lidesaver, quickbooks?????startup, chop or length?


CGF, Certified Grumble Framer
Jul 24, 2004
Round Pond, ME
OK, I've spent the last 2 hours reading through various posts on software programs here and the computer forum. As a startup, I have limited funds and am having a hard time stomaching the cost of LifeSaver Software. The course I took suggested we not be slaves to the computer. I've used quickbooks in the past. My shop will be a one woman operation with some help from my husband (a boatbuilder), so I'll won't have employees.... at least not for quite some time. My equipment: Framesquare saw, VN2+1, seal 500TX, speedmat. Location: midocoast Maine.
Estimated opening date: mid September. Have already met with reps: Don Mar, LJ, and AMPF. Two of them strongly suggest I go with chop service.
So, I have two questions here: I have the saw, it cuts beautiful miters.... do I buy length or chop?
And, how imperative is it to purchase an expensive software program like LifeSaver? Will quickbooks be sufficient, or will a manual bookkeeping and filing system do?
I will approach only the first question.

Have you done your homework as to how to charge for a framing job? That can be with or without a computer. In other words have you done the "job costing" thing to determine what your overhead is; what cost of goods (materials only); what is your anticipated volumn; what is your anticipated break even point; etc.

Both a manual and a computerized system will do. It is just a computerized system will not make a math error and will be a better prompt in completing a work order, scheduling and inventory control.
A POS system will be worth it's price 10x over. We are now getting multiple price increases from most venders every year. With a POS you can update your prices in minutes instead of hours.

As to chop vs length, there are many factors that will go into this choice. Do you get free deliveries from your vendors? Length is expensive to ship in small quanities. I would start with chop to find out what sells in your market (your POS will help determine this as well). Then bring in some length.
I agree with Dave. I have been open almost two years. The POS system was one of the best decisions I made. With my current experience I might evaluate the packages diffierently and "may" have chosen a different package, but I can't imagine not have it available for those final stages when just typing in a different product code gives you the quote you need! I use a POS and Quickbooks for different tasks.

The "don't be a slave to the computer" is good advice, but I would take that to mean DON'T use the default pricing scheme until/unless you validate it. Try to make sure the scheme available with the POS you choose is consistant with your desires. For instance, with my POS, glass is priced by UI and I am wishing I could convert it to square inches.

As for length versus chop ... I started with strictly chop until I understood what my market tended toward. Then I brought in a couple of dozen profiles in some "bundle" quantitites. I have shitfted some of the profiles, but by the time this holiday season starts I will have about 3 dozen profiles in Box quantities and everything else I will buy chopped. I price everything off the chop price (except a "Special" profile) so I do better on Gross margin with the stock stuff.

One other side note ... I made a few "length buying errors" in my first few holiday season (Nov - Dec '02) buying "not so poular" profiles. (I would suggest that you don't buy something just because it's a good deal.) But, you probably will get some "rush" orders near the holdidays, so one or two profiles in length for a day or two turnaround is useful.
I've been in business for 15 years. Three years ago I added QuickBooks, this year I've add a POS. In my opinion they are 2 completely different items with 2 completely different functions.

I really feel that you need QB for the accounting capability. Obviously, I feel that the POS is something I could do without if I had to. I've not become that attached to it yet. My other system was working very well (thank you very much.) But the POS will improve things as time goes by.

As for the chop/length debate. I don't have a saw yet, so I use chops. If, however, I had a saw, I'd at least keep a few basic mouldings on hand. For instance, I'd keep a generic black, brown, and gold for quick jobs and needlework customers who only want the frame. Then I'd study what sold and perhaps add length of those, if they were easy to cut.

At least, for what it's worth, that's what I do, and would do.

Customers are less likely to "haggle" with the price if it comes from a computer. It also gives a sense of confidence to the customer, that the prices are "set" and aren't being made up on the fly.

Some other advantages include the ability to change a mat or frame to get an upgrade price comparison instantly, forever to date history for each customer, mailing list ready to go, tracking down payments and balances due, invoicing commercial clients, weekly vendor "pick lists"(shopping list), automatic price and product updates, commissions and consignment tracking, inventory, professional looking invoices (buying multi part forms will probably cost MORE than the software, if you figure it out long term), handling of sales tax records, etc. (this list could keep going)

In my opinion, a POS is just as important as having a matcutter. I wouldn't (and didn't) open the doors without one. But then again, i'm a computer geek
Here's a POS SOFTWARE LIST if you didn't already find it.

We price everything at CHOP and buy at Length whenever possible. When something is too big or detailed for the Mors0, we get it chopped. We use Lifesaver and Quickbooks. Quickbooks is used for the daily deposit totals and bill paying, while the POS handles the detailed customer records/transactions.

If you run into any questions or problems with whatever you choose, don't forget to use the Grumble as a resource. The computer forum has a lot of knowledgeable folks from various POS backgrounds.


PS: Most of the POS vendors will have "show specials" at the Atlanta trade show in a couple weeks. This might be a good opportunity to save a few hundred, in many cases. If you ask, they may be willing to give you the promotional pricing even if you don't attend the show. This is what we did when we bought ours. FramerSelect and Larson-Juhl also offer discounts for some of the most popular programs.

[ 08-25-2004, 11:14 AM: Message edited by: Mike-L@GTP ]
Ditto to the above remarks.. I also notice you are in an area that possibly is seasonal. Be aware that some mouldings may sell like hot cakes in the "cottage season" and sit the during winter.

Check out your sources well also. I'm fortunate to have a local distributor who will join frames for free if 6 or more are ordered at one time. They also do free delivery.

From experience I can tell you that if you are operating by yourself, as I am and choose not to hire any employees, any outside contracting you can do will be highly beneficial.

Things you could contract out:

Complex mat cutting (If your distributor offers this)
Some frame joining (Again if available)

I'm going through the same process as I become busier and busier. What tasks can I farm out so that I can keep up with the volume of work? What do I enjoy doing? Do you really want to work 12+ hours a day 6 or 7 days a week on a steady basis?
You may have to starting out, but it can be easy to burn out and eventually you won't be able to keep up. Plan ahead to have resources available. A retired framer in your area may be willing to help out on a outside contractor basis when you need relief or vacation, etc.

Do not invest more in any inventory than you need to to start off...unless money is no object and your in this for a hobby, you may need resources and should hold back. You pay more for less quantities, but it's better to do that than have a 10 year or even a 1 year supply of items you thought you'd use up.

Consider whether you want to sell anything other than custom framing. Is is worth spending the time with a customer buying cute greeting cards for a $ 2.00 sale when you have to stop assembly on a $ 350.00 frame?

Identify your customer base. Being one person, it is hard to compete for the low end / volume market. Look to advance your skills constantly and go after the truly custom specialized work that is rewarding and profitable.

As I write this I'm reminding myself of all these points as I'm guilty of most of the above pitfalls too! I went from having three locations and 33 employees to a one man operation less than a year ago. I prefer what I'm doing now, make less money, but see the potential to do what I want and be more profitable with less headaches under the current model.

Good luck and enjoy what you do to the fullest.

Dave Makielski

Marquis saying of the day...

"Art...A Great Hang-Up"
[ You say you have... My equipment: Framesquare saw, VN2+1, seal 500TX, speedmat. ]

Great equipment but you will need to add the POS software to that list. Just 3 or 4 frame jobs will pay for the cost.
In addition to helping with pricing... You will have access to all your customers records. What if a customer comes in a year later?... or three or four years later? They say" I want to frame 10 things JUST LIKE the ones I did 4 years ago"!

What do you DO??? Lets see... I will just dig through that pile of frame KNOW they are SOMEWHERE?
....They are all in order right? In order by NAME and DATE? and YEAR?

I am here to tell you that same thing happened to us many times before we had Lifesaver POS. Most of the BETTER POS programs have the ability to keep customer records. Make sure you get one that does when you get the software.

We started out without POS 24 years ago but sure wish we had it in the beginning. ;)
I too thought the price of software was..... NUTS. I bought FrameSmart. Its an evolving software and isn't in its finale state. However the price is nice, it functions quite well, doesn't have a huge learning curve, isn’t overly complicated, and has decent customer service. I like POS software but I won't be paying several thousand for it with another thousand per year for updates and I don't care how good it is. They will have to stop making calculators and pencils first. The minimum accounting software I would buy if I could do it over is the cheapest QB version.

As far as chops are concerned I hate them. They are complete waist of money for a new business if you ask me (and you sorta did). You will likely have plenty of time to cut moulding yourself. The ONLY time I will ever order another inch of moulding at chop rate is when I don't have time to cut it myself. Keep in mind I get deliveries. I don’t recommend buying length if you have moulding shipped. The two companies suggested you order chop for a very specific reason. Cough (money money) cough. Sorry! If you have a saw I would suggest using it.
I get an uneasy feeling when people suggest that something is "expensive"; Something as important as Information Management.Eliminating pricing errors can easily pay for the system.

There are just certain expenses and investments that you simply have to make. I agree with the statement regarding a mat cutter being no more critical than POS.

But, what scares me the most is the unpreparedness that we see so often. I am not trying to be mean here.

It is tough in the marketplace and it isn't getting easier.

This year in the Phoenix metro area there are at least 6 stores that have simply disappeared.
I've worked at 3 different frame shops when I lived in Maine, and they all handled things very differently. Now being in the Southwest, things are again quite different. Knowing your market is really important. Will you sell a lot of large pieces or more smaller ones for tourists to bring home? What companies will your customers like the best? Although you end up paying almost twice the price for chops, the shipping is a lot less because they're smaller. If you buy length, you'll have to pay oversize shipping prices or have them cut in half, then maybe lose the point of buying length because you can't get what you need out of it. You're only getting no charge deliveries from Larson, right? And only one day per week? I think it makes sense to buy length from them but start out with the chops from other people, maybe order them an inch large so you can assure a good mitre. If you're using less than 5 feet for the whole framing project, I think it's always a better idea to buy it chopped. Or if you'll need 11 feet, buy one stick at length and one leg at chop, so you don't have 8 feet sitting around taking up space.

P.S. I really loved Lifesaver when we used it. It saved tons of time and helped me understand how things are priced. Although there's something to be said for having a manual pricing system in place in case you need it.
I suspect (based on my experience) that you will be re-thinking and re-evaluating almost everything over the coming months.

Your process may change, your work flow may change, your suppliers may change, the product mix you have may change, your layout may change ... well, you get the idea. As you learn from your location and your market, what you do, what you spend $ on, and how you do things will be constantly evaluated.

A good POS AND a GOOD accounting system will help you make those decisions more intelligently. Without good data it's "seat of the pants" and "gut feel." That can work for some people, but I'd suggest the best data gathering tools you can garner. Without good data, emotion and luck come into play too much.
I must say Cliff that is some amazing advice. When I opened I picked two companies that I had visited, met all the employees, and really really liked. I quit carrying one my first month open.
I never thought of that! Do companies really let you buy one chopped piece and one whole stick?

All the time.
Sure but most have a minimum (4 feet). So by the time you pay twice the cost for half the stick why not buy the whole stick and make a photo frame, or torch, or leg for a sign, or trim for a door, or a wedge for a wobbley table, or a prop for a saggy shelf, or what ever else you want to do with it. The way I see it is if I'm going to pay for it, I'm going to do something with it.
I have been open four years. I have only had my lifesaver software for 1 1/2 years, but if I could have opened with it, I would have! There is no comparison. I love it.I can't explain the difference it has made. At the very least, It give's my shop a very professional look and it's true costomers don't questions prices from a computer!

As far as chop verses lenth, It depends on you and how much work you want to put into a project and if you can even cut the moulding. Some mouldings are 6" wide and most saws don't even cut that wide. So each piece will be a different decision. I do alot of both, So price for chop and just enjoy the profit when you do lenth.
I know Larson lets me buy one leg at any size I want. I just bought one chopped to 21" and payed for 2ft (the mitres...). To me, space and organization are more important than the possabilites of using some random 7' stick on an unknown, sometime-in-the-future project. Plus, no one ever buys our ready-made frames.
You didn't mention a computer as one of your shop assets--assuming so, I would strongly recomend using something like the cheapest version of QBooks over manual unless you are a bookkeeping junkie and just love double entry bookkeeping. You still have to keep original records & files, so there will still be plenty of paper shuffling.

I use my POS primarliy for pricing and printing of work orders...and can't resist promoting my "brand"--Artisan Storefront has a lite version for about $300 which isn't a huge investment, and can be upgraded as you see the need or desire for more services.

If I had a framesquare I'd be buying length!
There are several good threads in the archives on the chop-vs-length debate. I took a course from Jay Goltz last year and he pointed out that to figure the real cost of buying length you need to consider 1)paying rent on the square footage needed for housing the saw & inventory 2)the time it takes to unwrap, inspect, deal with damage issues, and cut the lengths.
Gosh I hate to sound like a know it all, but I feel strongly about this. I think relying on chops is generally a bad idea. The cost of a saw is fixed for most shops. Who here takes their saw (or chopper) home to save on rent? That just sounds like gobbley gook to me. And it doesn’t take me one second longer to unwrap, inspect, and deal with damage issues with length as it does for me to with chops. Actually it takes me less time because, as we all know, it takes much longer to fix the occasional bad chop as it does to cut it myself. Was Jay (the other Jay) talking about stocking large quantities of moulding? There are plenty of costs that have to be considered if so. But when deciding if between buying one length of a moulding and cutting it yourself or buying chop, it’s a no brainier to me.

Let me answer that Bob, H*LL no he don’t.

Carry on!
I think most shops would be well served by having a full mix of services;some chop, some short bundle length, some box. Each has it's own merits.

The key is to be able to determine which best suits each method and shop. to rely upon any one singularly might not be the wisest course of action.

I think to assign cost elements like occupancy charges to the equation is a little short sighted and doesn't speak to true costs. As if we could turn back that space to the landlord for reduction of charges.

So much of this discussion is so simply resolved by doing a simple Cost/Benefit Analysis.

Why do we tend to make the simplest of decisions so complicated?
Its just so much fun. Kind of like a day at Disney World don't you think?
Bob is correct as usual here folks, listen to him. Even if you decide to order length you will order chops from some vendors as well.

Some of you talk like if you order length you have to order by the box, not so. You can order 8 ft , 18 ft, whatever you want. We order chop if the frame is under 5 feet and length if over..from 3 of our 9 frame vendors on a regular basis, the other 6 depends on what we need. You have to remember that you will have left over moulding and must use it or you will have a ton of moulding in your way after a while.

As a new shop you may want to hold off and see which vendors are the most popular before ordering length. Keep track of what you have left over in a spreadsheet so you know what you have with a push of a button. When you know that you have 6 ft of LJ 548wo, for example, and have an order that needs 12ft, you only order 6 more feet. **Warning** Some mouldings will not always match up perfectly with what you have in inventory, specifically acid washed mouldings or mouldings that you may have had for over a year.

Good luck with your new shop.
I think J.G.'s point was that you have to consider other factors than a straight length price compared to chop price. I think this comes into play particularly with small, one person operations where time is a real issue and could be better spent marketing, etc. Or, if in an extremely high rent-per-square foot location (maybe you could afford a better, higher rent location if you didn't have to house a saw & inventory).
Having said all that, I myself am a small operator (4 employees), and mostly buy "short lenghth" (20 feet or less), very occasionally chop, and a few "bread and butter" mouldings in box. I prefer to chop it myself because I do a better job than most of my suppliers. In the last couple of years, I do spend more and more time messing with damaged/imperfect moulding, though. GRRRR!


P. S. Gperry, listen to Bob! I do!
Yep the times, they are a changin'. I think for alot of small-to mid-sized shops, you've got to have some length and buy some box to supplement your chops. You've got to be able to play the game and appeal to a wider swath of customer. Re-evaluate, change or die.

Heck, if I remember correctly, in the not-too-distant past, Bob Carter, the man himself, bought most of his woods chopped and joined.

Yo, Max-You are most correct. For a couple of years, that is exactly what we did-bought almost exclusively C/J.

It was based on several factors-growth being the most critical, and time allocation being the second.

But, as you suggest, times do change. Those parameters have changed making the equation no longer favorable.

Please understand the way you buy has a lot to do with this analysis. We, fortunately, buy pretty effectively and negotiated prices that were most favorable.

As we get knee deep into the Holiday Season, I'm sure we will shift a bunch back to the C/J program.

But, make no mistake, whatever method we employ, it will be after due dilligence and consideration.

And, bet the farm, that this decision will be rationalized as "world class wisdom".

See, we aren't really that much different than the rest of you.

Leslie, I know what Jay was getting at and he is correct. All the variables must be included. But, that assumes that these variables can be mitigated; that we somehow can control or alter them.

In truth, most of the variables are really fixed.

But, like you, we have found a hybrid, one size doesn't fit all, program. Most of us would be wise to follow your lead, too