has moved to bigger digs and now has a second location in Bethel.
“It’s like family,” the Shelton resident said of her team.
Originally from Yorkshire, England, where she trained as a nursery nurse, Perry moved to the U.S. in 1999, looking after special needs children in their homes to make ends meet for herself and her young son.
That was no small feat in Fairfield County, where she had trouble finding things for her son to do that wouldn’t break the bank.
In 2011, she pooled her funds and took a serious leap of faith, opening The Giggling Pig, which hosts an astounding 300-plus birthday parties a year.
The idea came after she mounted a 2010 art exhibition and found out there was a market for the whimsical style of artwork she’d developed since childhood and showcased in two children’s books she wrote and illustrated.
“I did the exhibition and things sold,” she said with a smile. “I thought, I can do this.”
The business quickly outgrew the downtown storefront and — two moves later — she set up shop in a 2,000-square-foot River Road space. By 2015, the popular parenting blog Playground Parkbench named The Giggling Pig its top birthday party venue.
The business prides itself in keeping costs down so all families can have a creative experience through Mommy & Me, Paint & Giggle, weekly art lessons and seasonal camps.
“If they can’t afford it, they won’t get turned away,” said Perry, who also organizes outreach to church and special needs groups.
For the last four years, The Giggling Pig has partnered with a Trumbull High School program allowing teens and young adults with autism to work at the business, gaining valuable life skills.
The business has been so successful, it branched out to a new Bethel location at 178 Greenwood Ave. on Sept. 3.
Perry recently met with the manager at Stamford’s Chelsea Piers and The Giggling Pig will be expanding its corporate services there after the holidays. Franchising opportunities are in the works for 2017.
In January, the company will launch its new art box subscription, allowing people to have art lessons from home. Monthly lessons will be mailed out with every supply needed to create projects.
“I am always moving forward and do not like to stay still for too long,” Perry said.
Building the business means Perry and her staff work long hours, passing on a love of art paired with a healthy dose of self esteem and manners.
“When I started the business, I was a single mom with a lot of debt, but I kept going,” said Perry, now a mom of two. “I never wake up and say, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’ It’s just such a good environment.”
For more information on The Giggling Pig, visit its website .