Sears! What a racket.

Jay H

PFG, Picture Framing God
Dec 8, 2003
Ok until I opened my shop, I was a shade tree mechanic. Now I just don’t have the time or desire to work on my own vehicles.

I need breaks for the van. I haven’t paid somebody to put breaks on a car in my life. I had no idea if it costs $75 or $275 or God forbid $475. I simply have no clue. I know that it also needs a rotor (don’t ask).

Well the van has bad breaks and now a flat tire. I can’t procrastinate another day. I take it to Sears at the mall. I tell them I need a tire repaired and ask for an idea on price for a break job. This guy responds, “We have to do a break inspection.”

I ask, “can you just give me an idea on price?”

“Not without a break inspection.”

“You can’t tell me within a hundred dollars, oh and it will need at least one new rotor.”


Then he unloaded the bomb that sparked this thread.

“The inspection costs $15 but that is refunded to you if you let us do the break job.”

My eyes glaze over with thoughts of anger but mostly curiosity. What if a frameshop operated this way?

Breaks are a rather custom item. They simply won’t know the exact costs until they know EXACTLY what my needs are. But do you think my question was fair, and do you think its fair to totally avoid the question?

I ask this because at my new location I get a minimum of 5 people a day ask, “How much is a frame.” I am not bothered by this question because I think it’s a fair question. However it’s a very difficult question to answer with any degree of accuracy. Again I can’t tell you within $400 what a break job costs. I’ll bet many of my customers can’t guess the cost of a 20x24 frame any closer.

How do you respond to that question?
How should we respond?
What about absolutely refusing to give any price until we design it? (a legitimate option)
Has anybody found any effective, positive, helpful ways to answer that question?

I can tell you that I don’t feel Sears answered that question to my satisfaction.

Carry on.
Gosh Jay, I wonder if you asked them to fix your brakes if you would have gotten a different answer? :D

In seriousness, I think a fair answer would be to say anywhere from $x.xx and up depending on what we find wrong and parts that we need.

I had an aquaintance ask me (as I shopped in Costco) how much a frame would be for a a painting he had. He showed me how big the painting was by extending his arms wide and then pointing his fingers in.

Might be all about time!~ he gives you a top and a bottom guess of course!~ Now you ask him why such a difference!~ Okay now lets discuss what if's!~ Now 20 min have gone by and you still don't know anything he does not have a paying customer!~ That will be $15.00 please I will answer your question no guessing!~

Oh by the way a 20 x 24 frame is $25.00 to $1800.00 next!~
It's an interesting analogy, Jay.

I have absolutely no idea what car repairs cost, except they are always more that I ever dreamed possible.

I can understand the $15 charge for labor to hoist the car up and determine what will need to be done. It's nice that they subtract it from the final job ticket.

How much does a 20 x 24 frame cost? If the customer shows up in person to ask the question, it's a quick and computerized thing to give them an estimate for a couple of frames in different price ranges. If they're comfortable with the price, THEN discuss exactly which frame would be best for the piece.

Phone inquiries are different. I trust my measurements; I don't trust anyone else's.

I'm sure I ever charged a customer to take a piece apart and determine what would need to be done. Also sure there were times when I should have.

But I justified it as education. After the first painting on papyrus or hand-dyed batik, I felt confident telling subsequent customers that the piece wasn't square and wasn't ever going to be square no matter what I did.

"Arms extended and fingers pointing in..." Don't you just love that? Get it all the time, everywhere I go. Depending on what their job is, my reply is "I'm not sure, Dr. Jones. How much is an appendectomy? Come in and we'll talk".
Jay, the quick answer is "more than you want to spend and less than I want to charge", but you do bring up a valid point that has been debated at length before....Should framers charge a design fee?

What you might want to do, in reality, is run the numbers for a couple of different sizes with a couple of different designs so you can come up with an "average" price for something "about that size". With the advent of the POS running actual numbers are a snap, but you still might save some time at the design counter if you pre-qualify your client by seeing how they react to your average price.

As far as paying $15.00 at Sears to get an estimate, I think it sounds like a good idea. I took my SUV in for it's 30K maintenance and asked the service manager how much it would run. A "couple hundred" he said. It was a lease, so I had to get it done. I called later to get the actual cost of the service and it had jumped from "a couple" to $800.00. I would have gladly paid $15.00 in advance to find out just what was going to be done and how much it would cost.

I told them to stop working on the car immediately, and picked it up with some choice words to the service manager, and a letter to the dealership owner. I knew that the effort was futile after having to wait in line while two other people yelled at the service manager about similar issues.
20x24? "We can work hard to keep that well under $6,000; But I have three ready mades that are $35-55."

$15? Is that all? For 20-30 minutes of a $30/hr mechanics time.... not bad. [Sear's book shop time is $80/hr]

It's not like a design table; which is notoriously "free".

Would you expect the doctor to examine you for free, then decide what to charge based on your illness?

We, as framers, know a general range for our framing and can give it out. And I have had customers say "Great, I'll be right in." and then proceed to blow my estimate out of the water and go way over....

But how stupid do you think it would sound to your question, “can you just give me an idea on price?”, if the guy gives you the truth....

"somewhere between $65 to $2,987 for a full system rebuild"....

So instead, for the cost of three of your daily Lattees, you don't get a "Ball Park idea"... you get a "This is EXACTLY what it will cost, less your $15 deposit."

Now you know why "Shade Tree woodworkers" get bent when you tell them how much your going to charge their wife to put four little sticks together and make it look like SHE wants. :D
Hi Jay-Imagine how many of us flat refuse to give any idea of an estimate when we get those phone calls, also?

I would suspect we framers will defend to the death why we won't give "ballpark" estimates, yet see it as rather silly when others businesses don't either

For my take, I don't think many consumers would be offended if the guy at Sears suggests that "Most brake repairs run around $150", he should (and probably does)have a good idea, but allow that caveat "That until we do an inspection, I can't confirm anything"

We often let fear of that "once in a blue moon" customer that will create a stir when it really was $175 create that good sales technique barrier

But, had that mechanic said exactly what I stated before you paid the $15, would have you (a) let them do the $15 exam and (b) if he had said most jobs run about $150 and upon inspection, it turned out to be $175, what would you do next?

This is another great example of how we as consumers react. Funny how when we become consumers, our points of view change

We just did some remodeling work in our house and I could share some doozies
First, I don't think its rarely ok to charge a design fee. THats just labor that has to be figured into everything else. Whats next an appliance store charging a cover charge at the door? Paintstores charging for paint chips?

But as far as the "How much does it cost" quesion, thats different. Most of the customers that ask that question here don't have their piece. Most didn't know I was here 20 seconds before. So I really want to leave them with a much more positive shopping experiance than I left Sears with. Designing on the spot isn't an option most of the time.

I have played with lists broke down by sizes and frame prices. I haven't liked them so far but maybe I'll tweak them.
As a former auto mechanic, I understand the motive behind charging an inspection fee. More people can do their own auto repair than custom frame.

They took advantage of me lots.

I'd spend 10 minutes looking at a vehicle telling them what they need to have done and that i'll dot the best work at the best price. Lots of them just took my advice and off they went, to do it themselves.
That was 10 minutes of my time wasted. I was forced to charge an inspection fee of $5. And this pretty much ended the "get advice and run"

As for custom framing? I'll design, tell them what i'd do and like you Jay, just figure it into my total cost. Sometimes I design and call the cutomer back later with a final price.. and explain this price, never been turned down yet.
If you ask a mechanic to spend 30 to 60 minutes evaluating your car's brakes, and then take your car to his competitor, you would benefit from his time & expertise, but he would receive no compensation.

So it goes with "gimme an estimate" framing customers. They take full advantage of our design expertise, but sometimes their framing jobs go -- with our investment of time and expertise -- to a lower-priced competitor.

Considering that we may have to invest 1/4 to 1/2 of the total labor time associated with a framing project before the customer even decides to place the order, a design fee seems reasonable.

On the other hand, if we do our work at the design table properly, customers often recognize the value of our products and services, and decide to look no further.

Because design fees are not generally accepted in my market, I choose to sharpen my design skills and capture more orders on the spot. There are no guarantees, but we receive a large percentage of the orders we design.
I agree that he should have said from $XX on up depending on what is needed. I don't think it is unreasonable for them to charge $15 to put it on a lift, dissasemble parts and inspect others. When our insurance premiums run tens of thousands of dollars for our coverage we will do the same.

As far as the 20 x 24 frame I would say anywhere from under $100 to well in excess of $10,000 dollars if they want the most spectacular finished product they have ever seen. We frame in all price ranges and would love to show them some designs in different price points so they can wiegh their options. I use this line all of the time and almost always end up having them bring the piece in to see the options. I have yet to have someone ask to see the $10,000+ option but at least they know we can do that if they have an original that they paid a million to aquire.
When customer's come to me for art restoration (which we contract out to a professional) I charge a $25.00 non-refundable fee which is credited to the resotration work should they decide to have it done.
"$100 to well in excess of $10,000 dollars"

I'm sure you explain the answer well but I still think that is a horrible response to a very simple question.

But keep in mind, I didn't ask them to go over the van with a find tooth comb and tell me everything wrong with it before they do any work and let me decide if I want to take the van someplace else.

I asked him what it costs to replace front breaks on a 03 Merc. Villager, and replace one rotor. This isn't rocket surgery and didn't require him to even see the van.

I don't think this question is any different than a customer who just wants a frame. Assuming we can milk out of them a few basics, shouldn't we just give them an answer that’s reasonable.

I don't call $100 - $10,000 anything less than a joke! Had the Sears guy said that to me, I would respond accordingly and left. No, the van woudln't stay.
I'm not sure the van stayed anyway.

and as for the $100 -$10,000, I find it a fair response to someone asking something that is just as vage. "How much to frame a 20x24" Doesn't tell me it's a stupid poster of the month, or a Whistler original that will be donated to hang in the Met...
Let me qualify the rationale for my statement. The community less than 1/10 mile from my location is a country club community where new construction starts at $800,000 and goes well over $3,000,000. When a customer asks me for a price, I would be insulting them to assume they are looking for a $100 frame job. Many times they are looking for a $100 job but many times they stopped here because they believe that my location lends itself to higher end work. When I started in this location I was worried about pricing and was somewhat shy about expensive designs. Now I learn about the customer and each piece to be framed before deciding the type of design. I tell them we should design their piece exactly the way they would if cost were not a factor. When I present the price the customer then lets me know if they would like to get the cost down. When they tell me they would like to spend less I show them less expensive alternatives based on their choices initially. We all need to be careful not to assume that all customers are cheap or want something done very inexpensively.
I understand and I think this might be two seperate topics completely. Well, maybe not totally.

Reguardless if you are giving a quote over the phone or you are standing at the design counter, can't you first "qualify" the customer.

I'm not talking about looking at their car and rings. I'm talking about identifying what their budget is and what they want to buy.

If you buy a car, couch, tv, ring, home, cell phone, dress shoes, or any other 100000 items, the salesman will qualify you. They find out what idea of price you have in mind and what you want to buy.

In my case, I knew exactly what I wanted to buy and they just refused to give me that price.

But in the case of framing, rather I have the image in hand or I'm on the phone, shouldn't we first cut to the chase a bit by asking the same questions we are asked when we buy everything except gas?
I do identify what they want, just not the price unless they bring it up. I have found that a spectacular design trumps a budget most of the time. When I begin showing the less expensive options to reduce the price from the original design I usually get a "just use the original design". When they say $100 budget and I show a $100 design I don't get the chance to show what it could/should look like. When you meet the customer's budget needs that usually ends the sales process.
But this is a thread about PRICE!

I asked for a price. I was just pissed for lack of a better word when we had to do a song and dance first.

I realized that I to do that song and dance when all my customers want is a price.

Not an CPA exact nail you to the floor price just what does it cost?

We are still negotiating and I haven't found your limit yet.
Perhaps the senerio is just a bit different. How many people a day come in and ask you for a price?

Now thats equivilant to saying "Hey are you nice and can you frame?" Thats translated from "How much is a frame.".

I have an absolut minimum of 5 a day and its not uncommon to have 5 an hour ask that question. They never have their art. They usually don't know what a mat is or if they need one. They often don't really know the size.

I'm fully willing to admit it probably happens to me more than the average shop. However, we have all had those people. They make up their mind in 20 seconds if they will ever bring you anything. I don't think it a good use of that time heming and hauling around.

Its a good thing for Sears that I NEED breaks. People don't NEED framing. I just wonder how many customers are put off when you can't just give them a price. Again, I might deal with this a bit more than average.
These are the people I am talking about. I tell them the price range (which Sears would not do for you) and explain that we frame in all price ranges. This convinces them that we offer competitive pricing. I rarely have a customer not come back for an actual quote. You know Dave and he can vouch for the fact that I rarely lose a sale unless they are looking for WallyWorld pricing at which point I recommend that they can find that type of item at WallyWorld. I am always nice and they thank me for my recommendations and we end that contact with the agreement that they will return here when they have a more important piece that warrants custom framing. I see many of these customers in the future and often times they thank me again for being honest with them in their search for cheap framing. I then proceed to show them options for the more important piece of art.
Hi Jay-I do not think it is two separate topics, at all.

I think it is the helpfulness and eagerness of a "trained" professional attempting to either be "helpful" or to be a "hinderance"

We do a fair amount of "Market Research"; some over the telephone. I cannot begin to tell you how often (much more than not)that te first words out th eother person's mouth come off so resistant, bordering on confrontational. Pretty much the same as the guy at Sears

And, Jay, as a consumer, was pretty put off. And, I am with him

I'll bet that the guy at Sears went back to the backarea and comiserated with his fellow mechanics "Man, I had another one of those guys that just wanted an estimate" And they all nodded in agreement, not unlike we do.

Bottom line: Jay (like many of our "customers) was looking for a "comfort level". He had no idea of th epricing of this project (kind of like our clients), probably expected it to be expensive (again, familiar territory) and probably wishes it was easier (well, you get the drift)

I guess I am suggesting that we have to develop more meaningful and "consumer friendly" methods of addressing these issues that come up quite often; but, we tend to be a little "defensive"

I promise you that, even on the phone, we can give (or try) togive the client a reason to come see us. Sure, some things really do require a closer "inspection", but so many do not. We do a fair amount of Jerseys and we have clients, like Jay, that simply have no idea what it will cost. I will shoot them a ballpark price (heck, don't you have a sense of what most go for?)

But, if you hide behind the "you'll have to bring it in" mentality, you just might get a similar reaction to what Jay, correctly, experienced

Every good salesperson ought to find a way to answer the person's needs much more effectively. This is another great example of what works (or doesn't) in other retail trades that probably has a similarity to ours
Ok this might be fun. It might be difficult to not let this thread effect the answer but try to be as honest as possible.

Customer 1 wants to know the price of a frame. Its a Godfather poster. Isn't sure of the size but its about the size of that 24x36 on your wall.

Customer 2 wants to know the price of a frame. Its for an old photograph. She isn't sure the size but its about 8x10. She isn't sure of a mat but really wants it to look nice.

Customer 3 wants to know the price of a frame. Its for a print. She doesn't know the artist or if it has any value. It came from her moms house years ago and she just doesn't liek the frame and matting and wants to fix it up. She makes the comment that she doesn't want to spend alot of money on it. She points to the same 24x36 poster framed and says that her frame is about that size maybe a little bit smaller.

This conversation began about 10 seconds ago. They don't have it and WILL NOT buy anything right now. You have 10 more seconds to answer the question with the information given. How does everybody answer this question.

Also keep in mind that in another 15 seconds they deal is closed rather you know it or not.

What do you say?
That's my point Bob. When you say $100 dollars the customer decides that it will cost $100. When I say "pricing for that type of job would start as low as $100 but I could provide framing in excess of $10,000 depending on the importance of the piece" I have demonstrated that I am qualified to frame an original Monet. Where you are located Bob, as well as my location and anywhere in the world, people are framing true masterpieces. Why tell them the cheapest possible thing that can be done.

This reminds me of a shop that I managed where we kept a scrap of foam core with 4 thumbtacks shrink wrapped under the counter. It had a price tag on it that said 10cents. When a customer would blatantly ask "what is the cheapest possible option" we would pull it out and hand it to them. Always got a big laugh and the customer would then begin to qualify their question with parameters.

My response:

Could you possibly tell me a little bit more about what you are looking for in the way of framing? Are you looking for the least expensive method or the best possible design for your art and home? We all have budgets in mind and I could give you a quick idea of what that might cost once I know your goal as far as design and price.

Once a price has been given:

My best recommendation is that you bring it in and I design it in a manner that you are most pleased with, give you the cost of that particular design and if that does not meet your pricing goals I can show you the alternatives that would help achieve your pricing goals.
Jay this is not an answer to your last post, but in regard to the first - wanting to know the price of a frame and what you were asking Sears was different in that they really don't know what it will take until they "look inside."

This is more like a customer bringing a frame for us to open up and repair. We've all talked about whether to charge for these types of things. We simply cannot give a price until we open it up and "look inside."

Now, I do agree that they should have been able to give you a range - but what a range that could be.

And yes, they should charge for "taking the car in, putting it on the rack, lifting it up, taking the wheel off, checking the rotor, (and I DO know what one is) checking the pads or the shoes, reassembling the brake, putting the wheel back on, letting it down, and bringing back to you..."

I wouldn't do it for $15.00, would you?

and besides that, if you happen to be in whoknowswhere and your breaks go out - you can betcha there'll be a Sears nearby...

I think you should post your question in a new topic so we can get responses from Grumblers who have read the beginning of this thread and thought it was of no consequences to them.
Sears is a big company with lots more money than you, me or the average guy on the street.

Brakes are fairly important in the scheme of automobile safety.

America is a litigious country.

When average guy on the street hears "Starting at $100" from the brake guy, all he hears is "$100". When the brake guy calls him later on to tell him that it's going to be $475, it's not because he thinks it will look better with the pink highlighed calipers and drilled rotors. There are no options (well, there are, but probably not at Sears) on brakes. You have to have them and they have to be done right or you may die. Sears doesn't want to be sued by your estate for your untimely demise.

And that's why Sears won't give you a ball-park price.
Jay, I kinda feel like I have to defend the mechanic a little. When he does a brake job on any vehicle he is responsible for it to be safe. He does not know, for example, if it needs a new slave cylinder, new rotors, or just turning.....Basically what parts until he does a thorough inspection. Now, if you were to say I only want you to do the shoes and pads and only one rotor....absolutely nothing else (even if I am endangering my families life and yes I will sign a legal disclaimer that will probably not stand up in court....(you get my drift)) he should have been able to give you a pretty good ballpark. Fact of the matter is he would probably not take the job (if he is worth having work on your vehicle).

Hard to quote on unknowns, and even new vehicles can have hidden issues. I do most of the wrenching on my vehicles now, but am by far a great mechanic. I just know if I start a job, there is a good chance I will be going shopping for parts for something unexpected that I find.

Even when you go to a chain type auto repair shop with an advertised price (eg front brakes $49.99) that only gets you in the door. The fine print says exactly what it does include. Usually you leave having spent more than the advertised price.

Yah perhaps the mechanic could have handled it better. Perhaps you gave him to much information. A good friend of mine (who owns a transmission shop) would rather have my wife describe the symptoms. He tells me I try and tell him what is wrong instead of what the symptons are. Much easier to diagnose symptons that way.


(edit) I started typing this, then got busy for over and hour and just came back and finished. Subject has been beat up pretty well already!

I'm sure that that poor soul was just complying with store policy. In many states an estimate is binding and must be in writing. I'm also sure that the very good reason for not permitting a verbal WAG (wild *** guess) is to avoid customer claims that a binding promise was made. Relax - at least around here - Sears shops have a pretty good reputation for value.

Pat :D
Iread this thread with great interest. How many enterprises, from Sears auto center to your local dentist/doctor, will not give a firm price without first "inspecting" the project in question, yet we're supposed to give a quote over the phone, or without seeing the work to be done?

Just thought I'd ask.

One reason we don't give over-the-pohone quotes. (1) we're either wrong and lose money or PO the customer or (2) customer gsps, hangs the phone up and never see them. Either way, someone loses
Midias advertises breaks starting at $69.99.

I'm sure if you called they could tell you exactly what car they can replace the BREAKS starting at $69.99. I doubt they ever do a break job for $69.99.

The question I asked was very simple. What does it cost to replace two breaks and one rotor. I didn't ask what it costs to fix my particular van. They didn't need to know the condition of the van or even if I own a van. None of that matters.

The reason I ask this here instead of warped is because I wonder how many customers I have put off just like I am.

I don't have any sympathy for Sears givin this scenero. I asked a fair question. I understand the dynamics of the question but I just want a responce that will likely build a relationship rather than place un on opposite teams.

"Hey buddy, break prices are all over the charts but I'll tell you that often people get out of here in the $200 range assuming the whole thing isn't crap".....I would have been happy as all get out with that answer.
Call 10 Brake shops in town asking the exact same question as Jay asked.

Good shops will probably ask a few qualifying questions and I'll guess that you will get some estimates (heck, I've even seen ads reflecting those same prices)

Now, after all that, if you are honest, you will probably follow up with the shop that has a "competitive" price and one that was friendly.

But, if I got some smarty pants answer like between $100 and $10,000, I doubt if I or you would follow up

Once again, we draw these philosophical lines and defend to the death if we will or will not offer quotes

We will; you won't. Take off the blinders and put yourself in the shoes of the consumer (we've all been there)

Figure a way that makes it as easy as possible for the consumer

For the record, the overwhelming number of "phone quotes" that we get are for garden variety framing that don't quite encompass the "masterpiece" arena.

And, just like the refund issue on credit cards that turned philosophical, if we get one request for a phone quote a week, that is a busy week

Mike-I hear you about your fear of underquoting. Can't really tell you that we have many (any) problems of that nature. We subscribe to the Jim Miller method of selling: Be honest, show great design followed up with great value.

I do have a greater fear and that is that I will be less than accomodating that they never come in at all

Put your latest "less than accomodated" shopping experience into memory and see what your response was

Not sure if you missed the fact that I do give approximate prices should the customer get more specific. My prices still range from $100 to over $10,000. Tell me you want a cheap metal frame and I'll give you the cheap metal frame price.


You're right in saying that they should be able to say "brake 2 pads and 1 rotor for that vehichle will be $285 if no other work needs to be done".
Hi Jeff-Meant no offense to you personally; I get your point while trying to make my own. Sorry. And, I absolutely agree with your comment to Jay

I have to say that while driving home tonight I happened past a Just Brakes and they had a large banner that read "$99.88 Most Cars"

Do you suspect that might have a more favorable response from consumers than "We ain't telling you"?
Now thats just funny Bob.

I think I have seen that shop.


As you can tell, they are having a hard time getting things going.
That's great, Jay. We are still awaiting our first customer.

Can't figure out why no one wants to come in

I guess next week's motto might be "That's the brakes"
Or maybe we ought to list our prices.

We could start with "Estimates only $14.99"

Thatway I could undercut Sears
That's right Bob. Just undercut the competition on estimates. Since the estimate price can be applied to the job cost now just bend them over for the work being completed.
How many estimates can you do per day. If you price the work high enough you won't have to do anything but estimates. Simple straight forward business model. Do you franchise your operation?