persistent requests for "ballpark" estimates


Apr 12, 2006
Lynden, WA
I live and work in a small town. A friend of my mom's told her that her (the friend's) brother had been treated very rudely in my store and was offended. I'm the only person who works here, so it must have been me that offended him. Searching my memory, I figured he must be the guy who came in and said he had a poster at home and could I give him a ballpark figure on framing it--nothing fancy. I gave my usual spiel that it's very difficult to estimate how much a frame will cost because they vary so much in price, etc. and recommended that he bring it in and we could price out some options. He said again that all he needed was a ballpark figure. I said again that I really couldn't guess a price. He said, "Well, can you point me to the cheapest frame (meaning moulding sample) in your store?" I said something like, "No, I don't know all the prices offhand; they're in my computer. If you bring in the poster, we can pick out some frames and see how much they'd cost." Then he left, apparently offended.

The only good thing was that (according to my mom's friend) he thought the person who waited on him was so young!! (I'm 45) that it couldn't be the owner; it must have been some ignorant employee. However, I am the only person who works in my store.

I have to admit that sometimes I feel impatient when people keep trying to pin me down to a price for something I've never seen. I thought I was being polite to this guy, but apparently my irritation showed.

Whenever I do name a figure in response to this kind of request, just making up a number out of my head, I usually get the reponse that that is far more than the person had in mind, and couldn't I do it cheaper? Cheaper than what? We haven't chosen anything. So generally I will not name a price but keep trying to suggest that they bring the piece in so we can see what options we have.

Probably I couldn't have been cheap enough to please this guy even if he brought his stuff in and I did locate my cheapest frame. But I don't want to get a reputation for people being treated rudely in my store just because I won't name a price for an unspecified frame. Have any of you developed a gracious approach so that even if people decide custom framing is too expensive for them they still feel that they were treated with respect in your store, so that they will speak well of it to their friends? If so, could you share your script with me?
When I get a request like that I usually say," It could be anywhere from 75.00 to 500.00 depending on what you choose and the exact size of the project.

If they say they would like it narrowed down I press them to bring it in so I can give them exact numbers with an actual design. I remind them it's free and with integrated framer I can show them the completed job.

Overall they tend to see how dificult it is to ballpark a number and more times than not I see them again.

I can sympathise completely.

PS- I think 45 is young, it's all a state of mind!
I just had a VERY attractive woman leave here that told me she is gong to be a grandma.
When I managed a very busy shop years ago, I had made up a "ballpark estimate" sheet.

On it were the totals for 8x10, 16x20, 18x24, 24x36, 32x40:

Option 1: Drymount,mat,frame,glass,assemble. Option 2: mat,frame,glass,assemble
Option 3: frame,glass,assemble
Option 4: frame,assemble

The moulding cost was a median amount, somewhere around $8 /foot, whatever the majority of our samples were at the time. This usually got the converstaion started, and got some samples off the wall and onto the artwork if they brought it in.... and sometimes resulted in a sale.
The odds are great that you weren't the rude one. The guy was. He wasn't listening to what you were saying and nothing you said was going to change his mind that you should be able to give him an estimate off the top of your head. Those kind usually want the poster to be framed for $50 and are appalled when you give them the real price.

I never give an estimate even if the art is in the store. They will wait while I price the job up and then they get the REAL price.

Once in a while, I will get someone who actually understands why I can't estimate a job and even more rarely, I actually get the job after that.

Don't let it get to you. It just goes with the territory.

Oh, I feel for you on this one. I too, am the only one in my shop and find it difficult to try to help someone who is not willing to bring their art in to have it looked at. So I do what JBN does - I say it can be as low as $50-75 or up to $1000 - depending on the materials and finished size of the piece. Now, if you know the customer is just looking to put it in a frame - bing-bam-boom on the wall - I quote my Poster special price which is the lowest... If that can get them in the door with the artwork - then we can try to upsell them and educate the fools... but if the low price stated is still more than they were thinking - you are not gonna win this one!!

Frustrating, I know - and I try not to let it show but sometimes, it's that kind of a day - and it does. You can probably recover it.

I use the same tactics on the phone - when people ask - I give them a range with a low end figure and say - hey, from what you described it "could" have been that much - but it's a bit more... at least you are face to face once they come in WITH THE ART!!

Good selling!!!

Like asking a painter over the phone to give you a quote to paint your house. It's a medium sized house... NOW CAN YOU GIVE A PRICE!

Like calling a roofer for a quote to replace your roof.... you know take off the old shingles and put new ones on ... Size? it's a three bedroom house with a garage... how much?

Like calling a nursery to give you a phone quote for landscaping your yard. ... Yeah I want some grass two trees and a dozen shrubs - what'll that cost?

Calling for a phone quote to have a couch re-upholstered. It's green has wooden legs and two cushions that's all you need to know, now that shouldn't cost me more than $100.00 ... right!
I also have a sheet of "ball park" prices that I will quote from with caveats that the prices can vary widely.
For this type of inquiry, If they've come into the shop empty handed, I also show them my secret weapon. A set of a few closeout samples where I make the frame for a flat (very loooow $$). If that doesn't satisfy, then I've lost the job.
I can't speak for roofers or upholstery people but as a framer we get this question often. I think the most proactive thing to do is try to answer the question to the best of our ability.

I have been given the tap dance act described here. About a year ago I even started a thread about this when I asked a break shop how much it costs to replace breaks on my van. I was certainly offended when the break shop couldn't.....REFUSED to give me a price on breaks.

In 15 seconds we could get a rough size and frame type (metal or 5" CC frame) and give them a stupid price.

If I called a roofer and told them my house was 70'x30' and I had a 5/12 pitch roof and they refused to give me a "rough price" there is ZERO chance they would ever drive a nail in my roof.

"I would like a cheap frame for my Scarface poster that is about 24x36. How much would that cost?" If you can't answer that question then you should lose them.
I get these people all the time. Sometimes I think they are sent by my competitors, just to mess with me. They never have the artwork with them, and are always rather vague as to its size, nature, condition, etc. So now I just tell them I can frame it for about $100 on up, depending on what kind of design they want. I don't worry about standing by the price stated, but I don't consider it a quote unless they bring in the artwork and we price it out with specific mouldings and mats.
I would be very surprised if he was not offended.

You work with this all day every day - if you can not give an estimate then hire someone who can.

Read my tag line - it may be relevant...
If they come in and ask for an idea of price we can give it very quickly if they can give us an idea of size.

"Ooooh - about the same as that picture over there"

Or maybe they hold their hands apart. Then a few questions...

What is it?

Is it matted? ("What's a mat?")

etc etc.

Also we find it very useful to have price breakdowns on a lot of our framed pictures for sale.

Over the phone can be more difficult but we usually get there.

"What size is it?"

"Poster size"

"Posters come in different sizes!"

"Oh, do they? ..... er MEDIUM!"

We love 'em - and the first thing we want to do is make them feel they are asking normal questions.
This may be a "Golden Rule" moment where we ought to treat these inquiries as if it were us on the other end of the question

John-I love your remark that "the first thing we do is to make them feel they are asking normal questions"

I hate it when I get some swarmy person that treats me in such a friendly-less manner as exhibited.

Replaced a water heater no long ago and called a few numbers. I suspect that I know about as much about plumbing as most do about picture framing. One guy said he couldn't/wouldn't give any idea without looking and couldn't be out for two days-also charged $45 bid charge if we didn't use him

Next guy asks a few questions, acts friendly, can do it same day even if it's late. Quoted me a lot more than I expected-told him we would get back (you know the old "I have to ask my wife" deal

Third guy asks a few questions, can do it next day, but will have to look in person and gave me a $200 range, depending

Second guy and third guy's median price were similar

Guess who got the work?
It's useful to have a wall-full of framing examples. A dry-mounted poster with a simple metal frame and your default glass would be one of them.

If you're using a POS or any kind of computer-aided pricing, have some templates loaded with the wall-sample info.

The customer says his poster is about yey big, you plug yey big into your computer and you say, "That would be roughly $120 for that size framed just like that sucker up on the wall."

I am less sympathetic when they call on the phone and say, "How much is framing?" but you gotta give them some reason to come in or come back.

We've been shopping for sun rooms. The guys we talk to really want to come to the house, get some measurements and give us the 60-minute pitch, but they are also able to point to the models in the showroom and say, "One like that on your house would be $12,000-$14,000." We aren't going to invite them for a visit without some clue what we're getting into.

BTW, these sunrooms are custom-made - just like frames.
I think people like this have two things in mind:
1) I don't want to spend the time choosing framing if I know I can't afford it
2) I don't want to commit myself by having a framer spend their time with me choosing framing, only to find out that I don't want to spend that much.

After asking for an approximate size and the kind of art it is, I'll usually answer with, "In my experience, a piece like that could be $x00 to $x00 (a range of maybe a couple hundred dollars), but it really all depends on the moulding you choose, what kind of mats, glass, etc. I can give you a firm quote if you'd like to bring it in and we'll take a look at it. Then we can choose framing that really makes it looks its best."

It's helping them over their hurdle that gives you the best chance of getting them back in your shop.
Somebody came in today and showed me a snapshot....of a corner of a Finished Corner gold frame and wanted to know how much such a frame would cost...

It went like this:

Me: Well, how big is that frame?
Clueless Person: Mm, Not that big.
Very patient me: Approximately?
Clueless Person: Oh, square in shape.
Slightly less patient me: so like 20 x 20??
Clueless Person: No, bigger
Still Trying to be patient me: 24 x 24??
Clueless Person: Not sure, I have the old frame in the car, should I go and measure????
Me, about to stab my eye with a rusty razor blade: By all means, yes, please!!!!
I had just finished reading the Ballpark figure thread when the phone rang about a "just a ball-park figure". Started out that it was just a poster. 42x28. "Not real expensive, but a decent frame".

Then "And I want 2 inches between the poster and the frame."
"So you would like it matted?"
"Oh yeah. I guess. What's that?"
"We use it to make the poster fit a larger frame, and keep the glass off of it, that 2 inches?"
"Oh yeah, but don't cut the poster. It's really old. Been in my garage for years. I don't want it to get ruined. And I don't really need glass, Oh yeah, and it's a movie poster. Do you think 2 inches is enough?"
"Well...that changes things from the $xxx I was about to quote you for just a poster. Maybe you could bring it in and we'll talk about why glass is important, and all the other things we should do to protect it. What's your name?"
"Oh! Okay! You know about movie posters? Cool! I'm Al. What are your hours and where are you located?"
I swear, I thought it might be a Grumbler, testing me! (Okay, who was that??)

Whew. I sure hope Al makes it in in the morning.
Originally posted by RoboFramer:
"Poster size"

"Posters come in different sizes!"

"Oh, do they? ..... er MEDIUM!"
'Oh, well, we can do that for about a "MEDIUM PRICE"'.

I usually get to the meat of the matter by going to the "we can usually bring you in under your $17,000 budget...." then I listen for the sharp intake of breath... and wait for the large thump as the back of the head hits the hardwood floor...
then add "Usually." give it the slow three count... then add, if you bring it in, we can see what we're really talking about, and we can give you a less smart acher quote. I can be amazing how nice a frame can be had for as little as $150.
Movie poster????

Run for your life, Val!

I think it is critical for us NOT to make our customers or potential customers feel stupid - even if they are - but all bets are off with regard to movie posters.

(Anybody wanna go find the evergreen slug thread for Val? I have some important ice cream work to do.)
O k a y, R o n. What's up?

Evergreen Slug????

RON! Put down that ice cream right now, and get back here and tell me why it's okay to make customers feel stupid about Evergreen Slug Movie Posters! You're freakin' me out here!!
Nevermind. I found Evergreen Slugs myself. AACK!!

So, last year, when M's had that bleepin' 70% off sale, I had to do 27 Evergreen Slugs for a lady who insisted no-one else handle them but me. Very, very old, some linen-backed, some torn, all folded, some matted, some not. She called nearly every day, checking on them.

Trust me, those words <font size=1>movie poster</font size=1> bring chills and nausea to this poor little framer. Temptation to run?


Man, I hope Al forgets to come in in the morning.
Okay, Val, but I'm going into ice cream withdrawal.

Here's the original juicy thread from deep in the Grumble bowels (aka The Archives.) I woulda come back with this sooner, but I actually re-read all 71 posts on it. Man, those were the good old days.;f=17;t=002345

(I apologize for using the words 'juicy' and 'bowels' in the same sentence. I get cranky when I don't get my ice cream.)
Thanks in advance Ron, for sacrificing your ice cream time. I think. I still have a couple of hours of work left here, but will sit down in my pajamas with my cherry juice (or black cherry fudge ice cream!) tonight and learn all about Evergreen Slugs. So I can talk to Al in the morning without making myself look stupid. (As Buddy reminded me recently..."Stupid is as Stupid does"!!)
P.S. I think I might have to change my signature line for awhile
I'm quite certain that nobody here is qualified to frame a movie poster. There is only one hack I know of that can tackle these and she lives in Hollywood.
Jay...I'm not quite sure how to take that. Explain please? :eek:
I forget, at what point did they become Evergreen Slugs? Inkwiring minds wants to know...
OMG, I agree with Bob!! :eek:

I totally understand about ballpark prices and give them all the time. It helps people unfamiliar with the process decide if it is something they want to pursue or not, and save sooo much time and trouble on both sides.

The price range is such a good idea, as is giving options. Provided those options are "acid free" and include spacers. ;)

Holy Cow! I read that entire thing and my blood pressure has skyrocketed! Good thing this thread is about Ballpark Estimates! And I'm out of ice cream! Argh!!

Lance, I tried to find when <font size=1>movie posters</font size=1> became Evergreen Slugs, but apparently that thread no longer exists, except for a reference by Ron, that it be used as a codeword, because <font size=1>movie posters</font size=1> became a bad word because of that thread. (Jay, NOW I understand!) I wonder if Sue-the-Disney-<s>hack</s>"Framer" is still around??

After all that, I'm happy to say that not a single one of those 27 Evergreen Slugs I framed for that woman was drymounted. Or glued down. Or had (that evil,acid-)glass touching them. Or cardboard. Or acid-anything. Every frame was foil taped, all materials were archival, properly hinged, the larger pieces were UV plexi'd, with spacers properly used in the absence of double matting, etc. And I have witnesses! Whew!

Now, we'll see if ol' Al makes it in with his poor Evergreen Slug, or if I've scared the bejeezus out of him with my Ballpark Over-the-Phone Estimate, which, BTW, wasn't $30!!

And can I, after reading that entire thread, keep a straight face while I entice my prey with overpriced, unneccesary, uninformed, used-car-salesman-like framing recommendations? Wait, I think I may have a plastic frame upstairs, I'll bring that with me tomorrow, just in case!

<font size=1>Ask me for a Ballpark Estimate, will ya?</font size=1>
Okay, I've calmed down now. I really don't mind doing a ballpark estimate, if the caller/walker-inner doesn't mind waiting a few minutes for me to figure it. And if I'm busy, I get a name and ph#, crunch some numbers and call them back, ask a few more questions, and then recommend they come in with their art.

I like the idea of the quick-estimate average-generic-job chart, and I need to do that. But taking the time talking and asking questions gives them the opportunity to hear that I care about what they have enough to ask those questions. Like when Al's "just-a-poster" turned into, with questions asked, an old <font size=1>movie poster</font size=1>! Big difference!
I'm fairly sure that Kit started the Evergreen Slug thing actually...?

As for the Acidic glass - I think that must have just been in Ireland...

Anything to say Kit?
I will say "Less than a thousand dollars" Which is true. Then I will say that it's a lot like asking "How much does a car cost?" There are a lot of variables. But figure that it will be at least $80, unless it qualifies as our Poster Special. And then on up depending on what you like best"
I recently went to a jeweler to have a ring reset. I had never done that before. I picked out what I liked, and the price was about twice what I had in mind. "I'll Have To Ask My Husband", which was a lie and the salesman knew it, too. I had NO IDEA that it would be that much! It was an eye opening experience to me to be on the other side of the counter this way...
Amidst the day to day activities of running a business, it can be easy to forget what matters to ensure business building.

Obviously, we want to make money. And we don't want to waste our time. But evasiveness and a lack of sincere kindness and patience can create a very negative image for your business.

When you're the only one working and you have a customer you're working with, it's hard to patiently input data to arrive at a quote for someone on the phone. But being short-handed is not the fault of the potential customer. Having a ball park ready-made quote sheet like someone mentioned would be helpful. Or you could politely ask them to call back because you are with a customer.

I never have a problem giving a price quote. And I'll include the fact that it could vary a great deal based upon the specific materials used.

The thing is, if they don't decide to let me do their framing, it really doesn't do me any harm. But if they feel they've been treated in a rude manner and they tell others the same, that can really harm ones business.

Furthermore, when someone treats me with sincere kindness. I try to think of a reason to do business with them in the future.

Furthermore, when someone ...... kindness, I try

Please excuse past, current and future spelling and grammatical errors.
The way I have been handing 'ballpark' pricing...

cust "How much does it cost to frame a poster"

me "That is kinda like asking how much a car cost. I need to narrow it down a little. Would you be looking for a Cadillac or a KIA?"

cust "A KIA"

me "What size KIA?"

cust "About 2 foot by 3 foot"

me "A 24 x 36 KIA cost $59 plus taxes and title."

cust "What about a Cadillac?"

me "Commonly Cadillacs of that size may be in the 3 to 4 hundred dollar range based on the options you choose."

cust "How late are you open?"

me "I'm here until 6 everyday unless you need me to stay later."

That wasn't so hard was it?
In the two years that I have been open, I have probably done 2 dozen or so of these "ballpark" estimates where they do not bring it the piece in question. For some reason they always seem to be in a rush, hence the need for a quicky ballpark figure.

In every case I ALWAYS preface the discussion by carefully expalining how we really need to have the actual artwork in front of us to provide a realistic estimate AND that the price is subject to change upwards or downwards once we finalize the actual quote with art in hand. Where possible I do a complete estimate based on what the customer claims the piece will be and make it very clear that the quote is based on what they have told me about the piece, the number of mats they want, the code of molding they select, etc.

Without exception, I have NEVER had a single customer bring back the piece to have the job done after getting "Ballpark" quote. I should also add that in the last two years I doubt I have had a dozen people who DID bring in their art in for a quote, leave with their art and not have the job done.

What is your experience? Do they come back after the ballpark quote?
I think you should be able to do a ballpark too, especially if thet bothered to come into your store. Over the phone is tougher I think but I try to give them something to go on.& Hannna if you can do it for 20mil you should come on up. Thats a qoute right? We'll hold you to that now. I think our new Twins ballpark is somewhere over 300mil but I think we just got that quote over the phone.
Originally posted by Lance E:
I'm fairly sure that Kit started the Evergreen Slug thing actually...?

Anything to say Kit?

I could point out that it's Ron's fault. He started it. Did too. Did too. Did too.

But that would be childish. (Tom, where's that sticking-out-its-tongue graemlin?)


PS: Here's another link to the last time this subject reared its slimey head.;f=7;t=004877
Here, Kit, always glad to lend a hand.

<a href="" target="_blank"><img src=""

I also will vouch for most anything that Kit says on the subject of Evergreen Slugs. ron started it and he is hiding now so he doesn't have to come into the light with a red face and head bowed.

Hey Rebecca-Was that a kind comment and was it really necessary(insert smiley face indicating that I really wasn't being mean-spirited)

There is a book called "How to win friends and influence people". I think you are familiar with(insert hopeful smiley face indicating that I only mean this pleasantly)
Originally posted by HannaFate:
"Ballpark figure? They cost around 20 million."
That's a great comeback, Hanna. I'll save it for some flippo who doesn't deserve a straight answer.

When someone asks for an approximate price -- in whatever words -- I'll try to give a useful response that will encourage them to come back for a put-it-on-the-table-and-measure-it price, and hopefully an order.

I will get as much description as I can, and give what I think may be a reasonable price range for the job described. If the customer is here and willing to select a frame, I will put that number and the guessed dimensions in FrameReady, and tell her what comes up.

Then I give my disclaimer: "That is my guess, having not yet seen the art, and it is not accurate. When can you bring it in for a real estimate?"

I usually do not get into much detail about preservation, fading potential, or discussion of other specific features. That conversation is more meaningful when the art is on the table.
Hey Ken, I just got back from being called up front. A week ago a lady was in & I gave her a ballpark on a plain mirror in a readymade for under $200. She just ordered two, custom, @ $550 ea. Got a deposit too.
Bob the face was intended to be friendly not meansprited. Yes, that was the intention of the smiley face. I had only good feelings towards you and was poking fun at myself when I made that post. Life is too short to hold onto grudges.

Gave a ballpark on a plasma tv a week ago.

Measured it this morning after they called last night and got another one in the books.

The price was higher than the original guesstimate and they never questioned it.
Rebecca Some of us are deeply honored when ever YOU agree with our comments. Myself especially . Please feel free to express it in anyway you wish on this or any other forum when and if ever I make an agreeable reply.

I haven't found anything to poke fun at you for( only you could) and get a good laugh when Friends like you and other grumblers poke fun at my many faults.

I think I once read somthing to the affect that a "
True friend Knows your strenghts and can point out your weaknesses and still invite you to grow."
Thanks Rebecca for doing that for me .
Thanks Kit, a wonderful answer...

Back to the topic, what we do and find it very successful here for such (and we get it on signage, photo restoration as well as framing) is to give a fairly accurate indication of the price range we have done "similar sounding" jobs in the recent past - this would generally be concluded with an indication of what the majority of people have spent.

For a "normal sized poster" (compare it to a Newspaper for reference to their feeling of "normal") we would say that it would "generally range" from $100 to $300, most people seem to spend around $160.

To "invite them in" we will then follow with "do you know where to find us?" and perhaps lead into a kwick discussion about hanging the piece.