My plan for starting a framing business


MGF, Master Grumble Framer
Jan 1, 2005
This is sort of my “resumé” for starting my own framing business. I request feedback from anyone who has gone through this. While this is not super detailed, I hope to have given enough information for you to see if I have my head in the right place!

My goal is to open a small one man frame shop. I expect it to be around 1000 sq. feet (maybe more, but not less). I will offer quality custom framing (!). I will have framed art for sale, 15-20 pieces tops and will also sell acrylic display cases which I buy or build myself. If no business in my vicinity offers art supplies, I plan to carry a small amount and perhaps add to whatever is requested later.

After research, the cities and towns around me seem to be all blocked up with frame shops to which I don't think I should go head to head. I plan on waiting until a shop closes. I know some framers around who are doing okay but considering retiring in a few years. I'm not in any rush.

I have $20K in cash to start with. I already own much of the equipment and will fund the other equipment I still need along with work tables, storage racks, starting supplies and fixtures from my current home side business (unrelated to framing). I plan on using about $5K of the capital to get the store ready. $3-4K goes to advertising and the rest will be available to help with rent, utilities and additional supplies as I wean the business on to its own profits. The bottom line is: I should not have to borrow money to start the business. If I do, I'm not ready yet.

On the home front, I'm single with only a house payment and utilities. I hope to earn more as I grow the business, but I can live on as little as $11 per hour if need be. If the business tanks, I have another $25K in cash to dip into until I can find work.

Education/experience. I currently frame on my own and did a couple pieces for friends and family. I run a small unrelated side business, so I have some familiarity with working with customers and inventory. I am familiar with conservation techniques. I need more education with mounting of fabrics, "non flat" items and certain types of materials. I am also not clear on how to price framing.

Thanks for looking!
Read this forum. Go through the archives and read about customer relations, vendor problems, difficult orders, out-of-stock molding, and strange encounters

Be sure you are ready to cope with the sheer insanity of working in retail, creation, AND production at the same time.

If you can handle all that, the business part is just math.
Consider planning for at least one part-time employee. If you're in a retail location being a one-man band is a problem. How will you ever be able to make a pick up, delivery or Chamber of Commerce meeting? What happens if you get sick? Even going to the bathroom is a problem.

Good Luck.
Good start so far, but a ways to go.

I'm into year 2 of a similar situation. Read the Grumble and it will help you.

My only suggestion is to try and work in one of the surrounding Mom and Pop shops.

If they retire you may be able to make a play for it. If not at least you will have a realistic idea of how a shop runs day to day.

On paper it may look good but try it before you dive in. Take classes, your skills are the most important thing next to start up capital and in my opinion if you can get paid by a frame shop to learn on their dime do it.

I thought I was a really good framer in the first shop I worked in and I was for that shop. After I moved on to the next one I realised in the big picture of framing (pun intended) I didn't know half of what I really needed to.

I made my way through several shops (some chain stores) most Mom and Pop and learned a bunch from experience, theirs and mine.

Until you feel the strain of putting out several dozen jobs in a few hours before Christmas eve I don't think you can understand the role of shop owner/framer/salesperson/designer.

You probably won't pull anything cash wise out of it for a while so be prepared.

Good luck this place is a gold mine of info!
Hanna, I work in IT now so this is nothing new to me. There are lots a similarities in a departmentalized business. My customers are the rest of the company. I get to answer the phone, manage inventory and deal with impatient bosses. Everything must be NOW. Just had vendor delaying shipment on a laptop someone is needing. Vendor now tells me it's discontinued, so I have to tell the guy it is delayed yet again and have to spec out another one (specialty purpose, not garden variety). And as yesterday and several prior weekends, I get to come in and work (at least only for a few hours). When I go home I have to deal with my little side business. None of this fazes me and I can go on doing it. I'd just like to start my own business. I know it won't be easy. I'm not expecting a cake walk.

I have read some of the stories here. There certainly some nasty customers out there but these are the exception to the norm (the kind you have to ask to leave). I have one customer who bought my product. He made a couple complaints (you know the picky type). I explained that it is just the way it is done. I figured that he would never return, but he came back and ordered twice as much!

I'll search around for more about getting the business going. I thought I'd get an opinion on my basic plan.

Thanks, John
Even going to the bathroom is a problem.
Ain't that the truth!

The positive side is that going to the bathroom seems to be a sure fire way of ensuring that customers will come in.

Maybe a recipe for countering the slow times is a dose of laxative!!!!!!

Perhaps stating the obvious, a major issue to contemplate is your rationale for moving from IT to framing. Before I "retired" I was in IT for many years (in many roles from programmer to CIO) and in my experience the average IT professional makes significantly more money than the average framer / small business owner. And that's before taking into account fringe benefits (health insurance, paid vacation, 401K matching, etc., etc.). Just be sure that it's something you really really want!

Good luck.
I think your "basics" are good. But I would re-think the "small amount of art supplies". When you get your business license, order catalogues from the major art distributors. Many require a hefty minimum buy. Also, if there's a big box chain in your area, you probably won't be able to compete with their prices. Art supplies are wonderful to play with, but they can be a real money-pit as a side-line. I've worked for two frame shops that tried it, and they lost $ in that department.

I think you're on the right track. Good luck! And have fun.
Regarding the art supplies... I am in an area where an art supply store/frame shop had closed the year before I opened. I STILL get people in my store, thinking I am the other store - looking for art supplies. I always try to ask what it is they are looking for...

You know what?! In over 4 years no two people were ever looking for the same item(s). There are just too many supplies to handle to have a good enough inventory to satisfy customers if you treat that as a sideline.

I hope to earn more as I grow the business, but I can live on as little as $11 per hour if need be.
I think that you are undercapitalized. You may not be able to draw even that $11 per hour rate for possibly several months or more. It often takes a couple of years to fully establish a business as viable and self sustaining.

My goal is to open a small one man frame shop. I expect it to be around 1000 sq. feet (maybe more, but not less). I will offer quality custom framing (!). I will have framed art for sale, 15-20 pieces tops and will also sell acrylic display cases which I buy or build myself. If no business in my vicinity offers art supplies, I plan to carry a small amount and perhaps add to whatever is requested later.
Initially it might be more advantageous to pick one area and concentrate on doing it well. Framing should provide better margins than artwork. This will allow you consolidate investing your resources rather than having a limited offering in several product lines.

Education/experience. I currently frame on my own and did a couple pieces for friends and family
Expand your knowledge of framing techniques but more importantly running a business. If your idea is to make a living from this then is essential to have a good working knowledge of BOTH prior to investing your hard earned money and your time in such a venture.

I'll echo Susan's comments on the art supply end. A "small amount of art supplies" would be by my extimate a $20-25K cost inventory and you'll find you practically never will have what customers seem to want or need and there is also a large educational curve there as well.

The other effect will be that you will find yourself waiting on customers for supplies, doing the ordering and inventorying and not being able to get the frame work out during normal business hours. Thus you'll put in many many hours to run the business and it'll be difficult to focus trying to do it all by yourself.

Dave Makielski
Wow! Thanks for the feedback so far. Sometimes I get over zealous and need a wake-up call. I'll forgo the art supplies for now, but will consider later. I'm still going to do the plexi cases. It is a high markup item. $3 in plexi plus a bit of time will make a $30 box.

I did some figuring and come up with the store needing to do $100,000 sales per year or $384.62 per day (5 day weeks). This means I need to be doing approx. 4 $100 frames per day or 6 $65 frames per day (avg. $). I come up with the sales figures from the following costs per year:

$18,000 Rent ($1,500 per mo.) Not sure of costs of renting a store front. Need to research.
$4,000 Utilities (inc. phone, insurance)
$39,000 Supplies ($110 per day. I suspect I over estimated considering the number of frames.)
$33,800 Profit (My salary! I hope to eventually get this to $40k after a few years)
$5,000 Other (advertising, equipment purchase, other expense)
$100,000 total

Anything I missed?

I should point out that I'm not chasing money. I could survive on under $20K. I want something challenging that I can enjoy.

The point about hiring an employee is good. I hope that I can do that within a couple years. I'll have to be building a bunch more than 4-6 per day in order for that. I doubt I'll be able to be an employee in a shop. I will have to practice framing different objects and read framing books. I've read one so far and learned a lot.

Andrew, a CIO likely earns more money than the entire expected sales of my shop! Working for a small company here in the Midwest, I don't make as much as many people would think.

Thanks for evaluating my plan. John
what about the cost of

--building out a retail location........fixtures,
carpet, paint, sign, displays etc
--accounting and legal
--bank and credit card fees
--travel & education
--taxes (payroll, property, business license)
--bad debt
--office supplies
--shop supplies (I assume the $39,000 is COGS--raw materials, moulding, glass, matboard, hardware, etc)

BTY - $4,000 for heat, light, phone, insurance is a bit low
what about the cost of

--building out a retail location........fixtures,
carpet, paint, sign, displays etc

These items will be purchased/built beforehand or I'll have extra money ready for it. Everything up to opening day will be paid for.

--accounting and legal

I'll be balancing the books. Don't know about legal.

--bank and credit card fees

These fees are minor, but should be considered.

--travel & education

I plan on getting educated beforehand. Perhaps a course now and then to learn new techniques.


Yep, parts for mat cutter, sawblades, fix/replace broken tools, ect. Comes from "other" expenses. Don't expect to be making large equipment purchase every year. Hopefully I do well enough to get CMC in a few years.

--taxes (payroll, property, business license)

Yes to the payroll (The figure was my gross income, not net). I'll have to learn more about business license and property txes. Can't I lease my equipment to my shop?

--bad debt

Do you mean losses from bounced checks and such? Reading the Grumble, there are great tips to avoid some of it.

--office supplies

See below

--shop supplies (I assume the $39,000 is COGS--
raw materials, moulding, glass, matboard, hardware, etc)


BTY - $4,000 for heat, light, phone, insurance is a bit low

I took the costs I'm paying at home per year and nearly doubled it!

Thanks. More food for thought!
Ok I got to say that you seem to be a planner, good. Now go to work. I mean you really need to get in a shop and see where you are as far as education goes. A class can help all of us. I think framing on a regular basis you will see what you need to learn on that end. Take several business classes at trade shows, there are folks that could really open your eyes.

You, yourself said you were not in a rush. Well now is the time to find out where you are and if it is the right move for you. We are not going to know what is best for you. Hopefuly we will help you avoid the pot holes that have put our shops out of alignment (some of us).
Good luck
Patrick Leeland
I see that you plan to work 5 days a week. Not too bad for a beginner. Many grumblers are happy to work more than that. How many hours a day do you plan to keep open?
At 2% and $50,000 in sales (you expect a total of $100,000) the credit card fees will be only $1,000 and for a commercial checking account I have not found any "Totally Free Checking" accounts.

Yes you can lease all the equipment that you want. However most tax authorities will charge the same thing as if they were owned outright.

Payroll taxes are the additional portion paid be the company.
SS employee paid = $6.20 per $100 (on your pay check)
SS employer paid = $6.20 per $100 (not on your pay check)
Med employee paid = $1.45 per $100 (on your pay check)
Med employer paid = $1.45 per $100 (not on your pay check)

It's nice to see someone in the process of building a business. I'm going through the same process myself. Although, I'm looking to get things going in the next couple of months.

This is definitely a great place to come to for advice. I've been framing for over four years now, home-based, mostly wholesale. And yet, when I posted my ideas on 'the grumble' about getting my own retail location, I received a good, hard dose of reality.

First of all, let me say that some of the comments here might hurt your feelings, but as a whole you'll receive information that will hopefully prevent you from making any major mistakes.

Obviously, there's no one way to start a business. And two people who start a business the same way could end up with totally different results. There seems to be so many more variables to consider when it comes to a framing business.

Although I'm home-based, I've worked in a number of frame shops. And if I hadn't, there is a great deal I would not have learned, particularly with regard to the business management side. So as someone already mentioned, it would be a good idea to work for someone to get some framing experience and a taste of what the business involves.

I've been aggressively looking for retail space for the past several weeks. And I feel I've got some strong positives in place to move forward. I have a couple of artists who will provide me with original work. I have all the equipment I need. I have accounts set up for moulding and framing materials. I have a strong background in marketing and fairly good framing skills. And I've dabbled in retail enough over the past year to have developed a decent customer base.

I've hesitated because of all the frame shop owners I've work for or continue to work with in a wholesale capacity, every one that is a one-man show struggles to stay afloat. I'm not saying that a one-man show won't succeed because many here are one-man or one-woman operations, it's just more stress than I wish to try to endure.

Since I'd like to be located in a prime spot, I've found that it will cost me at least $5,000 a month just for the space, excluding utilities and other costs. When you factor in how long it takes to complete a framing order and the anticipated profit over the course of a month, you might be surprised to see how difficult it is to realize that $11 per hour you can survive with.

Aside from getting the experience, keep working on getting a plan together in which the numbers make sense. Location and competition make determining sales forecasts very subjective. But it would be best to estimate conservative figures. Many business owners here could probably give you some realistic estimates.

I have $30K to put forward for getting my retail operation set up. But I've decided to use that $30K to secure a $150K small business loan. This should give me more than enough to get things set up and leave a big chunk of working capital to give me a good year to get things rolling.

I'm still working on the details of my business plan to take to the small business administration. If you like, I'll send you a copy when I'm finished. It'll probably be a lot different from your business model, but there might be something useful in it for you.

Good luck,
Thanks again everyone for the feedback.

I've always heard if you not working 70+ hours to get you business rolling, you ain't working hard enough.

I wanted to present a senario for my "business" to see if I was sort of on track. I got good feedback and learned a few things. My $100 frames, might have to be $110!

I need to read up on small business and talk to some tax people.

DA, how large are these places that cost 5 grand a month? If it will cost me that much then it is game over. I don't think the market I'm in will support that kind overhead. Rent is one of the last few deal breakers I need to investigate before I press on.

I'm in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and pricing can vary considerably depending on how 'hot' a particular area is.

The place I was looking at was 1,000 square feet in a newly constructed area in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland.

I know a framer who has 4,000 square feet for only $1,500 per month, but the area is 'ghetto fab'. If it weren't for some work he's doing for another gallery, he'd be closing shop. And he has some strange agreement with his property management in which he's leasing month-to-month.

Another gallery owner I know is opening his second gallery in a reconstructed shopping center that I tried to get into. Unfortunately, he beat me there. He didn't tell me how much he's going to be paying per month, but he told me he got six months free with the lease agreement.

I've been spending a lot of time looking around, but good locations are hard to find here. I've found that most leasing agreements are very negotiable, but even with $30K at my disposal I've been finding myself at a disadvantage in competing for prime real estate.

I've contacted many leasing agents that want a business plan before they'll even consider me for their properties. And I'm still trying to decide if I should just get a leasing broker to search for properties for me.

Different people find different ways to make their business plans work. I probably wouldn't risk this if it weren't for my confidence in my sales ability and the opportunities I've had to work with frame shop owners. I know that doesn't ensure my success, but it should help a great deal. I already have some decent outside sales opportunities in place as well.

As someone already mentioned, you've got the convenience of time. Since you're in no rush, just continue learning. It took me years of visiting 'the grumble' before I had the nerve to put my initial plan before everyone here. On the wise advice of many here, I had to rethink a lot of things.

You offered up a lot more details in the plan you put before us. That shows a good deal of intestinal fortitude. I'm sure things will work out well for you whatever you decide.