the future of framing?


CGF II, Certified Grumble Framer Level 2
Jan 28, 2005
I'm having an ongoing battle with myself( I do it all the time)regarding the future of the small, ma and pa frameshop in mid to large urban areas.
There was a great post from Tim Hayes in picture framing business issues regarding the new, "wholesale" arm of Michaels being developed and tried out in Atlanta called Star Decorators. They, in a nutshell, are going after the home decorator market with point of sale purchases vs. what they called "buy and wait" venues, a concept I believe will be affecting us all very soon.
Now I'm aware competition is good for business, drives sales and may the fittest among us survive.
But I can't help but be reminded of the ma and pop hardware store, convienience store,tailors, clothiers,neighborhood furniture stores, craft stores and so on and on that have succumbed to the Home Depots, Lowes, Michaels, Kohls, huge mega-stores providing every service possible under one roof to as many people as possible. At another level of success are the department store chains quickly devouring each other until only 1 or 2 will remain, the emergence of suburban "towne centers", designed to look like a small town main street, but occupied by all the above along with Starbucks, Chili's, Barnes and Noble and Borders.
I have to believe that in our industry, headed down the same road, will soon melt into the same landscape. Sure, there may be some who will survive and change with the times just enough to stave of their complete extinction, but for the majority we'll end up being former business owners, framers that will soon be working for a Michaels, Joannes, Star Decorators, Lowes, Aaron Brothers or some other regionally successful framing franchise. Slowly, but surely, ma and pop framer will fade away just like the neighborhood hardware, pharmacy, cafe, and convienience stores of the past.
Given the above scenario, I believe there will be a push toward home-based picture framers working out of the basement, garage, spare room. I cannot see the small, independent frameshop surviving the publics desire and need for instant service. The stop in one place to do our shopping center. Thus,similar to the home-based interior designer, realtor, shoe repairperson, guitar-builder, etc. You'll see your home-based picture framer when you desire truly custom work. They'll fill a small niche in the market left by everyone else,but not quite enough to justify opening a storefront because they can't get enough work to make ends meet.
Does anyone else feel this way? I'm sure I'm not alone thinking this way.I did my mandatory search to make sure I'm not repeating a thread here, and would love get some feedback on this.
What do you think the future holds for us all?

No existential replies please!
Been doing other things for what seems like forever. Framing slows, we concentrate on retail gifts, home decor items that accentuate framed art, as well as some main line collectible items. The smaller items we stock carry us a lot of days, a decorative plate, plate holder, a wall hanger, a window topper, all add into our product mix. We carry a line of stain glass panels, retailing from 10-15$ to over 700$.

Managed to survive, but it ain't been easy.

We belong also to a buying group that allows us to make purchases with up to 25% off regular wholesale prices, along with up to 6 months dating.

Just a thought....Atlanta, Chicago, etc. are full of literally thousands of gift, home accessory folks just looking for a outlet in your neighborhood.......items that Walmart, and other large retailer do not carry.
Interesting thoughts!!! In our community, a furniture store built a new, bigger, better building. However, inside that building are now several businesses. There is the furniture store, interior decorators, a fireplace store, a lamp store, a floral designer, a carpet and flooring store, etc.......all under one roof and no walls separating the individual businesses. The fireplace store displays floral arrangements on their mantels. Fireplaces are displace in the furniture area, etc. They also give each other business. There have been at least 2 different people who have put in an art and frame shop. However, there is no frame shop in there now.

The concept has been so successful that last year they put on a huge addition to house an antique mall.

When they started the first building, they were "way out of the way on that side of town". Today, they are in the same area as Lowes, Walmart, Michaels, Best Buy, Circuit City, Barnes and Noble, and several other BB's. They are now in the center of the building boom in that area.
Originally posted by puttyboy:

No existential replies please!
Huh? I had to look that up, but when I did, it said: "of, relating to, or affirming existance"

I'm not sure I understand. I think you DO want replies relating to what you said, right?

Anyway, as a framer with my business at, but not in, my home in a rural location, one would think that I would agree with the "not enough work to support a storefront" premise, but actually, I don't. (That's not my reasons for being in this location.)

I believe if there are "some" who want truly custom work and are willing to pay for it, then there will be "several" and then there will be "more." The trick is finding them, and then finding and meeting their needs.

True, I believe there will come a time when there won't be a frame shop on every corner. Those who operate with a "business as usual" attitude will fall between the cracks of big business and specialized craftsmen.

The real key to staying in business is to know what kind of business one is really in. The railroads nearly went out of business because they thought they were in the "railroad" business, when in reality, they were in the "transportation" business. Revlon says that they don't sell makeup, they sell beauty.

I don't want to give away all of my next article, but it's like the person who buys a drill. They don't really want another piece of equipment, they just need a hole in something.

My customers aren't interested in buying "frames." If they were, they'd just buy them and stick them on the wall empty, a-la Larson Juhl ads. No, they want a container for their paper documents, a housing for their valuable objects, a "displayer" for their photographs, or something pretty to fill a blank space on their wall. What they really want is the end result.

The disappearing hardware stores and florists and craft stores just sold "items." They didn't really sell the fulfillment of the underlying desire. (Read "Up Against the Wal-Marts")

There's an article in this month's Craft Report magazine titled, "What Are We Really Selling?" It says that craft retailers rely less on "I need it" and more on "I want it."

It goes on to say that according to a study by Unity Marketing, nearly twice the buyers surveyed (74%) rated "emotional satisfaction" as a "somewhat to very important" purchase motivator.

A mega store will never be able to offer "emotional satisfaction" or as I like to call it "the experience."

In my opinion (which is probably worth exactly what it will cost you) there is a growing demographic that desires the personal relationship that is forged between the craftsman and the customer and is willing to pay for the luxury (perceived value) of that relationship. The question is, is it too little, too late?

Yep, the times, they are a-changing.

When you examine these now, non-existant businesses, what did they all seem to have in common?

The owners simply failed to adapt to changing marketplaces.

Too many framers fit this profile to the max.

Examine your own operation. What major changes have you made in the last 5yrs? 10 yrs?

When was the last time you gave your store a complete face lift? Never?

We have to be able to adapt, to change, to face the changes of the marketplace. But first, we have to be able to recognize the changes and have a clue what to do and how to do it

We spend the overwhelming majority of our efforts in perfecting the craft that hasn't changed in decades while ignoring the more imporant changes that are the things that resonate with the shopping public.

We defend and rationalize the staus quo and think that the road to salvation is simply to sell nothing but rag/alpha mats.

Until we embrace those issues that are more important to our customers than those things that we think are more important, the results will be predictable.

The most important thing any business must do is to listen to the marktplace.

We would rather listen to Decor magazine
Why does the independant framer always get compared to the local hardware store that has been gobbled up by Home Depot or Lowes? I would rather think that perhaps we should compare ourselves to the local jeweler who survives in spite of "fine" jewlery being sold in Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and JC Penny. Then there are jewelry stores like Kay. Like jewelery, framing is a product that no one really needs. Maybe more thought should be given as to why the independant jeweler manages to survive selling diamonds no one needs, rather than why the hardware store can't survive selling paint that, sooner or later, everyone needs.
"can't get enough work to make ends meet" can become a state of mind. Don't use it as a part of your business plan, or that's just what you'll get, not enough work.

It is a place you can find yourself at, but you can get out of there. Just get your directions from people like Bob Carter.
I sell service. With a guarantee. Yesterday I had a customer who has not been in the shop in over two years. Not only did I remember her name, I knew where she lived, that her house was 200 years old, what she does for a living, what I've framed for her before, what her tastes are, and she was mightily impressed. After she picks her completed work up, I'll reinforce that with a thank-you note. People like to feel important, and that's what I do best and what I focus on in my shop. Then I hire good people to deliver what I promised so I can concentrate on service.
There will always be a high end, that no mass
marketer can satisify. Learning the crafts of
gilding, toning, and mat decoration and the
proper practice of preservation has never been
more important.

Our good friend, Hugh, speaks correctly to the need of excelling. No one exemplifies that dedication better than he.

My addition to his suggestion might be that this should not be a limitation, but an addition to a well rounded approach.

Make no mistake-there are several that can survive at the highest end. It's true for virtually every product sold-Rolls Royce for cars, Tiffany's for jewelry, Ruth's Chris for steakhouses.

The unfortunate reality is that they usually represent only one offering per market and there are many more framers than one per market.

Let's face it, there is only one Hugh Phibbs

We are lucky that he spends time with us
Great web site, Sherry. It does a great job of infusing emotion and excitement into the process and product of framing. That's what we as individual merchants can provide.. a relationship with the client and an enjoyable emotional experience. These are not qualities one associates with shopping at a big box store.
:cool: Rick
Sorry,I was refering to my last sentence Betty. When someone asks me what does the future hold for us all, its hard to give a straight answer.
Yes times are changing.
While I agree wholly with Bob and Hugh that one needs to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack, figure out your market, specialize,diversify, etc. I don't believe its enough to end the trend in this industry towards instantaneous customer gratification.
If Michaels is successful with Star Decorators, do you really think they won't change how business is done in their frameshops? Same with Joannes. Instead of 10 day turnarounds, we'll be facing one week, then 5 days, then 2 days, and pretty soon it'll be same day. These changes will trickle down to us, driven by the consumer and market demands.
We need to change, or die trying.
You're fooling yourself if you think that by giving great service will set you apart from the masses. It won't. You'll have to provide great service, exceptional quality, and a beautiful end product. You will also need to provide this all in a day or two.
There will be those of us who can and will survive and prosper under those demands from the consumer and market, but mom and pop frameshop down the avenue will be the victims.
Originally posted by Rick Granick:
These are not qualities one associates with shopping at a big box store.
My question then is why are there so many more big box stores than there used to be? Is it possible that the consumer doesn't feel as strongly about service as we do.
While it's true that stores like Payless and Home Depot and other self-serve retailers are thriving I believe there will always be a segment of the population willing to pay the appropriate price for actually being helped by a human being - more if that person is knowledgeable and seem careful.

(Basically, what Hugh said)

My mom is a perfect example. She'll drive way far out of her way and pay extra to have someone else put gas in her car (or drive on fumes to visit my sister in New Jersey where they don't have self-serve AND the gas is cheaper). She marches right into the bank and speaks with a teller - fee be damned. Mom has a theory that soon the grocery store will be similar - that more of the checkout lanes will be self-scan and people who want a live checker will pay a bit extra.
Originally posted by Pamela DeSimone, CPF:
... I would rather think that perhaps we should compare ourselves to the local jeweler who survives in spite of "fine" jewlery being sold in Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and JC Penny. ...
Pam - I was thinking this same exact thought just a couple of days ago. Bravo. I think choosing a framer is a personal emotional thing for a customer who is truly an ongoing framing customer. We will always get the ones that are skipping stones off the lake and change where they purchase from with each purchase. If we can get and keep loyal customers - and keep up with the times - we should be able to continue to flourish and succeed.

Ron - I hope you are wrong!!

Max - Ron is one of my favorite grumblers... he'll explain!

My 2 cents....

The "FrameShop of Tomorrow" might look like this:

Large offering of mouldings from basic 1" black caps to hand-carved, hand-gilded closed corners. Retail prices from $6-$100+/foot. Most will sell around $12-$20 (lots of styrene, maybe)

Will stock 5-10 mouldings at all times to deliver next-day completion for the few projects that demand it. Only the best selling mouldings qualify, and there really aren't more than a dozen that should qualify for in-stock all the time status.

Large selection of readymades - not basic looks but extreme. Price points all over.

Wall decor at attractive price points that feature canvas instead of paper art. Mirrors in distinctive mouldings (not just one - like six or eight).

Attractive, professional, clean displays that showcase all your products/services in vignettes that a customer can picture in their home.

Services like free delivery over $300, in-home consultations, etc.

Other services and products - installation, referrals to designers, carpenters, painters, etc. Innovative products (know your market - and you'll know the products)

We'll have to be more of the one-stop-to-get everything-you-need-and-WANT with an emphasis on decor. Be the Lowes for home decor. As good as they are, they'll never match the small specialty store in service or ideas. Will the custom framing-only shop be around in the future? Probably, but in significantly reduced numbers even from today.

This is a great topic with very interesting replies.
There are probably 35 framers in my area, 2 withen a mile and a half of me. Somehow we manage to survive amongst the Home Depots, Michaels and all the other biggies.
Higher than average income with plenty of money to go around. (lucky us)
But I hear my customers and this is what they say, "Thank god I found you cos I don't think those "kids" at Michaels know what they're doing."
It's an advantage knowing your craft well.

"I've had this in my trunk for months." They are finally getting those posters to me.
The majority of our customers,, at least for me do not care one whit if it takes one week or 2 weeks.
We are simply brainwashed into thinking faster is better but I don't think the masses fall for it.
You can be the best framer in the world but if you are bad mouthing your competition, yelling at your vendors and rolling your eyes when a customer says, "I don't want to spend a lot of money." then it all adds up and shows on the outside of yourself and all facets of your business.
The only reason people go to the BB's is because they have the money to spend on advertising. Full page ads in the Sunday paper.
I wonder if all the framers in my area got together and did a full page ad on all of us, "Visit your local custom picture framer, there's one near you!" what would happen then?

There will always be a market for us as long as we continue to "listen" to our customers and treat them unlike the BB's.
The glass is half full!
The future of this industry varies depending on your attitude. Let's face it, if you think that the big boxes are going to put you out of business, they will.

Up on soap box..

There are many in our industry (some here) that just do not hae the attitude to be in business for themselves. There is always somebody else to blame for failure. As the owner of a business you are the ultimate person responsible for the success or failure. Big boxes are out there and are not going to go away, learn something from them. Service is great but if nobody knows about it then who cares. You can carry the best quality products but if nobody wants them then once again who cares

As Bob said earlier, you have to change with the marketplace. The best way to do that is to learn about your marketplace, find out what they want, give thenm what they want and tel them that you are the one who is going to give it to them.

The need for someone like Hugh will always be there, but there are few who can offer what he can. The question for everyone else is what can you offer that nobody else is offering that people really want. Not what you think they want and not what you want to offer as most people in our industry do.

Down from soapbox

The future is that there will be fewer small shops because of owners attitudes and the failure to compete. The good thing is that there will be framing jobs at the remaining copetitors as well as customer service jobs at insurance companies.
I believe that all the same, speed of service will make the difference. We fool ourselves if we think that costumers will for ever be willing to wait 2 weeks (some times more) to get their artwork be framed. If hand carved, hand gilded frames are obviously time consuming, cut and joined frames, matting and glazing don't seem to require all that much time, quite the contrary. Materials may be expensive, but the PERCEIVED time requirement to assembly a frame is minimal.
If your competition is fast serving their clientele, it's just a matter of time till very few will agree to buy any longer service than that for seemingly more or less the same product.
Now this is very bad news for those framers that enjoyed phoning their frames, having no inventory, no tools, no special skills and knowledge, and run on not enough capital.

I am put under same pressure as you are although I am selling high end, closed corner frames. It used to be that such frames were delivered in 8 weeks or more by all American manufacturers. No more so. Surprisingly, lower price is not the strongest incentive in closing a sale. Quality and reliable, fast service is. If I'm getting by with somewhat longer delivery time than my competitors, that's because I sell unique designs of rare quality, not because I am selling similar or same molding for less, which is largely the pattern out there, isn’t it? If the high end of the market is already “impatient”, I wouldn’t bet my money that the main part of the market will always be as patient as it used to be. Time is money, time is a serious matter here.
I'll agree with everyone that said speed of service is very important to stay in business. From what we have experienced customers have two reactions to slow delivery times. 1. They get frustrated and quite honestly sometimes it doesn't matter you spent an extreme amount of time and special care on their product they will never forget they got upset with it taking so long. 2. They want their product to be "worth the wait" if it doesn't add up to this they again will be frustrated.
On the flip side we have noticed that you can give you customers fair prices, maybe not exactly what YOU would have chosen in materials but a good job with a good return time and they are happy. It fits into the catagory of "better than they could have done themselves" and it is finished in a very reasonable time.
I think BB's get more business because the customer is there shopping their store the coupons they offer just make the sale easier. They also market to a broad base.
Market to your niche. Have coffee and seating for your customers, have dinner party auctions, invite YOUR customers to invite others to come for open house. Make your location something people want to SHOP. Meaning change your window dressing at least seasonally. I have noticed too many shops that look exactly the same day in and day out - and even year to year! I have seen too many small business people wait for the phone to ring or the door to open with a customer. What will the shop of the future look like - it will be owned and managed by someone who is active in their community, willing to go the extra mile to make a sale, and a shop atomsphere that invites people to shop their shop.
Sorry for the rant.
I think timely delivery on projects will become more and more important as the younger generation, who have been raised on fast computers, fast internet and fast food, become job holders; and hopefully have some spendable income. William Parker touched on this at a PPFA meeting and I immediately took it to heart and lowered by lead time by days.
If there is one point that cojes through loud and clear, it is that we simply must not do business in the same fashion as we did even 5 years ago.

That includes look of store, possibly location (demographics shift) and certainly product and they way we market them

Face it, the way most did it 5 years ago wasn't so hot then. And it is lessened today

But, anyone that really thinks their service trumps all might be deluding themselves greatly.

Great service is expected

As is great prices, great product and great turnaround.

This noion of "Pick Two" just doesn't cut it anymore.
Originally posted by Bob Carter:

This notion of "Pick Two" just doesn't cut it anymore.
Nope. At last count I found 5 areas, which I call the "Star of Excellence." (5 points - star - get it? ;) )

Sherry-Could you repost and let us know how lowering your turn time has affected your store? I'm sure its better for cash flow, but how about workload issues such as time management, stress? Thanks in advance
Last night I was listening to a Nascar radio show. They were interviewing an owner who runs 5 racecars. They were asking him about setups for the cars. He made a statement something to this effect:

“We don’t concentrate to much of our energy on watching the competition. Even if we did exactly what they did, we wouldn’t get the same outcome as them. My race (5) teams do exchange notes between themselves, but still run 5 very different setups on Sunday. Each team has remarkably different styles and characteristics, yet is each successful.”

As I have studied frameshops intensely lately, I too have learned that they can have very different styles and characteristics and be successful. I don’t think this will change in the future.

However all successful raceteams have a few common threads. They all have strong motors, talented drivers/crew chiefs, and strong sponsors. I would guess the best question here would be “What common threads will all future (successful) frameshops have?”

If you remove any of these three legs from a raceteam and they'll be loading their cars onto the trailor on Saturday before the race rather than Sunday after the race.
This topic is very interesting.

It seems that we get stuck in a rut of talking about service and only service. Bob and Tony brought up a couple of points that would serve everyone better to focus on e in my humble opinion.

As mostly small shops, our customers view our exceptional service as a given. Of course as professionals, we remember their previous orders, or at least can quickly look them up in our POS system to remind us.

So moving on to the future, what changes in our business models can we make to better serve the public and develop efficiencies.

Serving the public is a localized issue that everyone needs to decide for their area. For us, we live in a pretty moderate income area and therefore, our average moulding selection fits in the retail range of $12-$20 a foot. Only the very select few ever consider the high end or care for that matter. Our customers want good looks at a fair value.

Turn around time.... Unless they have a party or there is a holiday drop dead date, they really don't care if it takes two weeks. Most of the time I work on a 10 day turn, but issues happen and sometimes I need two weeks. Heck, the BB's around here can barely stay on a three week schedule and it consitently seems to be getting worse.

Design / Knowledge - I find this a big seperator. Our expertise, not craftmanship, seem to be the difference maker. Of course quality matters, but to the level most of us make it out to be. As long as you hold a high standard for yourself, it probably is going to be better than your client expected.

OK with that said, how can we evolve the neighborhood frame shop to serve the public better?
What product mix will attract a new client base? What can we offer that the BB's can't or won't offer?
What equipment should we have to more efficiently run our business? Through efficiencies can we actually lower our operating costs and in turn offer better pricing to our clients?
Are we properly investing/placing our advertising to develop exposure, loyalty and branding?

What will the frame shop of the future look like???????