Breaking the ice with new customers...


MGF, Master Grumble Framer
Aug 28, 2002
eastern pa
I was reading an article in the newest Framing Monthly magazine, I don't remember the entire gist of the article (I was also eating lunch at the same time...
priorities...), something about the most important things to make a small framer successful... Anyway, it was mentioned not to open a conversation with a new, potential customer with something like, "What did you have in mind?" I was wondering what most people say to break the ice and get the process going? It's easy with the 'regulars', but I always wondered what the best way to squeeze info out of a newbie would be.
I usually phrase the question "Did you have anything particular in mind?" and when they (usually) say "Uh, no, not really" then I am free to be me and we're off and running! A lot depends on what they have brought in to have framed. I also ask if they are framing it as a gift or for their own home or office. Just don't ask 'em about the sofa color!
I usually say, "hey, how ya doin'? Welcome to the farm." (We're in the South doncha know...)

Then, I oooh and aaah over whatever it is they've brought in. I get the story and background and get a feel for their feeling toward the piece. Once you get a story out of them, you're able to build on that.

Then it's on to "what did you have in mind?" and "where is it going to hang?" type of things.

I love the cliche - "they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care..."

I tell all my new customers that we've been in business 30 years, that it's my job to guide them through the process, and we offer a full guarantee... even if they don't like it we'll fix it free. After talking to them about where it will hang, I pull out mat choices and go from there. I never ask them what they have in mind because I want them to see me as the professional; and asking puts pressure on them to admit something they don't know. Having already told them about the guarantee relieves the anxiety about making wrong choices. We redo less than 6 pieces a year; but those are 6 customers that will continue to use my shop for framing.
Do many of you redo pieces for free? I had a customer about 2 weeks ago that we did a piece for, and it was stunning. He said over and over when he picked it up that he loved it! He took it home to his wife, she did not like at all. Wanted the same moulding in a different color to match the paint on her walls. This was an expensive moulding. She said the moulding was gorgeous just the wrong color for her family room. I charged them for the new frame. What would the rest of you have done?

I generally break the ice by saying, “Hi! Whatcha got here?”, nodding in the direction of their art (and trying to feign interest).

They’ll usually spread out whatever they’ve got, explain (in great detail) where they got it, what it means to them, what they have in mind, where they plan to hang it, etc. That pretty much gives me enough clues so that I can begin to make suggestions or ask additional questions.


Since the customer made the ultimate decision about his frame choice, he’s got to eat the cost of both frames. To lessen their pain, I might offer to cut down and join the first rejected frame to a standard size for no additional charge.
Anyway, it was mentioned not to open a conversation with a new, potential customer with something like, "What did you have in mind?"
My guess is they were trying to say it is more important to get to know the person and build rapport first, and then start finding out their needs.

Of course, you can solve the "need to match the sofa" problem like I did...only carry black frames. Oh wait; those actually do match my sofa... :cool:

It really depends on the person who is across from you. Some people you can sense are more relaxed and open and you can break the ice with humor - others need a bit more time to get comfortable with and understand them.

A couple of weeks ago a new customer comes in the store with about 10 pieces - she asked if I could frame them. I replied "only one at a time"!! And we did!

Some people will immediately ask what it will cost... a reply of "about a thousand dollars" sometimes breaks the ice! At least after that, every price will seem inexpensive!

I usually greet my customers with a friendly hello of some nature, then I'll ask about what they are placing on my design counter to frame, then ask where they are going to be displaying the piece. From there I get an idea of the person's needs, colors, etc...

When I first opened, I surely wasn't as comfortable joking with customers - but now it is the norm and it is amazing how many friendships I have developed with customers... It is one of the parts of the business I truly embrace!

Framer, I had (past tense) a good customer who came in several times during her pregnancy. When she came in after the due date, I said something like, "Still waiting, huh?"

Her baby was a month old at that point.
Just how familiar to be with even long-time customers (say 25 years) is a tough call sometimes.

Not everyone wants to hear, "You smell fantastic" from their picture framer.
I quite often start by saying "Hi" and if they have something in their hands, I say "What did you bring me?"

They always proceed to open up the work. I always try to find something nice to say about what they've brought in. I relate it to other work I recently completed often showing them the finished piece if it hasn't been picked up.

My aim is to make them feel at home, trust me with their valuable possession and know that I'm the man who can take good care of them and their work.

Our community is small enough (market about a half million) that if you talk to anyone long enough you find you know quite a few of the same people or their kids go to school with your kids, etc.

Dave Makielski

"Pull together...
Get farther...
The very worst greeting for a customer is...

"Can I help you?"

Unless they are specifically looking for a certain item, their natural reaction is to say...

"No, just looking."

Much better to say "Nice hat" or "Pretty wet outside...isn't it" Strike up any conversation and they will feel free to ask for help when they need it. ALWAYS acknowledge a customer, even if it's just a nod, when they come in the door. Best deterent to shoplifting is to let the customer be aware that you are aware of them and see them as a person.

Dave Makielski
Roz, our variation on your theme is "Less than a thousand dollars" everyone laughs, and $600 sounds cheaper... you are right about that. Parphrasing Dave Barry, "Don't comment on a person's pregnancy unless you can see the baby crowning."