I am in the process of opening my first store. My question is, should I buy a computerised mat cutter and make use of a chop service instead of hiring a full time employee. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
The answer to your question would be a bit different here in the US Vs. the UK.
CHOPS -- Here chop service has grown to such a point over the past twenty years, that it is the norm....the majority of framers here don't stock or cut length. Part of that success is the minimal cost in delivery expense....either Distributor "beating up" on each other with free weekly delivery or the lower costs of UPS.
In the UK, your decision would be based on which vendors you wish to use, and if you can order your chops once a week or so....so that you have the efficiencies of multiple frames dispersing the delivery costs, which I believe are higher. (Many vendors in the UK don't offer chop service.)
We began as a 100% length buyer in 1978 (250-300 patterns), and grew to a predominantly chop user by 1994 (90%). Today, we try to balance things and keep about 60-80 patterns in stock (80/20 chop/length). I think a mix would work well for you in the UK.
Computerized Mat Cutters -- If you plan to grow your business, and want to hire an empoloyee, you buy/rent a CMC first. The growth and efficiency will enable you to hire that needed employee. I wouldn't open a new business here without a CMC.
In the UK, the numbers aren't as strong, but they are still going in the same direction. Space is also a concern where cost in urban areas and smaller retail locations can make this a problem. I'd be creative and start with one. It will set you apart from the competition!
I hate to make this a chop vs length debate but I got a 650sq ft store. I got a chopper and cutoff saw. I started with 500 corners and stocked 40 mouldings. As time went on and someone ordered something I didn't stock I bought a stick or two and added a moulding here and there. After 2 years I stock about 200 patterns. Because of some buying programs I'm on I can buy 20' of length for the same cost as a 8' chop. It's like buy one get one free. Buying length doesn't take $1000's it takes buying smart. Pay now or pay more over time. I always love the comment I never use the leftover moulding - so what if cost you nothing, make a readymade. Remember you can buy a chop here and there also.
The POINT IS:
In the time it take to pickup your phone and place a chop order the frame can be cut and joined. This saves you time and money. You can also give your customer faster service with length in your backroom.
As for the CMC get one, beg, dig deep, but get one. As you get busy it will save you 10 - 20 hours per week. I figured it saved me from having to get help for 6 extra months and then I could slowly add a part timer into a full timer over another year.
Get the CMC. You'll never regret it. John is right, more shops are choosing chop over length. I do 100% chops now, after many years of cutting most of my own. For me it was a time/space decision over cost effectivness. However, I did cut my staff by one, so no one will ever convince me length is just as fast. The extra I am spending for chops, is being saved by not having the extra employee. When I opened my doors, I was 100% chop, and added length after I got a feel for what I thought I could sell. If you are serious about carrying length, this is what I would do.
One of the few framers in Ireland who I believe is making REAL money is one of the few who has a CMC……………you should see the work he produces it is quite unbelievable by other Irish standards, he has customers travelling hundreds of miles to get work done…………….go for the CMC, if you could make it to Ireland the guy who has this machine would happily give you a tour…………he has the Alpha CMC machine……………. and has added a Roland printing system for limited edition production which is flat out with work also.
I go with John chop may not work out for you in the UK, the market is just not developed enough, though the UK is starting to develop but a long way off the US.
He is based in Wicklow, just the place to go for a short break before Christmas, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 00 353 87 2575059 and I will give you the details and let him know you may contact him.