What do you do with work left over a year?

Jean McLean

CGF, Certified Grumble Framer
Feb 25, 2001
Millinocket, ME, USA
I checked under my counter yesterday to see who did not pick up their work in time to give it for Christmas and was surprised to find work that has been there a year or more. We put all work in clear bags so they are all fine but I am tired of keeping them and need the room. I have sent bills many times and still no response. Do I have the legal rights to either sell it or throw it out? I have at least 10 pieces and they add up to over a month's worth of bills I could pay. I didn't get a deposit! I am thinking of sending each a letter saying I am going to take the frames to use for myself and throw their work out. However, I feel this is threatening and it goes against my grain. I am also compiling a list of customers that I will require a full deposit from if they ever return with more work. I know this is a lesson learned (get a deposit to cover my expenses) but 95% of my customers return and pay in full without deposits. I live in a small community and know everyone.
Jean in Maine
Memories Of Maine Gallery
You'll need to consult with someone that is familiar with the laws of your state in dealing with such items. I have a number of items that have been abandoned, some of which I moved from my old shop in 1989. In most instances the owner has disappeared, no phone, no forwarding address, and I'm stuck.
I have cannibalized the framing on some of these, but I store the art against the day these people show up.
This doesn't happen as much, or at all lately, since I require a deposit from all customers.
First, send a registered letter (so you're sure they get it.)

On the outside of the envelope put some kind of clip art or drawing showing someone with a huge box and say "Look what we found!"

In the letter include a ppd postcard, then write what it is of theirs that you have. Ask if they want it back, or if they just want you to discard it. And would they please either call, e-mail, or return the postcard so you'll know.

Be sure to keep a very upbeat feel to the letter, many times after a period of time has passed the customer is ashamed to come for it. If you are not rude, you might keep a customer who maybe had a very hard year.

You might (if your shop "feel" is such that it would work) include this old joke. "Did you hear the one about the man who was going through the pockets of an old suit and found a shoe repair store ticket that was 20 years old? He thought What the heck, I'll see if they still have the shoes."

So he took the ticket to the shoe repair store and said, "I'd like to pick up these shoes." The repairman looked at the ticket, at the date, and said, "Let me check."

He went into the back and in a few minutes came out and said, "They'll be ready Tuesday."

Always treat someone the way you would want to be treated in the same situation.

This same subject has recently been posted on the Aussie Grumble about a framed "footie" jersey. Their suggestions were to check the laws out also and send a registered letter asking the customer to pick up their belongings within a specified period of time, after which the item would be disposed of to recoup the framer's costs of building the package.

If any of the items are extraordinary pieces like a knockout shadowbox or a unique framing, I would consider using them as displays in your shop to jog customer's thinking processes.

I have had very few items not picked up in the last 16 years but one of them happened to be a christening gown with a hand colored photo of the customer wearing the gown as a tiny child. She never returned to claim this item and I eventually hung it on the wall for display. That unclaimed framing has brought in over 10 times its value in additional baby clothing framings since I put it on the wall about 3 years ago.

Make one more phone call to remind them of their obligation and that you would like to be paid for the work you have done just like they expect to be paid for the work they do. Offer a payment plan if that will help. But let them know they have only one week to come in and start to repay what they owe. I find putting a time limit right up front lets them know you are serious about getting paid. Tell them you will follow up with a letter repeating what you said on the phone. Then let them know that if they do not make an effort to pay, you will have no choice but to file in small claims court for the amount unpaid as well as court costs, storage fees, etc.. Follow the call with the certified letter return receipt ... something they have to sign for. This gives you the paper trail you need. After the week goes by and no show, then actively persue them in court. Alot of times, just having the sheriff serve papers is enough to get them moving. Make sure it is in cash not a check or a credit card. I have only had to get as far as the letter telling them the next letter will be from the sheriff and they come in with the money. So far only 3 times but it works. :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

Also... start taking at least 50% deposit from EVERYONE!!! This is the money you are buying materials and covering overhead with. You aren't a bank and, living in Maine as we do, means lean times in the winter. Your long time customers will understand. Mine did when I finally started to ask for 50% from everyone.
we received a neat Christmas present. I told you about four months ago that one of our better customers left work for us to do and we did it ONLY GETTING 50% OF THE MONEY. Well, thjey didn't come back for over a year, this despite registered letters, cards, phone calls, etc.

I was going to tear them down, write off my losses and lo and behold on Dec 24 wifey comes in all apologetic and pays the balance which was over $1,000.

Now ever since then,unless its corporate, we get all our money upfront or it isn't done. And that's beause of these folks in particular. Needless to say, we learned our lesson and had a nice christmas bonus which I was totally unprepared to have.
We do the above dances, phone calls, registered letters, if all that fails, we turn it over to a local attorney for collection. We lose 50% of the invoice total if it does not go to court, if it does, we get all of it. The lawyer gets her fees awarded by the court.

We don't have all that much of a problem with it, one or two a year, since we always charge a deposit. The only time we get burned is when we decide that the person is reputable enough to go ahead and do the job without a deposit, never fails.

Our lawyer who does this for us is a small neighborhood office. She has never NOT gotten our money. I would rather lose half an invoice than have to tear the job down.

Check out your neighborhood for a small, one person law office. Take a few minutes and go in and chat. These small piddly little invoices that we have can give their secretary something to do.

Mine will probably be an unpopular opinion here but... even if one has a notice that states "will not be responsible for work left over 90/whatever days" our state requires that the work be held until such a time as the owners or their heirs can pick it up. Using lawyers and strong arm tactics and copious amounts of your energy to make sure you get paid can cost you far more business than you've just been paid for in the negative good will towards your business these clients will generate. People talk, you want them to say good things about your work and your business. If there are extenuating circumstances I would gift the person their finished piece, take the write off for a bad debt and expect to see that client again (and all their friends) when times are not so hard for them.
I have to agree with Rayna … up to a point. There are extenuating circumstances of which we should be aware and we should be forgiving … up to a point. If the customer states that someone lost a job, that’s extenuating, so we’ll wait. We have to and should delay getting paid.

But it is up to the customer to let us know. If they just ignore us, we have to assume that they are just deadbeats. If we want to recover our labor and cost of materials and don’t particularly want or need the piece for a display, we’ve gotta be tough. But, don’t give them a choice of whether to abandon the piece – I want my money – I worked for it … I don’t want to have to disassemble the frame and eat the loss.

After six months we go through a five step recovery program

1) a phone call reminder.

2) a post card reminder.

3) a gentle certified letter letting them know that we expect them to pick up the work by a date certain. If they sign for the letter, keep the receipt; if the letter is returned unsigned, then keep it on file.

4) a tougher certified letter stating that if they do not pick up and pay for their work by another date certain, we’ll take them to small claims court. NH has a $35 filing fee and the limit for small claims in this state is $1500. No lawyers involved.

5) if they don’t respond to this, then file at the clerk’s office. The court will send the customer a notice of appearance. In 85% of the cases, the customer will pick up their work before the court date. If not, they will probably default on their court appearance, too, so a summary judgment will be awarded to you. (Collection at this point is another bag or worms).

It’s not too likely that threatening to sue someone will result in bad publicity for us. Who in their right mind will want to tell their friends, “That frame shop is suing me ‘cause I’m trying to weasel out of a debt”? No, most people will just keep it quiet.
In Wisconsin, it's a "can of worms."
I was actually going to say “bag of kittens”, but you know how sensitive some of the cat people here are.

In many convenient stores in NH you can buy worms (night crawlers, too). But they sell the worms in cardboard, margarine-like tubs. They avoid aluminum cans ‘cause they figure that the fishermen who buy them will leave ‘em in the woods and blight the landscape.

It's always made me a little queazy to stick my arm in the cooler where they display the milk.