Getting Started

Stephen Enggass

CGF, Certified Grumble Framer
Wondering if anyone would like to briefly share how they got started in the framing business? Family business? Home based? How did you make the transition from home based to store front? Any thing you can share would be great.
I am an artist who has worked extensively with framed art, matting etc... been doing graphic design for the past 20 years, but would like to transition my career into the framing business. Start small and grow. This is why I ask of your stories. Thanks. Steve
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SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
First of all, Steve, welcome to the Grumble!

Second, posting on weekends or even worse, a holiday weekend, is never a great way to receive any speedy answers on this forum. Apparently some framers have real lives! But since I don't, I'll kick this off.

I came home from Woodstock 50 years ago, started looking for my very first job, ended up answering an ad for an artistic type which turned out to be from the frame shop where my artist uncle had been working for many years.

Got hired, learned fitting, mounting, matting, glass cutting (by hand), fabric wrapping, and then a year or so later got recruited to another shop where I worked for 8 more years. Got fired from that shop for being "uppity" (I asked the owner for my own business cards!), ended up going back to shop #1, was recruited to open a frame shop/gallery for a young photographer and his wife, this venture failed for a variety of reasons after a couple of months, but the photographer took me in to his own building to continue to run his frame shop. By this time I was close friends with his retoucher and he had also helped her start her own business under his roof. Then he decided he needed the space she and I were taking up so he offered to help set us up in our own business if we would just please leave.

So that is how my shop began in 1982. My business partner died 12 years ago, and I was alone in the shop until I adopted a rescue cat (Mama Lucy who lives at my shop and entertains the customers). My business has never been much of a money maker but I have fun, my customers adore my work, and I love my boss. And now, as I am getting really old, the location my shop is in has taken off like a shot and become the new hip happening street in town - murals, restaurants, antique shops, coffee shops, antique shops, lux markets - all kinds of goodies (that I mostly never get to investigate because I am too busy working!).

Framing is a wonderful business to be in - you can be as high tech or as low tech as you wish. I still cut glass by hand!

Stephen Enggass

CGF, Certified Grumble Framer
Great story. Love it! Thanks. My plan is to keep it small and do much by hand. Not large scale production. I live in Camden Maine. Lots of local artists. Am thinking of working out if my house to build a small clientele base, than find a small storefront downtown at some point. There are a few framers in the area but not so many the idea is not viable. Most are extensions of galleries and are quite pricey.


PFG, Picture Framing God
Great story, Mar.

Sorry, this is a long one but I'm an old guy who's been framing for 50 years (and I still have all of my fingers..:cool:)

I started framing in 1969.
I was fresh out of high school and getting ready to attend a city college in Chicago.

I had a good friend who was working in a frame shop part time that was about a block from his house in Skokie Illinois.
We were and still are best friends.
We were partners in drag racing a 1967 GTO at a strip in Union Grove Wisconsin back then.
I was the main mechanic and drove most of the time and we were class winners for 2 years.

He was getting ready to go to college at Denver University so he got me into the frame shop to take his place.
I am very mechanically inclined and I had done wood working, but not picture framing.
I was 1-A in the Draft for Vietnam so I wasn't sure what was going to happen with no exemptions.
I was #121 in the year I would have been drafted, they only went up to the #90's.

So, I worked at that frame shop in Skokie for a couple of years, until about 1972 when they opened up a second location in Chicago at a warehouse about 3 blocks from Wrigley Field.
It was an old warehouse kind of like the old prohibition booze warehouses you might see on the old "Untouchables" show.
Giant folding wooden door so a truck could back in and a large, very high glass skylight that could be cranked open with a long rod.
When the skylight was cranked open, you could hear the crowd at Wrigley Field cheering the Cubs.

I was made the manager of the warehouse at the age of 20.
We framed all of the pictures for the Skokie retail shop and the walk in retail stuff for our area and we also became a wholesale provider of Mexican carved frames and Taiwan ornate ready made frames to be shipped around the country.

I had a girlfriend at the time who was a framer visiting the Chicago area and she was framing at a shop in LIncolnwood Ill owned by her uncle to help him out.
She was from Hillsboro Oregon and she eventually had to go back there.

I got on my motorcycle in about 1975 and rode from Chicago to Oregon to visit her.
We got in her car and drove down the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Eureka Cal and then back thru Redding Cal and Lake Shasta and Crater Lake.

On my ride back to Chicago, I stopped in Denver to visit my friends there.
I decided that I would move there when I got back to Chicago.

I moved to Denver in 1977 and moved in with my friends living in a house in Denver.
I got a framing job (imagine that...) and worked for a few years.

In 1981 I opened my own frame shop in Aurora Colorado.
This was a growing suburb of Denver at the time.
Then a recession hit.
I was in a good location shopping center and even the grocery store in the center closed.
I stayed open even after a second grocery store in the center closed until 1987 when another recession hit.
These years were also the "Reagan Years".....

I closed, didn't go bankrupt, and then moved to Phoenix where my old friends were living.
I got a framing job within 2 weeks and worked for a number of years until a woman who owned a very high end design company and frameshop hired me away from the job I was working.
We framed for movie people, sports people, hospitals, law offices, etc.

I worked for her company for 14 years until she retired in 2008.
She paid me very well and I had great benefits.
There was another lady designer who was an assistant to my boss.
She quit in 2001 to start her own design company.

Now at my present job, we are framing for my friend who started her own company in 2001.
We just finished a job of 85 pieces going to Show Low Arizona on Tues next week and we are doing the security installations.
Another job of 60 pieces was just finished for her company with another hospital job of 70 pieces that I'm working on.
Thanks to the relationship that I have with the design company, we have framed over $1,000,000 of framing for them in the last couple of years.

There are 7 of us working in the shop now and we do printing, laser cutting and engraving and plexiglass and dibond mounting now.
I have framed and installed for pro sports coaches and players and I even get to meet them sometimes and shake their hands if they're home.

This is on top of the regular retail framing and 3 other corporate clients that I have brought in.
I framed the picture of our current Governor of Arizona and went to the Capitol building to security install it (and I took the previous Governor's picture down) .
The Capitol security guys really gave me the once over with my tool box with hammer, drill, blades, screwdrivers, etc...:shutup:
But, somehow I was OK and they let me go to work.

It's a long, strange trip we're on but just keep on keepin' on..:thumbsup:

Jim Miller

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
During college and throughout my industrial/technical career in the 1970s-80s, I practiced calligraphy and, over time, built a hobby-business producing wedding invitations, resolutions, certificates, etc. Since some clients wanted their calligraphic works framed, I got acquainted with all the picture framers in the area. Like most non-framers, I figured this must be a highly-profitable business. Little did I know...

So, when I decided to retire early from the industrial career, I researched framing businesses, designed my own hand-drawn logo, and rented a storefront space in a new strip-mall under construction in 1987. During the four months before my store was ready to open, while the mall was being constructed and my space built-out, I bought a retiring framer's equipment and some leftover inventory, set it up in my garage at home, and practiced to acquire some framing skills. I also hired a semi-retired, seasoned framer to mentor me for my first six months as a framer. (John Schlichter was legendary in central Ohio. He traveled among several frame shops, furniture stores and art galleries to build & repair frames - carried his trusty 40" matcutter in the back of his car. He was a hoot.)

By the time my store opened in early 1988, my corporation was set up and I was ready to do business. We prospered, and in 1990 I took over a multi-location framer's storefront space in a neighboring community, just a few days after they closed that location. Business grew in both locations for about two years before I decided I wanted to be a technician/framing practitioner instead of a business administrator, so I consolidated the two stores into one and carried on that way. At our peak, we employed six people. Every year was profitable, but as the industry evolved and shrank, we refined the business to operate more efficiently and more profitably with only two framers.

ARTFRAME was sold in 2015. I trained the new owner and still help him when he needs extra expertise or an extra hand. I also write, teach, and consult for suppliers and framers.

The Framing Academy by Artglass, a free site offering online videos with fundamental start-up advice for aspiring framers, may be useful for you. So far, these seven videos have been posted, and more are on the way: Introduction; First Steps to a Framing Business; How to Create a Business Plan; Suppliers; Pricing and Profit; The More Efficient Frame Shop (Part I and Part II). Again, it's free.

Welcome to The Grumble, and best wishes for a prosperous framing career.

Rick Granick

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Welcome to the Grumble, Stephen.

My senior year of high school was the first time they offered AP studio art. I took that class, and at the end of the year we had to turn in a portfolio of work to the AP board for our grade. In addition to a "Zap Comics"-style comic book that featured a story about our school and some others, I had also done a series of drawing that I needed to have matted and shrink wrapped for my portfolio. My dad had a friend who owned an art gallery and frame shop, so I took them to him. We started talking, and when he found out I was staying in town for school the next year (majoring in Industrial Design at the Univ. of Cincinnati), he suggested I call him at Christmas time to see if he needed extra help. I did, and he did, so I started working there right away. I worked full time during summers and holidays and on Saturdays during school, and did so all the way through school. It was a great place to work. The owner was friends with our symphony conductor, so we always had cool people from the arts community coming in. After graduating from U.C. in 1976, I stayed at the gallery for about another year, before starting my shop in 1977. So I guess you could say that I sort of "fell into" framing. It turned out to be great for me because I get to "wear a lot of hats" (designer, craftsman, manager, etc.), and I didn't have to deal with working in the corporate world, which I don't think would have been a good fit for my personality. I am fortunate to have many long-time customers, including many second-generation, and even a few third-generation now. For most of my shop's history I have had one employee at a time, but a few years ago I decided to scale back a bit and am now a solo operation. It keeps me plenty busy, but I don't have to worry about keeping someone else busy, and the expenses are much reduced. This was possible because of the efficiency that technologies like POS (FrameReady) and CMC (Wizard) have brought to operating the business.

:cool: Rick

Al B

CGF II, Certified Grumble Framer Level 2
I think I have written about it on here before. I started out my life in the front of the shop in my playpen over seventy years ago. The customers knew me by name. After four years in the Coast Guard, I fell into the family business. My father was happy about it because it gave him more free time to pursue painting - as he was an artist. The arrangement worked out well for our family.


MGF, Master Grumble Framer
I never dreamed I would be a framer. I spent 25+ years doing computer applications for various companies in Silicon Valley - SF Bay Area. Most of that time, I was self-employed, and that offered me opportunities to do other things, one of which was backpacking and photography. The photography got serious and in 1998 I decided to make a go of a side venture in photography. In 2000, I released the shackles and went in, head first into photography and the art circuit, displaying my photographs in various artshow (42 shows per year)! I printed my photos in the darkroom, mounted and matted the photos in my garage for the next 6 years. I paid other to frame my images. I knew eventually, I would have to do my own framing to keep the costs down and improve profit margins. In 2006, I moved to Las Vegas and opened my first gallery/frame shop. Been at it for about 13 years in Vegas. I did know didley-squat in the beginning, but you learn really fast when ya gotta make a living at it! I seem to have got the bug for programming again, and am considering going back to it as an independent contractor.


MGF, Master Grumble Framer
Now I have to find the time to read everyone's answers.

After dropping out of college in 94, I took a half a year off and traveled the cross country.
Ended up coming back a bit early after some bending an axle and then getting robbed a few days later.
When I got back "home" I decided I wanted to do something with art, music, or literature.
Got a job with a large chain frameshop when it opened a store in a local mall.
Switched to a smaller chain frameshop in the same mall about 8 months later.
Eightish years later (after managing that store for half the time) that store closed due to lease issues.
Got a job with local five store (plus wood shop) framing company (again in malls).
Due to the economy, and mall leases, we started shrinking the company.
About the time we closed the third shop (The one I was hired at, and by then managing), the Owner was diagnosed with cancer, and I took over running everything except the financials.
When the owner passed away in early 2011, we were down to one really strong store (plus woodshop).
Due to a greed attorney, the deal to buy out that store fell apart.
Had a crash course in Real Estate and finding starting capital over that summer while working a full and a part time job.
I ended up buying all the leftover supplies and equipment from the widow of the Owner, and opened our shop in early December (not when you want to be opening).
After four years of working my own business plus a night job, the store became busy enough to support me.
Another four years on, and I have a few local ex framers who fill in for me from time to time, and am considering hiring part time help.

Best of luck to you,