The Life Cycle of a Traditional Frame Shop


Nov 14, 2002
Excuse the long post.

FYI: I have been framing for over 17 years. Through the “Do it yourself” craze…all the way to up- scale galleries.

Recently I listened to a NPR broadcast of Paul Orfalea founder of KINKO’s and was really affected by something he said. The interviewer was talking to him about the evolution of the company he founded then later sold in 2000.

He stated that he was lucky to have started the copy business at the beginning of its life cycle.

Why did that affected me so much? For a while now I have been thinking about our profession and how many changes I have seen over the years. I too have struggled with sales and have tried to do all I can to get noticed. But now I wonder.....the “Traditional” frame shop, where is it in the life cycle? As I read posts about large format printers I wonder what other advances can our profession make to become necessary, needed and desired by our customers.

What is the new life cycle.... What do these computer literate, Photoshop editing, digital camera customers need from us?
I worry about the digital frames that cycle through photos. Where do our static frames fit in a high paced short attention span world?
Interesting that you posted this.

Across the street from me is the headquarters for a large, family run printing operation that has been in business for 30+ years, with 21 stores. One of the owners was in this week to wish us happy holidays, and delivered the news that they were trying to sell the business - there was virtually no profit in the printing industry anymore. Home based desktop publishing had wiped out the low end bread and butter jobs, and the remaining printers were pushed into the same market of competing for the upper end of the printing business - specialty business printing of forms, stationary, signage, etc. More printers in competition for this smaller market was pushing down the profit potential for the upper end market.

Over the years, this printing company has competed successfully with Kinkos and other large printers, as well as internet printers. They have experimented with a variety of printer related products and services, as well as offering services such as custom picture framing through their stores.

He echoed the comments of Orfalea that the printing industry was pretty much towards the end of its life cycle. Kind of like Ron's comment about the IBM Selectric typwriter repairman.

So where does that leave us? I think that we are at the tail end of the "just picture framing" market, and we will have to be more than "just a picture framer". I think that we will have to offer a wider range of products (not just framing related), over a wider range of prices, and have a more interactive "retail experience". All of the same things that we post and read over and over on the g. As Bob noted - where do we fit in when what we offer is slow, static, and boring to people who have grown up with gaming and interactive software? Is virtual framing the future?

And please excuse this l-o-n-g post. Merry Christmas to all and the best for the New Year!
I find this post to by very funny. Talking about the framing industry as if it's only been arround for a few decades. People have been making picture frames since the days of the Pharohs(did I spell that right?). There have been established frame makers for centuries now. The key to the life of the industry is staying with the times. As interior design changes so do we. Those that don't make those adjustments are the ones that will fail. It is up to every one of us to make sure that we are doing something diferent than our competitors to be seen as a unique place of business. If we fear the BBs it is only because we are to similar to what they offer. You obviously can't beat the BBs at their game so you have to change your game. If your shop is merely buying and selling framing goods like the BBs are then chances are your local BB is going to beat you out. Go into those shops see what they don't offer and make sure that you do. Be more creative than their less than a year experience employees are. Offer more useful services than their cookie cutter corprate offices think to offer. Most big opperations started out as small opperations with good ideas. They succeded because they were creative and inventive(not to mention good backing and marketing). But in the end if you are creative with what you offer your clients they will come to you.

Sorry for the rant.
Brian, Thank you.

Enough of the doom and gloom.

I'm only open for 18 months and things are great!

Just getting a little tired of every other post on here about how our industry is dying.

My shop is living and people are walking in the door.
I don't see this discusion as complete doom and gloom. I think this is a healthly discussion on how the industry will evolve. The technology bubble is huge right now and is drawing a large portion of the consumer's dollars. This is something to watch for as ArtimisArtworks' mentioned. It's not about the money being made right now and I hope everyone is making lots of it, its about looking alittle forward and fighting to stay ahead of the curve. Trying to re-invent ourselves. Should the industry start to slide with technology to incorporate lazer ploters, compter-aided metal engravers, and interactive plasma art-displays? The industry will always be here as Brain stated, the only question is what will it look like?
Basic picture framing is not difficult.In fact if you get the right tools in its fairly easy for someone thats relatively good at working with their hands to make frames.

I have been framing since I was 16.I,m 36 now.I watched underpinners make anyone a frame joiner.I watched matcutters deskill what used to be a highly skilled job.I have watched the industry change even in my relatively short time in the game.

I have seen the limited edition print market expand and the marketing people coming in to sell prints for big money.They are still just prints though...

We have computerised matcutters computerised this that and the next thing.Who cares?

I was taught framing by a bloke that had done it all of his life as well.I can still cut and join the old fashioned way if I need to.I can cut mounts with a scalpel and you wouldnt know it had been done by hand.

I dont make as much money as maybe I could.I dont want to expand my business and I dont want a chain of shops.I get people coming to me because they hear I,m good at what I do.I dont advertise and I am down a sidestreet and in a basement of a georgian building.I get no passing trade.

I do it all wrong basically.

I love paintings and I read all I can about painters and artists and what they do and why.I get loads of artists using me.I give them hand gilded frames and frames with paint finishes or gessoed and painted frames.Whatever you want basically i,ll do it for you.

same as that bloke cornel maybe but i dont concentrate on the more ornate frames like he does.

Basically find your niche and do what you do as well as you possibly can.And you never ever stop learning either.

I utterly love picture framing.I framed for 16 years for a wage that barely let me live.Id do that again because I love it.

If its just your way to make money then fair enough.If its what youve always wanted to do and its a way of life to you then theres no better and no more satisfying way to put food in your mouth.

trends will come and go like all things do.Framing will always be here and there will always be a call for the truly skilled framers out there.
The framing/art shop of the future?...........

Customer steps off the street conveyor belt onto yours and as s/he passes through your portal a chip in the forehead is scanned, this gives your system all the personal details required.

Steps off conveyor and sits on one of many swivel stools with armrests. Plazma screen in front of customer. Chip in wrist is scanned to show customer's mood. Images are flashed onto the screen; colours are altered according to mood; sizes and prices are adjusted to information gotten at the door.

The customer stops at an image, instantly the webcam in the customers home is accessed and the image is shown, mounted and/or framed in various locations around the chosen room to suit..............

Someone else take over I'm scaring myself!
Well put Rick!
I wonder if we all think big (like unlimited budget) what new technology can help our customers. Not in the back frame room, but draw people in and make us a part of their technological routine today.

Maybe a website where they can send their favorite family digital photo…. pick out framing or use their usual frame & mat combo (which they can track with their on-line account). They hit send and the Picture Framer prints, frames and calls when it’s done….or wraps & ships it out to Grandma for her birthday, along with a handmade card.

Convenient for some people…..yes.

To keep customers excited long term we may have to evolve.
Any other ideas?
I have said before that tech is going to play a big part in the framing industry…..

Dell have already done it for the computer business…..order your CUSTOM built computer on line…..pick the style and specifications and have it loaded with you piece of ART…..sorry software of your choice…….how far is the building of a custom frame from building a custom computer….

Have a search around and take a look at the Dell build to order business model…….the making of built to order frames is so similar to built a CUSTOM computer….. when it comes to a business model (even the $ value) that my money would be on someone offering a built to order framing service online one of these days……..there is already some serious money from the tech business been invested in the art business that framing cant be far behind….

Yes I know that there are one or two business offering framing online but to date they are only small time … the farm one of these days someone will play big time….

I don’t see my prediction as doom for the framing business …… will just be part of the advancement of framing business…

But I guess there are those who cannot get beyond the traditional way of retail that they will dismiss this post as over the top…….but I take heart the traditionalists in the computer business dismissed Dell as a non runner ……gosh I wonder where those traditional computer guys are these days….

Anyone in the framing business who is not factoring the impact of online framing into their business model these days is either asleep or is going to find themselves in big trouble….

Online shopping in Europe is up over 50% this year on last year…….that is for the whole year…..not just the holiday period……the predictions for next year is close on a 100% growth…..

You can even bring it one step down and bring the web to your existing store. Set up a table with three or four pc terminals set with Internet access and all your favorite art links favorited. Make your log in page Lieberman's. You can offset the cost of the pcs and set-up by decreasing your in-house prints. Most art sites post the retail prices and not the gallery prices so you could offer a discount on the print if a framing order is placed. I plan on offering prints at cost using this exact system. Original local artwork, local glass art, and artifacts on the walls and four terminals is my plan. I don't like guessing what people want as far as art prints are concerned. I'd rather make a few phone calls and e-mails to drive business than fill art-bins with prints and cross my fingers. Free Starbucks coffee isn't a bad idea either. People like name brand stuff.
Originally posted by brian..k:
People have been making picture frames since the days of the Pharohs(did I spell that right?).
Brian, Just for you own edification, because I find you to be a pretty smart guy....

Move your time table up to about 1400. That is when the Icon frame was being gouged out... Then about 1440 the Cassetta frame which was nailed and glued to the face of the painted board, arrives. The relieved rabit startes to make its play about 1490s in Spain.

Not during the Pharohs, but during Cleo [35BC], they are painting frames around glyphics and pictygraphs to show time or place structure of a story...

So "framing" has only been around for 600 or the 27,000 years that "art" has been around... very short time.

And if the Grumble was old enough... I'm sure thre records would show a similar discussion about the art of "applied Arts" dieing way back in 1830 when the "Artist World" revolted and started framing in the style that they saw fit, not a contempary "style" that was the style of the day....
Now I’m depressed. I just wanted a light discussion about what advances a frame shop can make to stay current with today’s technology…..sorry
I'll bet there are still alot of frame shops out there that haven't caught up with what is available now. I can't imagine there are many giving much thought to what might be available in the future.

Most future framing business owners I come across want to open their business by investing as little as possible. It's like they are saying "I don't want to spend too much, in case it fails". Some "love framing" so much, they do it for the love of it. Therefore they never make enough money to invest in new, improved equipment that, in turn, will make them more efficient (so they can get more work out the door or let them work more normal hours).

I loved framing, too. But, when I opened my shop, it was with the idea I was going to make money doing it. I can't imagine going into business for any other reason. The fact that I was able to make money at something I enjoyed was a bonus.
Jeez ArtimisArtWorks, if that's what you wanted, just ask.... :D [just teasing ya]

I think we all here on the G have seen where it's going... CMC, POS, web site...which is all fine, but the important, and I think what you're really meaning, is "what will drive them through the door in the next 10-20 years?".

There is a lot of research out there.... but that if for Bob Carter to talk about.... He is much more informed than I.

But there is a wave of buying that is defying all that market research... except for the part that says "internet".

Our parents used to rely on close friends and family to give them imput about what to buy, where to shop, who to hire...etc.

Now kids are doing the same thing.... but family and close friends have been replaced with 1,948,723,422,523,519 hits on Google and half that on Ask Jeeves.
They are <strike>asking</strike>polling their compatriates or peers about products or places to go.

But recently, my nieces and nephews have been making tentative iquiries as they bemoan the hollow experience of information gathered from the internet.

You can find Gibson Guitars for that special husband... which is the better one for a novis, which has fuller better sound, which will improve in value? . . . and then they have to ask a human.

So I think there is some amazing money to be spent, they just need to be educated a little as to why they should transpire past the poster look and into a more "fine art" print look.
Maybe my timing was off on when the Pharohs were arround but if my memory serves me correctly there was an article in PFM a few years back regarding frames that were discovered in sealed tombs in the Fayem(did I spell that right) desert in Egypt. The frames were similar in style to what were called by the British "Oxford Frames". Very similar to a Craftsman style frame with a lap joint, extended corner. If my memory of this article is incorrect please let me know. I believe the article even furnished a photo of this particular frame.

And on a side note..when were the last of the pharohs arround? My Egyptian history isn't what it once(see ever) was.
IF you consider Cleopatra to be a Pharoh.... she got a case of the asp about 20BC, but don't Marc my words on it... I know she was around in 35 and had a son by Marc Anthony but he was taken and consumed by Rome.... so Rome ran Egypt for another 300 years... then it was Moore empire than anything else....

I'll have to look for that article in the PFM archives.... sounds interesting.

There were a type of little frame around cast fetishes during Tut and Cleo... but not an art piece with a frame seperate.

There are many "frames" around art... dating back to Macedonia and Alexander the Great...but they are all part and parcel of the walls or tombs that they adorn.

Alexanders Saccophagas is ribs of over 37 common ornimentation patterns that are in standard use today... such as egg & dart, lambs tonge, bead, suasage & peas, ball & bobbin, Greek Key, icantha leaves, ribbon & rod....

His barrial room would blow you away with all the "frames", and "stacked frames" and "frames within frames"....and all in mosaic.

but then we Frankenthread.
Again I hope my memory is correct on this article. The extensions on the corners of the frames were used to tether the frame to the front of the mummy or something(like a tieoff on a pier) and the frame would contain a portrait of the deceased I believe. I also remember that one of the tombs that was discovered was from an actual artist from that period and there were paintings in his tomb of his studio that showed other framed works on his wall.

I sometimes wonder about the true historic dateline of the picture frame. I have been fortunate enough to be able to actualy work on frames from the 17th century and one thing is ALWAYS true about frames dating back that far. Every one of them has problems with rot and or bugs. Of course I'm not working at the Louvre and getting my hands on hundreds of frames dating back centuries. I just wonder if our thoughts on when the first picture frames are dated from are actualy just the earliest to have survived the raveges of time. There are written references to framed art dating back as far as the 12th century even but we have no actual frames dating from that time, so....?

[ 12-27-2005, 06:04 PM: Message edited by: brian..k ]
Alot of points were made. For our shop we have purchased the epson 9600 with a special color rip software. Yes healthy investment but ROI (return on investment) has been great. We have 2 networked customer computers to browse all the art libermans as well as our local artsist images have to offer. We are setup with links to artists sites and other art sites. We promote Photo Enlargement. Photo Restoration. Photos to canvas.

We have a Epson Multimedia Projector that we use a old screen from a big screen tv and mounted in the front window that displays art work, as well as samples of customers framed work and they love it. We have hd people just stop in front of the store at night to just watch the show. We have a hidden camera in the front window that we can watch from the internet and it amazing to watch how people view your place when you are not around. For us technology is what sets us appart from all of the other shops. We try to keep ahead of the curve going beyond customers expectations. Just kicking it up a notch.

FYI since we have been doing photo restoration we have customers bring in old photos all the time now. So we make money from printing them to framing them. Before we had to wait for them to get it back from their photolab now we offer onestop shopping. Customers want it simple.

Thats just a summary of my two cents

I hope I wasn’t the cause of some of your depression……I absolutely had no intention of causing you any anguish …..

I will post a replay by the weekend, I’m travailing for the next few days…..and in addition my Dad is not very well right now….nothing terminal just something I need to help him work through……

Regarding your question I think it is one of the best that has been asked on the Grumble this year the framing industry offers so many opportunities as to how technology/production can be used to improve things……

The very fact that you are asking the question that you are puts you way ahead of the game……that I suspect you have little or nothing to worry about…..

I will be back later this week and I will post some thoughts on my visions as to how the framing industry will or can progress over the next number of years….nothing I will post will be whacky it has all been done in some other industries over the last 100 years……technology, production and marketing are the key……

Best regards