How to compete with the BBs.

Mark Rogers

CGF, Certified Grumble Framer
Dec 22, 2003
Dallas, TX
This topic seems to be coming up a lot in sub threads. Maybe this has been done, but I thought I would start a thread to allow us to summarize and share ideas.

It was not long ago that I was Joe Customer who was ignorant about framing. I went to the BBs. Why? Because their name was in my head at the time, I needed a frame. I did not know they were mostly incompetent. I thought everyone took several weeks to process a simple frame order. I did not realize how diverse the style offering was, and how beneficial it can be to work with a knowledgeable custom framer. Now I know that places like Michaels have all of their frames built at regional framing centers and only final assembly is done in the local store. Before I got into the industry myself I discoverd "Fast Frame" a custom frame franchise. They could turn some frame orders same day, and most only took a couple days.

So here are my suggestions on competing with the BBs:

1. market your business as quick turn
2. market your business as offering higher end, more specialized, or more diverse moulding
3. market your business as being more knowledgeable on preservation.
4. market your business as being of high integrity and not doing things like ridiculous markup before the fake sale.
5. make sure your store is at least as clean and comfortable to be in as any BB.
6. make sure you have lots of examples to help you educate your customer and to help up sale them such as the same picture framed with and without mat or double mat.
7. group together with other frame shops to try to get your costs down with your distributors. (Fast Frame does this).
8. decide you either do not care about ultra price conscious consumers or start to stock some box moulding that you can get for less than $1 a foot and do same day turn around because you have it on the shelf and dont have to wait for your distributor.

Lastly, keep in mind no business can do everything perfect all the time. They all have a weakness, you just need to find it, and always keep an eye open for your own.

All good points to ponder, Mark. The three most important things custom framers need to do is identify your customer base, educate your customer and differentiate ourselves from the "competition". You made several references related to all three of the above.

Dave Makielski
A couple other ideas popped into my head. One of the problems with the BBs is they have a lot more money for advertising and brand awareness. Since your customers are going to be hit with the BB advertising, make sure you keep reminding them about your business with occasional direct mail such as a sales flyer or newsletter.

Another possibility, although much more difficult to organize, is for local groups of custom framers to possibly band together. Perhaps via local chapters of the PPFA. Pool some advertising money together and use it to buy ads, which promote the custom framers in an area. The extra money can be used to buy a bigger print ad for example. Because it is larger it gets noticed more and there is room to list multiple shops.

Hmmm, this appears to be dead thread. I would have thought it would have got more action based on all the BB complaint messages I see. Well, I guess this place isnt called "The Grumble" for nothing.

Mark, do a search, especially on the business forum.

We've talked about it so much that some of us are feeling sorry for the Big Boxes with all the business we're stealing back from them.

Actually, there is a new twist. Some of the BBs are starting to hire experienced framers (maybe disillusioned or bankrupt independents) and offering specialty services that used to be ours alone. Combine that with their buying power and marketing clout and you have a nasty new problem to deal with.

More reason for the custom framers to group together to increase their buying and marketing power. This is not my idea, I first heard it from Nona Powers during one of her classes. She has already done it. It can help with other problems such as Larson's homebased restriction. The homebased business partners with a non home based business. The home based business gets to buy from Larson, the non home based business gets a better volume discount, or more frequent truck delivery.

I do not buy a diverse amount of products like the custom framer but if someone wants to partner with me on acrylic, foamcore, or the mat/moulding I carry, and you are in Dallas let me know. I buy a lot of stuff by the pallet so I am probably already getting better prices than most. I can tell you, when you buy 100 sheets of rag board at a time, the cost is not so bad. I am always looking for ways to drive up my volume, and keep my production equipment in use.

I ponder to much some nights between the hours of 1:00 am and 6:00 am. But have you ever really realized the biggest competition is not your fellow framer, after all we are all promoting framing,It is everything that takes dollars away from our industry. I.E. buying a car, clothes, gas, gambling, icecream, candy, etc.
Sorry for the interuption my mind just got to cold.
Hi Mark-Great ideas. From your personal experience, which of those suggestions have you found generate the best results?

Again, from your peronal experience competiting wi the BB's in the Dallas Metroplex area, have any of those suggestions that have been great growth stimulators for your business?

Do you think the same things that you have done that have proved successful will work in smaller communities, as well?

But, what do you think are the best three things that have leveled the playing field in your market?

And how do you effectively measure their affect?
Thats an interesting list, it may be of some help but you havn't indicated any particular method for overcoming the original problem you noted. You say that you had the BB name "in your head" I would consider that this would be the first thing a that you would want to change, by marketing the aspects you note alone will this encourage the consumer to recall your name over and above yours?
Maybe I should rename my shop "Mike's"

It'll confuse 'em - maybe they'll think we're Michael's.

But would I have to change my name to Mike? What if someone asked for the owner, and I told them I was, but they wanted to see Mike? What to do, what to do...

Okay, you guys made me think of a story.....years ago when I was languishing at Michael's I used to lament on the day when I opened my frameshop. I was going to call it "Not Michael's". I even had the advertising all worked out in my head. TV commercial, two ladies sitting sipping coffee. One say's "I need to get a picture framed" The other say's "Oh yeah, Where are you going to go?" She say's, Oh you know, just so long as it's Not Michael's"..........a jingle plays in the background....
Where didja get it framed?
Not Michael's.
Who frames the best?
Not Michael's
Who cares about your art?
Not Michael's

I fantasized about this for quite some time. It was a direct response to my constant high anxiety level and lack of support. It kept me sane I suppose.......cripes, i was an angry bitter employee, and I was one of the good ones.

Just had to share....
I don't buy direct from LJ because I'm a home based framer (I buy from a framer who does) , BUT I use Elle Decor and Architectural Digest to help keep up on trends and looks and I love the new LJ ads. Does anyone use those ads to reach out to customers? It says at the bottom, available from custom framers and I think designers. Sure seems like a way to tye into a national advertising campaign. Why not a full size cutout in your window or visible as soon as the customer is through the door? The ads are in the magazines of the people you want to reach, seems logical. Does LJ have post cards with these images? Can you get color repos to use in your newsletters? Could a few of you buy a local magazine ad and list the names of the shops on the bottom of the ad? Say 4 shops in different parts of town that do good quality work. How about local TV ads with the whole series showing behind a message about why the customer should come to you?

I lowered my cost of goods when I bought with two other framers here in San Diego. Whatever works. The franchises do it, individual shops can co-operate can't they?

Just some thoughts.
Originally posted by AWG:
Maybe I should rename my shop "Mike's"

It'll confuse 'em - maybe they'll think we're Michael's.

But would I have to change my name to Mike? What if someone asked for the owner, and I told them I was, but they wanted to see Mike? What to do, what to do...

Well, I tell them Mr. Howard has been dead for 30 years. That shuts them up. But my husband answers to "Howard" and "Mr. Howard"... and we had a dog named Howard for a while.

But if you are going with the M theme, I vote for Michaela's. Looks darn close to the same. Of course, you will have to start carrying yarn and google eyes...
Interesting, but well worn thread.

Myself, I think you should just forget about the big boxes. They are completely out of most of our leagues. Kind of like a small town government office comparing itself to a federal bureaucracy.

They have us beat on buying power, advertising budgets, and business acumen. They have huge staffs of professionals, marketing, managers, accounting, purchasing, etc.. They constantly are having brainstorming meetings on how to improve their operations. They are accountable to their stockholders, they must produce.

I can not think of one frame shop that can compete effectively with that kind of money and brainpower. Even Jay Goltz and Bob Carter would be overwhelmed if they had to try and compete with that.

You got to run your own businesses as best you can, with what you have to work with. It is a good idea to emulate a lot of the things they do, just because they know what they are doing. You will never be able to do it on their scale, so why wear yourself out trying.

Concentrate on what you are good at, advertise as much as you can. Don't try to beat them on price, you can not. You may think you can come close, but you won't be. Their purchasing power can leave them with a six to ten time markup, or more, AFTER a fifty percent discount.

Can you do that? How about if you pooled your resources with say, ten other independents? You won't even come close, so why beat your head against the wall?

My advise is to ignore them, concentrate on what you are good at, be nice to your customers and your fellow framers. If you do those things, you will earn a good living.

You will never get rich, not as a shopkeeper. Don't waste your time and resources trying. Enjoy what you have, and don't forget to thank your God for it.

A group of friends in our downtown area have banded together to help each other. We feel that getting customers into the downtown area will benefit all of us. We coop on some advertising, runs the same promotions at the same time etc. It is working very well for us. We have a variety of merchants in the group. Resturants, boutiques, a frame shop, card shop, gift store, antique shop to name a few. Try it. It works.
You can compete with the BBs. Now, that is not to say that you will run them out of business; however, you can take customers back from them and if you can use some extra revenue that is one possible source. Of course, you can't get all of their customers because they are going after a lower end of the market. BBs have the same problem with Wal-Mart. Mostly as the custom framer you want to focus on the higher end customers that want special service and do not have trouble paying for it. Of course, you also need to make sure you provide at least as good a service as the BBs.

Yes, the BBs have more marketing and buying power but they have serious disadvantages. They are big, slow, and bureaucratic. They can take months to make a decision that you can make in 5 minutes. It is almost impossible for most big companies to fire poor employees, and it is hard for them to hire decent employees to begin with. No matter how good an employee they hire, employees never care about the business like an owner. Big companies also have higher overhead. They have lawyers and accounts who do nothing to contribute to the bottom line and are more worried about crossing t's and dotting i's or spreadsheets than they are worried about customer value. They will have higher employee turnover, which makes it difficult to build long-term customer relationships. Having to be responsible to stockholders is often a serious disadvantage. The stockholders are shortsighted and only care about the next quarter.

One nice thing about companies with stockholders is they have to make everything public. Want to know what Michaels thinks about you? "Many of these stores have established a loyal customer base within a given community and compete with us based on relationships and customer service". They say that they have more marketing and purchasing power than you do. Duh! But you know what else they say? In another section, they mention that their mass merchandiser competitors have more marketing and purchasing power than they do. They have exactly the same problem the custom framers have. Isn't that ironic. Perhaps you should feel sorry for them. ;)


You asked some great questions. I opened in May of this year. I decided to get into framing, with zero prior experience in the industry Nov of last year. I am not a custom framer. I am an Internet based ready-made frame manufacturer and retailer. I am currently trying to do everything I mentioned except #5 since I do not have a retail location. Offering higher end frames and providing 24 hour turn around time has helped set me apart from my online competition. Locally in the metroplex Aaron Brothers and their 1 cent frame sales, and Bed Bath & Beyond are still a problem for me with the bottom end of my market. I did have some success educating my customers by doing a presentation about framing for a photography club. I also use my newsletter to do the same. I plan to put some framing examples together and get photos on my website. Things like a comparison of the green tint in cheap glass to Cyro acrylic (got that idea from Tru-vue booth in Atlanta). As for supply chain stuff, I am always working that that issue. Checking with other suppliers, trying to buy in larger volume, negotiating, pulling in gear so I can stop buying chop...etc. My primary competitors have an average of a 20 head start on me, and they all have larger buying power than I do. I tell my suppliers this and I ask for their help. "Help" by the way, is my key word in supplier negotiation and it has significantly increased my chances of surviving.