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Here's "Bob on Bidness" and the State of the Industry

Discussion in 'Picture Framing Business Issues' started by Bob Carter, Mar 26, 2008.

  1. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God

    Kirstie's question starts with "You think we have it bad?"

    And several indicate the internet as a problem and TGFU asks what we can do

    I do some consulting work, but that is the million dollar question and no one has offered me anywhere near that many zeroes yet

    But, I do (would you expect me not to) have a few opinions

    First, The Real Culprits

    I won't name names but there are far too many print publishers that take an average $25 offset print and establish a $40 or $44 retail price. Now, mind you, they will tell you song and verse of how much paper and printing have gone up and these "new" retail prices simply reflect the market

    My response? BS

    In the old days, we average framers would "buy" that print from these same distributors or publishers at 50% or 50/20% discounts (meaning you actually paid $12.50 or $10.00, resp, for that item). A few of us bought a little better, but that's pretty typical for most frameshops

    Then .coms along and wholesale framers selling to every Bed, Bath and Beyond on the planet. And, to be sure, they deserve a better price than Joe average framer.

    So, the print mavens do the logical thing: They raise the retail price and give the .coms a bigger discount. So, now, that $25 type print is $35 suggested and you still get 50 or 50/20 (now$17.50 or $14.00) but the big boys now get 50/40 or better (or $10.50 or better). So, amazingly, the print makers are still "getting" around $10, but it ain't from us, because we are "subsidizing" that "bigger discount"

    And, you have to charge $35 retail; after all, that is the list, published in every catalog and when you add freight, you ain't getting rich, even at 50/20. But, every .com with very little overhead can now say "Save 20% every day" or greater discounts and still do quite well. After all that $35 print is on the .com for $36.99 with 20% off (or $29.59) and remember they pay around $10.00. And they trumpet their framing is always 40% off the local frameshop prices.

    And, every consumer on the planet sees that statement about 20-30 more times than they see our "message". So, what is the prevailing message? Ask any 5th grader-The local frameshop is expensive. Forget if it's true or not; the impression is sound and it is solidly remembered

    What do we do?

    We create a web presence where we sell prints for 30%-40% off everyday if shipped to our stores. So you make $5-10 a print? We create some "market impression", maybe get a framing order or two, and stem the tide

    As indignantly we wish to become, the landscape does not change. Frankly, if I were a print wholesaler, I do not think that I would have the courage to not play the game exactly as it is played; no more than the blender or toaster maker could resist the siren song of a Target or a Amazon (let's not make Wal-Mart the villain). They have joined a Faustian Bargain and cannot go back

    What we do from here is up to us

    Some wish to just no longer carry prints; pretty much like the camera stores that no longer carry cameras as Kirstie stated. What are the chances that she will go back to that camera store for anything?

    We know what our plan will be

    In the very near future, you will hear a "Bombshell" announcement telling us all will be well in the print biz. If we adapt, maybe. If we do not, absolutely not
    American Picture Frame Academy 1-888-840-9605

    The American Picture Framing Academy Learn Picture Framing Now
  2. Jerry Ervin

    Jerry Ervin PFG, Picture Framing God

    Thanks for you bidness insights Bob.

    I know that I'm sitting on inventory that I can't give away. I have tried the 50% off thing on them for over a year. I have now resorted to telling people that they can have a free poster if we frame it.

    I guess my next step is to just toss them.

    As always, I'm open to suggestions.
  3. AWG

    AWG SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Last year (after hoarding them and culling them a bit every few months) we pitched about $2000 (retail) in prints. We had tried 50% off - we talked about listing them on the website, but getting the image, posting it, updating the site was daunting, with little hope of a payoff. - we tried free if framed.

    We still have a few dozen - just can't part with the "good ones". They'll likely join the landfill soon, too.

    Luckily, they all came "free" when we bought the place, so no real cash layout for them. Seems like such a waste, but zero demand REALLY is zero demand.
  4. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God

    Hey Jerry-Thanks for the compliment-You know we all have a common committment and we all do what we can. You, too, often offer some great insights

    Existing inventory is tough; most of us have a ton of it, too. Traffic is the primary problem. Posters have little price elasticity; if people do not want that image, price rarely changes that dynamic

    Up until recently, I was involved in a "low cost/per month" website concept that would require a bunch of us to participate. It might still work, but requires a "little" bigger wheelbarrow than I have. Things change quickly

    Don't forget in 2006 about 26 million posters were sold

    Consumers are buying them; just not from us

    That, my friends, is the real problem
  5. j Paul

    j Paul PFG, Picture Framing God

    Bob, of those 26million poster that were sold, do you have any idea how many got framed?

    Did they get framing on-line?
    Did they tack em to the wall?
  6. Jay H

    Jay H PFG, Picture Framing God

    We missed the internet boat. Anybody reading this post could have their own art.com by now but we hesitated. Now there is uncountable sites selling with a few powerhouses like art.com.

    Jay on bidness has already said that in the next 5 - 10 years frameshops will look so different than they do today, they probably won't be called "frameshops". No matter how many coats of paint you put on the old barn, its still just a barn. Now if you brick up the exterior and put a neon sign out front, it might be a bar now.

    I'm fanning idea flames as fast as I can. I've not discussed them very specifically here on the G but they are paying off. For me no idea involves LE anything, cards, posters, pottery, candles, or any other recycled tried and failed idea. The ideas are, so far, exceeding my expectations. I guess I'm laying bricks right now.

    Please Bob know I mean no disrespect, but I'm absolutely shocked that a visionary like yourself is so willing to consider reversing consumer trends. There was a time when you preach against that like Rev Wright against rich white people. Why invest the time, energy, or money figuring out how to sell a product that the public doesn't want to buy from us? We are no more irrelevant to customers than we allow ourselves to be. They've already voted on this topic and rather I like the vote or not, I'm moving on knowing the outcome.
  7. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God

    Hey Jay-No disrespect at all

    My intent was to point out the source of a problem (which is very real for us)

    A "shadow" Posters by Bob.com site that might generate some "referrals" from "low cost" posters at margins no less than an average readymade easel back frame, I hope, will be better than any advertising to "bring 'em in" . Of course, we are hoping to frame some of those bad boys in addition to the flood of .com posters

    Bottom line: Just like our successful value line or poster framing specials, I am not about to abdicate an entire segment of biz
  8. AWG

    AWG SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Whether we're reinventing the wheel, painting the barn, or bricking up the storefront, reinvention and change MUST BE part of every business plan/idea for the future.

    Kirstie started this by posting her experience in trying to buy a camera. If you come into my camera store, you'll find DOZENS of models - many with similar feature sets, prices, sizes, etc. Not much to differentiate one from another. You'll also find our imaging services - and how many things can be done in-store,within the hour.
    Large format prints. Greeting cards. Internet fulfillment of your order. Calendars. CDs DVDs. Video copied to disc. The list goes on. The point is that our company HAD to change to survive. I'm not privvy to our margins, but am smart enough to know that on hard goods it isn't much. The profit is in the services like I listed.

    Jay is on the right track - offering more, but related stuff, to remain (or become?!) relevant to more and more customers. Offering prints may still become a successful business; but it'll have to be web-based to reach a significant volume.

    BTW - speaking of the web - I reviewed some POS info from the gallery sales 2007 v 2006 and thought I'd share a nugget: Our web-referred customers (those who say they found us on the web first) accounted for more than 10% of our total volume in '07. The actual $$ volume from 2006 to 2007 more than TRIPLED. Oh yeah - the smallest amount of discount given? Those web customers. Gotta find more things for them to buy. I know what's on the FRONT burner, and now.

  9. Tim Hayes.

    Tim Hayes. SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    About 15 years ago I was buying posters/prints from a publisher in NY. As I am located near Wash DC it was a relatively short trip. I would go through their inventory and buy about 5 or 6 of each image, sometimes more, a total of maybe 1,000 prints per trip. These were items that were remainders. The publisher was glad to get rid of them at $2 to $3 each. Yeah it was speculative and worked for a while. About 8 years ago I decided that I didn't want to deal with posters and "wholesaled" about 800 to a guy in Canada ( he had me ship them to a friend in the US and he dealt with getting them to Canada). I had placed a small add in Decor. I got $4 each for the whole lot as is, no pick and chose. This just happened prior to the online boom. My timing was right, through no fault of my own. The guy in Canada is no more as I tried to contact him for a friend a few years back. I have always liked ferreting out deals. To me its often just having the guts to ask for a better price, you might be surprised. If you don't the other guy, might get the deal.

    This happened to be one of the "blessings" also have some of the other stories, too.
  10. B. Newman

    B. Newman SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    When you're as far off the beaten path as we are, you have to provide a reason for the customer to come - I've preached that for all of the 18 years we've been in business.

    Last year was our biggest ever, and this first quarter is about double last year's first quarter... For some things we do, we're "the only game in town" - and not only that, but we have work shipped in to us from all over the country. They found us on the web.

    Now, I'd be the FIRST to say that our website needs work (workin on it) but even as dull as it is - it works.

    Framing is not the #1 thing we do anymore - but when we do it - it is profitable!
  11. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God

    Hey Betty-Nice to hear you again

    But, Delta will wear that every ticket they sell is "profitable". The problem is that they don't sell enough tickets. If you ask most framers, their problems are not unprofitable workorders, but simply not enough of them

    I cannot say it enough: Our battle is one of market share first, margins second. When we "extend" our margins, we tend to lose market share

    I can think of no better advocate than our good friend, Warren
  12. Kirstie

    Kirstie PFG, Picture Framing God

    Oh, absolutely, Bob. MORE customers! We have not heard from Warren in quite a while and I look forward to his posts.
  13. B. Newman

    B. Newman SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Hey Bob - :p :icon21:
  14. Warren Tucker

    Warren Tucker MGF, Master Grumble Framer

    There’s really not much for me to add. I’ve said for years that the typical one or two man operation ordering materials just in time, job by job, chop by chop is very inefficient and in most (heck, probably all) markets, it’s the inefficient who lose out. In picture framing, there are certain economies of scale.

    I remember in a post three years ago saying I would worry if mine weren’t the lowest prices in town. The reaction was remarkable mostly along the lines, “why would you want to be known as the cheapest in town?” Our low prices don’t mean we do shoddy work; we don’t. All of our customers are very price sensitive (especially the movie set dressers), and they know when they get a price from us, it’s going to be a very good price. We’ve got thirty years of owning that reputation and it pays off. We just sold a 3 1/3 wide silver (metal) leafed frame for $8.50 a ft. (that’s fairly expensive for us) and the customer is delighted . He wouldn’t have been as happy if the frame cost his $17 a ft as it would have chopped. He had a good experience; he left not feeling ripped off. It’s possible to sell frames like that one all year long and to make money doing it. The molding is a Décor plastic we buy by the box and it looks great. It was the first frame we showed him. We actually want to sell affordable framing. If he wanted something more expensive, we have that too. The whole job (30 X 39, two rag mats) set him back $230. The job is going to look great (we have good taste) and he’s going to be looking for more art to frame and guess where he’s going to bring it.
    Chop frames make up less than, and I hope way less, 10% of our sales and when a customer wants a chop frame we tell her it going to be expensive compared to what we have in stock. A lot of our customers shop their framing around so they know they get value here.
    The demand for most resources is elastic and that’s an iron law of economics to which framing isn’t immune. There is greater demand at lower prices. But what direction has the majority of framers been going in recently (perhaps beginning at the point when shops began to close)? Higher prices. I still remember hearing the foolish assertion that someone would rather make $500 on one expensive job rather than on five less expensive ones. Sell your customers up. Educate your customers to expect premium prices. Push expensive glazing (and get your true vu secret shopper reward). We talk customers out of expensive glazing unless there’s a real reason for it and there seldom is. I once took a customer to my house and showed her our framed pictures, all framed with regular glass, to make the point that non glare coated glass isn’t necessary and that I don’t use it. And I get the stuff wholesale.

    It’s not rocket science that the larger our customer base, the less likely it is we’re going to be buffeted by the winds of ill fortune. There are people who are actually trying to reduce their customer base; that’s nuts. And while I’m at it, I might mention that I think framing is a destination activity and that paying very high rents for very visible locations is a good way to go out of business unless you sell a lot of impulse stuff that picture framers traditionally don’t. I was surprised that Bob bemoans the passing of the poster trade. Posters and art have never been a big part of our business; we do sell studio oils and do quite well with them. We don’t sell many posters but we really don’t care. The money is in the frames (Billy Pilgrim).

    Customers thing framing is expensive, and, get this, they’re right. That’s why they’re constantly shopping for less expensive options. They look on the internet, they take their art to big box craft/junk stores. Maybe our industry should strive to give the customers what they want: good quality inexpensive framing. Believe me, they aren’t clamoring for archival, museum framing in any great numbers. We do very little of it. Maybe 4 pieces a year. But the other kind of framing, we do a lot of. Our suppliers say we do way more than big box stores do. We love the fact that Michaels only sells rag mats and expensive glazing; guess who gets the customers who don’t want that stuff? We sell thousands of paper mats and tons of regular glass a year. We buy both by the ton. We have to have a fork lift to unload the trucks. A 2,000 lb case of glass lasts the Outlet about a month, less than a month at the Frame Works. People want this stuff.

    How to meet the new challenges? Work diligently to eliminate inefficient chops and substitute length moulding. Everyone should have at least 100 patterns that he buys in depth. Stock regular glass and sell it, for inexpensive art, most of the stuff we frame is trivial, sell paper mats; surprise the customer with a low price. If you’re hurting and have the space, get into frame it yourself. It’s harder work but who gets the big bucks? Those who work hard. What a novel idea: offer a customer a terrific bargain up front and then, if he wants, show him more expensive stuff. “We can frame your child’s art project for $65 and it’ll look nice. Of course, you can spend a lot more.” It works because it’s honest; it suggests that you’re not out to clip your customer for whatever you can persuade him to pay.
    This is an important point: a simple framing job tastefully done looks really good and it doesn’t have to cost a bundle. Design skills aren’t as important as good sense and good taste. Maybe 20% of our customers come in saying, “I want to do something special with this.” The rest just want their stuff to look good and be affordable.

    Rather than having a small value line that you pull out as a last resort (and, maybe, leaving your customer feeling cheap), make your value the mainstay of your business (it’s what we do). Our expensive line is a small part of our business. We have the capability of making closed corner frames from raw, rough sawn wood here ( we just finished a closed corner shadow box) so if expensive is called for we can do it. But it’s rarely called for. We offer it as a service and a chance to show off our skills.

    I think Kristie is not going to have any problems with any change in the economy.
    She offers frame it yourself and that always draws customers in, customers who could be turned into custom customers. I wish she’d gone for more space, though, so she could get some production equipment and more moulding storage. Frame it yourself really works well when you can offer a frame from length stock in about 10 minutes. That requires stock and fast equipment.
  15. realhotglass

    realhotglass MGF, Master Grumble Framer

    I thought you added quite a bit there Warren :D

    And thanks for that too . . . I also enjoy reading your comments and take on board your specific business model thoughts.

    I have for quite some time been a believer in price 'downselling' in retail framing, but your upselling method has equal merits.
    Suppose it's as easy if you get the right techniques in the sales process.

    When I sell my products / services, it's slightly different as a manufacturer, and I use upselling mostly.
    Eg. I might quote a glass display case made with plain glass, then ask if there are any UV considerations.
    If so, I quote UV blocking glass as well, point out the relative UV transmissions, room lighting etc, and then it's up to the end client to judge if extra cost is justified.
    Most times it is.

    But if my framer client is UV aware, and I know it, when they ask how much for a glass display case for a Don Bradman signed cricket bat, I say straight out that for UV glass case it's $x. I know what they would want for their clients needs.
  16. Dermot.

    Dermot. In Corner

    I have to agree this is a very though provoking thread……….one of the best in a long time…………..I take my hat off to Bob and Warren…….
  17. surferbill

    surferbill SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    I had to order a few posters for a job that were only available on Art.com and Allposters.com today. After calling both companies to order, I found out they are the same company, and got the "special" two day only 25 percent off offer from both.

    I used to stock a couple hundred prints and posters, but I'm slowly weeding out the dogs, and will only order what I think I can sell or frame up and sell.
    No more spec ordering, and hoping they will sell.
    Also, I have customers come in all the time that look through my catalogs, write down the poster code, leave and I assume go and order it on the internet.

    On framing, I feel guilty sometimes when I agree with Warren. That's because I see post after post from grumblers that tell me to survive, I must sell closed corner frames, upgrade every glass sale, sell 20.00 dollar a foot chops, and get as much as I can for every sale.

    I've always tried to buy length If I could, and chop it myself. Also, I've invested in a larger shop area, new Cassesse, 44x66 Bienfang vacumn press, Wizard, and two Epson printers.

    This year I'm looking to buy more box moulding, and cut down on any chop ordering. I like the idea Warren had of telling the customer up front that if they choose a moulding I have to order as a chop, it's going to be more expensive that the length I have in stock. That should plant a seed in their head to pick what I have in stock.

    As far as the question of how to get more customers, I'm not really sure.

    We try to treat every customer as if they were our best customer. I try to find a way to make every sale, whether it's finding a cheaper moulding, discounting the price a little, whatever it takes to get the sale.

    I'd much rather get the job, and not make as much, than see the customer go to my competition down the street.
  18. EllenAtHowards

    EllenAtHowards PFG, Picture Framing God

    We are tossing around the idea of being "Howard's- The Free Glass Framer". We figured up how much at cost we would be 'losing' with this, and it looks doable. The glass would be con clear (we get a good price because of volume purchasing) and we would credit that amount toward Museum glass if that is the choice.

    Ideas? Opinions?
  19. TGFU

    TGFU CGF II, Certified Grumble Framer Level 2

    Surferbill, I'm curious, at what point in the process do you start "discounting the price a little"? Do you let them start walking before you suggest a discount? When I've done that, I always end up feeling like I loose credibility about not giving them a fair and honest price to begin with. I had a similar experience with my auto mechanic today. He quoted me $1000 to fix my car. I called back and told him that I would have to wait. He then told me that he would give me a 10% discount. I hung up not trusting him and feeling like he was over charging me too much to begin with. Also, I've found that once you start doing that, those customers tend to always expect to haggle the price with you.
  20. Kirstie

    Kirstie PFG, Picture Framing God

    Hi Warren,

    Nice to hear from you. We have about 400 in-stock length moulding patterns, and most are well priced, so our only disadvantage is lack of high speed equipment. With the chopper and wet join on the underpinner, along with CMC mats, we can have the frame to the customer for DIY assembly in about 20 - 30 minutes. We usually get them started on hinging and glass cleaning while the frame sets up for a few minutes. DIY takes a larger staff, and is certainly more expensive to run, but you are right, it is the cash cow for us, and brings in the volume.

    We do use Con Clear glass as the default. Everything in our house is UV and we have lost a number of photos and art to fading over the years, so we always offer the option. We tried paper mats and still have a small selection, but maybe we educated the customer TOO well because this is what they seem to want.

    Aside from the in-stock, we do have about 2000 samples that get an extra $20. added for freight if the customer wants something different.

    Still keeping an eye on the March numbers. Sales are a bit flat, but then spring is always this way, so we are monitoring closely and hoping to not be affected by economic swings.

    Thanks for your contribution. You make excellent points.
  21. surferbill

    surferbill SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Well, I've been doing this for 28 yrs, so I can usually tell if they really want to get the piece framed, or are just price shopping.

    If they balk at the price, I try to tactfully find some middle ground we can both live with. That might mean switching to a less expensive frame, throwing in a free mat or glass, talking them into some materials I have in stock, etc.
    I always have frame and mat materials left over from big jobs that have already been paid for. Any sale of these left over materials is pure profit.

    I'm really amazed at the number of grumblers who say they would rather lose a sale, than give a discount. I feel just the opposite, because I would rather make the sale with a little less profit, than no sale at all.

    Another grumbler had a good idea, if they ask for a discount. Tell them you will give them 5 % off, if they pay in advance. That way you've got the sale, and the job is paid in full.

    As far as the auto mechanic goes, I would welcome a $100.00 discount if they offered it to me. It sounds like he wanted the job, and was just trying to find a way to win your business. :thumbsup:
  22. Kirstie

    Kirstie PFG, Picture Framing God

    I forgot to say that we don't order chops at all except for the rare closed corner frame. We make ready made frames out of special order length leftovers and have quite a following for these bargain priced gems.
  23. Kirstie

    Kirstie PFG, Picture Framing God

    Jared had a great idea for this dilemma, which he explained in his speech at PPFA. When the customer starts to kick tires, and before he spend hours with her, he asks, "And when do you need this by, Madam?" This sorts out the wheat from the chaff.
  24. Jared Davis CPF GCF

    Jared Davis CPF GCF MGF, Master Grumble Framer

    :) - this response helps weed out the tirekickers.....

    :shrug: Customer - "I just want a quote on getting this framed?"...

    ;) Consultant - "Sure no problem. In fact we can probably come up with a few different quotes for you to consider.... however we currently have about a 2 week turn around, at the moment - is this going to be a problem?"
  25. TGFU

    TGFU CGF II, Certified Grumble Framer Level 2

    How does asking when they need it by weed out the tirekickers? Are you saying that tirekickers can't lie and come up with a quick response to that question?
  26. Cliff Wilson

    Cliff Wilson SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    When Bob started this thread his post seemed to be mostly about psoters. I started my business 6 years ago and the psoter business was long gone and lost before that. I looked at posters like you might if someone said sell photo processing. It's gone. Forget it.

    BUT, what I do see hurting us a lot is the specious arguements I hear from many of my reps and some of the educators in our field.

    Things like:

    * "Wouldn't you rather sell a frame for $1000 than 10 frames for $100? -- Well, OF COURSE you would. But, that's not the dicotomy you should be considering! The question is more like do you want to sell 20 $1000 jobs and 5 $100 jobs or do you want to sell 15 $1000 jobs and 100 $100 jobs, where the margin % is at least equal if not better on the $100 jobs? Volume and margin are what matters! If you're known as an expensive shop, you won't get the other business!

    * Or, how about the "Chops are as econaomical as length" and we use a SINGLE example to show the numbers! I've always stayed out of that discussion, but what I will say is -- Do the numbers for a year, not a single frame job! Do it with soem bundle or even small volume length buys!

    There are others, you know most of them!
  27. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God

    Hey Cliff-I guess several others have decided that this is a "poster" problem, as well

    I see two problems: The first being that we way too often view our problems way too myiopically. That the real culprit is poster sales; that if we didn't cary posters before, it is of no poblem. When, in fact, posters are symptomatic and it is such an easy example to highlight the encroachment of "non-traditional" competitors. That, to my pea-brained outlook is truly the problem. We get hung up on if it's 26 million or 2.6 billion or how many are actually getting framed or not

    The problem is "who" is doing it to us and how easily they are doing it

    This thread actually started with Kirstie's camera buying adventure and how dissappointed she was with the "state" of the retail camera shop.

    That, pardon the pun, is the "Big Picture"

    The second problem is how many doesn't think it applies to them

    One thing we learned way back when in B-Scholl was to look for "Best Practices"; find the things that are clearly market or trend leaders, things that are simply much, much better than the peers.

    There really are not many (if any) of those practices in our "status quo". Warren does biz the way most of you would disdain if asked privately. He violates virtually every rule our "experts" tout. Yet, I'm not about to tell him he is wrong

    So, let's quit looking at posters as anything than a highly visible sympton of our changing market
  28. Cliff Wilson

    Cliff Wilson SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer


    I guess that's what I was trying to say. There are some "recommendations" that I have seen as prevalent in our industry masquerading as "best practices" that could do quite a bit of damage to companies that followed them blindly.

    We all need to be smarter (I'm not excluding myself) at looking at "best practices" and how and when they work. I have become a believer that many of our biggest operators don't even know what made them big. (Warren and you are probable exceptions)

    I agree with you that one of the biggest mistakes many of us make is abdicating certain markets without understanding (or even thinking about) why or how.
  29. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God

    Hey Cliff-Please understand that we are struggling for answers like many of you. Lumping me with Warren might be damaging to Warren's reputation

    The only advantage I may have is having access to a little more research data and a little more "direct" conversations with the players in the arena

    It is time we all take our game up a notch; our "non-traditional competitors" are playing in different league
  30. Kirstie

    Kirstie PFG, Picture Framing God

    Here's a length example, and not one from our in-stock selection which would have been more profitable, but a job that went out last week. Numbers are fictional, but close. Customer buys a 3" LJ moulding--expensive sucker--that cost us, say, $5. pf. We need, say, 12'. LJ sends 2 sticks. We sell the moulding at $240. + $20 special order fee. We have 8 ft. left. We make that into a mirror using mirror scrap and sell it the same day for $75. So we bought the moulding for about $80 with discount, no freight. We made $255. profit on the moulding part of the deal. If we had used chop, we would have paid about $8 or 9. pf?. $8 x 3 mark up for chop ? = $24 x 12 ft for job=288. price to customer. minus cost at $96. = 192 . As you see, the leftover mirror sold is the key to this, or the leftover ready made. Careful management and organization of scrap is crucial. Organize your scrap and make it into ready mades or save it and sell it again. Either way, chop or length, our margins in this business look good to the outsider, but they really are slim if not run well, if both labor and materials are not carefully managed.

    But there is more to the equation than mets the eye. The customer paid less so will return. The customer who bought the beautiful mirror got a great deal, so will return. They will tell their friends.

    End of the story: Customer drops the frame in his house and does a real number on it. Two corners ruined. We had some of the moulding leftover from a prior job, and LJ sold us half a stick at our normal discount to finish the rebuild. Long sides used for short sids. New frame sold to very happy customer at deep discount for $75. Oh, and it was the same customer who just had to have the mirror.

    This story is worst case, because we ordered extra footage to cover any potential problems with this canvas. And the extra footage was more than we usually get on a special order length job.

    Better case: Value moulding by the box-$1. pf. Sold for about $6-8. Profit $5-7. per ft. All leftover goes right back in the bin. Sell it over and over to happy customers. Less money made per job, but many more jobs over time equals more money made over the long haul. This is the meat and potatoes. The expensive jobs are gravy.

    Add to this example thousands of jobs with in-stock moulding and thousands more of its kind and you will see that keeping moulding in stock is the most profitable way to do business. Yes, you have labor, but you have stock, the leftover pieces go right back in the (numbered) bins. You sell it again. Just like mat scraps.

    One could run a tidy chop business with no scrap laying around, but it is difficult to make as much money long term that way and you drive up the price of the sale, thus lessening your customer base, IMHO. Use very careful management, develop your niche for gorgeous framing and this can succeed. The other kind of business relies on lower prices and volume.

    Either way, conservation of scrap is the mantra I repeat at every staff meeting. My team are pretty good at this because they are aware of the need for recycling and using scrap seems like a good thing to do. ;)
  31. PaulSF

    PaulSF PFG, Picture Framing God

    Kirstie, if you need 12 feet of moulding, why not buy a 10-foot length and a 2-foot chop?

    Do the math.
  32. Kirstie

    Kirstie PFG, Picture Framing God

    Paul, clever as usual. Jeff does the ordering and each order is handled to our best advantage. My example was only theoretical ,a real sale, yes, but I typed the post at home with no accurate records on actual footage ordered or actual prices. Just a guess, but you get the idea.
  33. PaulSF

    PaulSF PFG, Picture Framing God

    Oh, I know. But really, do the math. You're paying people to build mirrors and readymades with waste that you've paid for, in the hopes that someone will buy it. But on all those orders where you need a foot or two more than a 10-foot length, it's cheaper to order length and chop, and you won't have the waste, and you won't be building mirrors and readymades on spec.
  34. Kirstie

    Kirstie PFG, Picture Framing God

    Mirrors and ready mades do sell. Actaully, we can't keep the ready made shelves full they sell so fast. We price them really well and people love the selection. We build from 4 x 6 to about 16 x 20. Also, I have a big staff to keep busy on slow days, so this is a natural. Mirrors can take forever and unless a moulding is really special, we don't bother.

    Ordering is more complex than most people think. Stocking length is the most profitable, but when you need to special order a moulding you really need to consider the best way to do it. We usually go with length. A company like Larosn is usaully willing to sell a short length. Other companies, you get what you get, and that's why we have pared down our vedors. The 12' example was extreme, I know.

    I'd better get downstairs and back on the sales floor to make the big bucks.
  35. moglet

    moglet PFG, Picture Framing God

    I find the turn of this thread very interesting, particularly as a non US-based framer. I purchase my mouldings from suppliers in Ireland and the UK, and the options for chop are extremely limited.

    Kirstie's comment about LJ selling short lengths has prompted a key question for me: when you guys buy length, do you get the option to buy by the single length or multiples thereof?

    (My apologies to members if this is frankenthreading, but managing stock levels is a bit of a hot potato for me. If it would be more appropriate to kick off a separate thread, I'd appreciate it if you guys could give me a 'forum appropriate' steer! :) )
  36. PaulSF

    PaulSF PFG, Picture Framing God

    We can buy single length. We don't have to buy by the box. If I could only order a particular moulding by the box, I probably wouldn't bother with it.
  37. Jared Davis CPF GCF

    Jared Davis CPF GCF MGF, Master Grumble Framer

    Ok, I’ll have a crack at this “Selling Framed Prints & Posters” saga with some of my potentially irrelevant thoughts…. :)

    Personally, I think trying to sell framed prints & posters is whipping a dead horse… However, some business owners like Bob probably have expensive, long-term leases they are committed to, and may have no choice but to fight it out? (I could be wrong?)..... So if I was going to “fight the fight” here’s some things to consider. Bear in mind, as Bob says, I don’t think there is one “magic solution” to solve this issue…

    I don’t believe we can win this battle by competing head on “on price”… especially with signs that say “We are 20% cheaper than www.art.com!”… I think signs like this seem “desperate” to the consumer, and just add credibility to your competitors?

    I believe consumer psychology has everything to do with this winning this battle.

    Let me start by looking at the clothing/fashion industry- If we consider a department store or a Big Box like K-Mart, Target, vs an independent / boutique clothing or designer store –
    • Why do women still buy clothes from boutique shops, rather than buying all their clothing from Dillards?
    • Why do women still buy their clothes from Macy’s and Nordstrom, when they could buy perfectly good “functioning” clothing from Dillards (or in some cases, even the same clothing!)?
    • Why don’t women feel comfortable buying clothes over the net?
    Perception of quality, prestige, “the experience”?..... there are many reasons…

    No doubt mass market retailers like Target & Kmart sell a lot of clothes… but not all women like or enjoy buying their clothes from Kmart…. and thus clothing boutique stores are still surviving & thriving in business.

    The weakness of most Big Boxes & department stores is that they always risk making their products, (whether it is “a dress” or “a framed print”), look like a commodity. You go into a Joann or a Michaels, and you see the hundreds of frames and prints all stacked ready to buy…. Nothing looks “unique”, it all looks mass produced… and believe it or not, not everyone wants that “mass-produced look”?

    As independent retailers, we need to avoid this perception, and ensure our product is not perceived as a commodity, but like a special, boutique purchase?

    When you are in a shopping centre trying to sell framed prints to the public, you are not able to sell “quality & service”, as you are only selling a “completed product”. So this means that the initial perceived difference between a framed print from say a Michaels and a framed print from an independent retailer / custom frame shop is really only the following factors;
    • The framing,
    • The image,
    • The presentation (merchandising)
    • The brand
    • The price
    So knowing this, the first step is to make sure your framed prints & posters do not look like a mass-produced framed print that just landed in a bulk shipping container from China. Look for different images to sell, and use different frame designs and framing styles, compared to the mass market retailers. Even if you think your shop needs to have a selection of “cheap & cheerful”, that’s cool…. but at least try to make it look different to what is openly available, more affordably, elsewhere.

    The next step - The way you present & merchandise you product is critical. Having 10 identically framed prints or posters all nicely stacked up in a display bin only helps create the perception of “commodity”….

    If you go for mass produced, “stack and rack” framed print display system “look” - with cardboard corners, etc… then you are doing nothing to avoid the perception that your product is nothing less than a commodity.

    Think about the independent / boutique clothing stores… do they stack 15 dresses all the same style, design and size next to each other on the dress rack?.... or, do they stack no more than 2-3 dresses to create a perception of limited availability (non-mass produced), and keep the other 12 dresses in a box out the back? Sometimes “less is more”…. Even have a look at the dress racks themselves, not as just a shop fitting, but as a merchandising tool. These lend themselves to enhancing the presentation of their product. For example, look at the designer dress racks in Nordstrom, and then look at the plain old dress racks in Dillards, and compare the difference. You could put the same dress on either rack, and the one in Nordstrom would definitely “look” like it is worth at least $50 more, just because of the rack it is on!

    (Hmmm, better stop talking like this.,.. people might think I spend too much time looking at dresses…)

    I’m not necessarily saying you need to find deceitful ways to whack an extra $50 on a framed print… I’m just saying it’s a way of creating more perceived value?

    Finally, make sure you are doing all you can to create a heightened perception towards your “brand”. You want your customers to proudly say, “Well that piece is a genuine Bob Carter designer frame”… a unique brand is a powerful way of overcoming price and the perception of commodity.

    Just like fashion designers, and the “brand” they can create for themselves.… Fashion designers don’t actually design the fabric or the materials, they just buy that stuff from sales reps…. but they do “choose” the materials they use, and then “design” the dress…. much like a custom framer I guess… ?

    Regarding “the price” – I’m going to say this – if you have got everything else above sorted out first, and you are reasonably competitive without being a profiteer, then the price doesn’t really matter... I know many will disagree with this.... whatever... as an "everyday consumer" myself, I know it doesn't really matter to me...

    Ultimately, the goal is that you really want to try and create a “down-class” negative stigma attached to buying a framed print from a mass market seller, especially for the more discerning consumer… Much like it is for women buying clothes from a Wal-mart?

    By no means will any of these solutions recapture the “complete print framing business” back again to independent retailers… but if you start to work with some of them now, you might limit the erosion?

    Sorry for the long post.

    OK Bob, I’m ready for you to bluntly put me in my place now… ;)

  38. surferbill

    surferbill SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    I do that with metal moulding all the time. For an example, If I have an order for a 24" x 36"metal moulding I don't stock, I'll order the 10' stick, and the 24" rail to finish the job.

    I've tried it with wood with mixed results.
    One problem is the 2' leg could be a shade off in color from the 10' stick, or it could be milled at a different time and be just a little different size, which makes it hard to join right.

    However, It would be nice if you could do it like that, because it would cut down on a lot of waste I seem to accumilate.
  39. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God

    My good friend, Jared, makes the most important point we should all understand: Follow the path that works best for you

    So, my follow up question would be reminiscent of that famous line Ronald Reagan asked of Jimmy Carter ensuring that Reagan would be the next President. I'll change it slightly

    Is your frameshop better off today than you were 5 yrs ago, 10 yrs ago?

    I'll start it by stating emphatically "No"
  40. moglet

    moglet PFG, Picture Framing God

    Thanks, Paul, for the information. I wish that I had similar choices. Fwiw, over here our primary options are the "pack" or the "box" . A pack can be one length, or up to six lengths, depending largely on the width of the profile: the skinnier it is, the more one is 'forced' to buy.... grrrr. Similar problems with being 'forced' to buy 5-packs of certain brands of mountboard (sigh). I've opted to include this info in the current thread, because these constraints heavily influence my buying decisions, and effectively reduce my potential customer offer and my capacity to distinguish myself in my marketplace. Very frustrating, especially in these trying times...
  41. Kirstie

    Kirstie PFG, Picture Framing God

  42. PaulSF

    PaulSF PFG, Picture Framing God

    Bill, you have this problem with wood moulding whether you buy a 2-foot chop, or 20 feet of length. I know this for a fact, proved it today, when I went to join a couple of frames for a hotel job. I bought 80 feet of moulding, by the box, and every darn stick is milled to a different size. Indeed, I suspect they start milling a stick on Monday, and resume milling it on Tuesday, ensuring that from one end to the other, the stick won't match up. You're raising an issue of quality and perfectionism, while I was talking about cost. For customers willing to pay, there are finished corner frames. For the rest of the market, there's putty and an uncritical eye. :beer:

    And Jared, your comments are spot on. I don't want to compete head to head with the big boxes. Warren makes it sound easy, but what Warren fails to mention is how many years it took him to get where he is today, and how long he's been where he is. Nor does he mention what it takes to reproduce what he's got. Sure, I can sell Generic Soup Can frames all day long, but then I'm competing solely on price. To do that, I better get warehouse space, buy my materials in stock, and spend about $50,000 to $100,000/year in newspaper and radio ads proclaiming how cheap frames are at Paul's Big Bargain Barn, and capitalization in the hundreds of thousands, rather than the hundreds. I don't mind doing that, but I'm not set up to do it now. I can't do Paul's Big Bargain Barn from my 1300 square feet of space, in a location where the city allows me a sign that cannot exceed 20 inches by 30 inches, and even then provided the sign is not mounted above the roofline of my building(I fracking KID YOU NOT!!!!).
  43. moglet

    moglet PFG, Picture Framing God

    Exactly the same problem this side of the Pond. If I'm on an ultra-tight deadline, I have got to the stage where I tend to order twice the length I actually need to ensure that I have sufficient materials to produce a quality frame rim.

    My business is less than three years old, so I don't know what it is to lose market share based on (un)framed print/poster sales. One of the greatest challenges to profitability that I face in the current climate is that of lack of consistency, and progressive deterioration of, the quality of my framing materials. One of the greatest contributors to erosion of profitability in my workshop is the handling of flawed mouldings/boards. Granted, suppliers compensate me for the cost of the flawed materials, but I don't get any compensation for the time lost handling them. It's one of the areas that worries me most.
  44. PaulSF

    PaulSF PFG, Picture Framing God

    Moglet, we're kind of in the same boat. My shop is two years old, and quality of materials is a constant problem. Too often the moulding I receive is warped or twisted, and I have to replace it, putting me behind my deadlines.

    Of course, we are also getting killed here by the weak dollar and high price of gasoline, which make us even more expensive.
  45. Maryann

    Maryann SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer


    .....but it's not where I want it to be yet and I'm running out of time! I hope to retire within the next 5-10 years no matter where it is.
  46. Kirstie

    Kirstie PFG, Picture Framing God

    Hey Paul, grab that name and register it! Paul's Big Bargain Frame Shop.

    BTW, if you remember Warren's posts from the past year or so, he has given advice on just how the small shop can add length moulding and be more profitable. Yes, it takes time, but one can start with a small number of well chosen mouldings and build. I don't know how your back room is structured. When we built the shop we were fortunate to have space to build the same moulding structure and mat cabinet we are using today. We were also able to build a mezzanine after a few years and move the office, custom fitting and art storage upstairs. Rough carpentry is an understatement. We use old poster tubes to store length moulding shorts. I'll have to send a picture sometime. We don't hire carpenters for the small jobs. My staff seem to love to build and renovate, so I let them have at it.
  47. surferbill

    surferbill SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Yes, and Yes.

    The retail is not as strong, but my corporate/contract work is going strong, and has been increasing each year.

    I'm in the same boat as Maryann, in that I want to retire in 5 to 10 years, and spend the winters in sunny Costa Rica. :D
  48. DTWDSM

    DTWDSM SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Put one more no down under the 5 and 10 years. 10 is closer to the same sales wise but all other aspects of business, no we are not better off.

    Jared has a very good point in that if someone is going to sell framed art they need to present it in a way that it does not look like a commodity. THe days of us having 3-4 of the same image framed up the same way is gone. One framed and if it does not turn once a quarter it is done. Frame the most popular images but make sure it does not look like the ones in the big box but, make sure the price is not too much over the big box's price.

    It is getting more and more complicated to be in this business since the publishers print the omages in different sizes and mediums for the big boxes at much lower prices. One example is recently I contacted Haddads on a prin tthey are the publishers for. Target had an image in a 16 x 20 canvas yet they no longer had it in stock so my customer wanted to know if I could get it. I could but my cost would have been something like $65, Target sold it already gallery wrapped for 19.95. I asked Haddads if they were the exclusive publisher and they said yes, when I asked why so much difference they responded they don't sell to Target so it must have been a different print. I know it wasn't.

    They key to competing with the big boxes is that you have to give the consumer something that they feel is different and worth the difference. I was once in the medical supply industry with a distributo who was pretty much the highest priced vendor on commodity items liek band-aids ect. We use a selling system called Value Added Selling. The main point is that everyone can have the same item for sale and if you go by price you will always lose, either someone will underbid you or you will never make any profit. They key is to give the customer more value for thier money. Consumers will pay more money for something if they feel they are getting more in return, look at BMW or Mercededes, they are selling a car that can get you one place to another just like any Chevy can, they just have more value.

    We sell quite a few framed prints, many more than ther average frame shop and I know that Bob always hates it when people say they sell a lot of anything (museum glass ect) but he knows, we do sell a lot of framed art. We offer our customers the newest images, in the most popular colors at popular price points. When a customer comes in with their couch cushion we don't cringe and hide, we find a print that matches the couch and then we add a vase or another piece of wall decor to go with it such as a sconce. Try walking into a big box store with a couch cushion, security will probably start checking the furniture section to make sure you didn't steal it. Customers come to us becuase we solve a problem for them, they need to decorate their home and they want to do it without spending a ton of money so in 5 year s when they change their colors they won't feel bad when they throw the stuff out.

    Selling framed art and unframed posters is a tough business because in many ways it is a commodity, we as retailers have to provide a value to the customer so they come to us, and too many times we as retailers think that we are providing a value and in reality the consumer doesn't think it is really a value.

    Do what works for you in your marketplace, they key is to provide a value that the consumer perceives as a value worth the price tag.

    My 2 cents
  49. DTWDSM

    DTWDSM SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    For those that are saying yes to the 5, 10 year question, are including inflation in your responses or just looking at the final figure?
  50. PaulSF

    PaulSF PFG, Picture Framing God

    Tim makes some good arguments. I would add, for the benefit of those who think all framing customers are alike, that there are customers who appreciate the added value of service and customization that we can provide, and these customers are often quite willing to pay more. They wouldn't dream of going into a place like Aaron Brothers, Michaels, or Target for their wall decor. Don't believe me? Read my reviews on Yelp.
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