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Opening a new Frame Shop - Low Income Town/Region - ADVICE

Discussion in 'Picture Framing Business Issues' started by Alex_607, May 19, 2017.

  1. Alex_607

    Alex_607 Grumbler in Training

    Hi all,

    Newbie to the forum here. Sorry if this has been discussed at any length but everyone's situation is unique I suppose so I wanted to get some opinions on mine.

    I've been preparing and planning to open a frame shop in my town for the past 4-6 months.

    I live in a small(ish) town. The population is 13,000 and the region (the county I'm in and the other that is next to me) is about 200,00-250,00. The southern tier of New York (bordering PA). The biggest city is Binghamton, NY (pop. 45,000) about 10 miles away. Actually a pretty good art scene in Binghamton. It's a pretty low-income area overall though. I plan to also sell artwork, mostly my own, maybe other local artists on consignment. So a combo frame shop and gallery/boutique type of store. I might get bring in other handmade items from local artisans to help bring in more customers in to "browse". I'm not trying to get rich and I also live a very modest and frugal life.

    Anyone else have a frame shop in a low-income area where an art scene is not very present???

    My reasons for opening:

    1) I am an artist who went through art school (BFA of Photography). I'm passionate about art and culture and want to bring this to my town which does not have a thriving art scene. It exists but I dream that it could be much better. I also have no other career path in mind... ;)
    2) My grandmother was an artist in her 50s/60s/70s and also a picture framer. My mom worked for herr and they did this for about 25 years through the 1980s-2000s. She had a frame shop in her basement for that time and did pretty well. However she did not handle the business side that great (she cut a lot of deals for friends) and didn't make a whole lot in the end after paying my mom, her only employee. I've learned the trade from my mom and have been doing it on and off casually for about 4 years. I've inherited some (rather dated) equipment. The Morso moulding cutter being the most useful piece. Also a joint nailer that has seen better days but still works.
    3) I retouch photos for a wedding photographer as my main gig. But this only takes up 20 hrs a week max. My schedule is open though. I'm going to continue to do this and run this little shop.
    4) I have a very small retail space to use for cheap. $200/month, its SMALL, about 200 sq/ft, maybe a hair more. My father owns the property. So going with a commercial space is low risk in this regard. No room for doing this at home. Any framing I've done so far has been done in my mom's basement which is dark and damp and somewhat dirty :(.

    My major concerns:
    1) My region is pretty low-income and this is a "luxury" niche item.
    2) I have very limited space to work and display frame and mat corners.
    3 There are 2 BB stores and about 6 other competing frame shops in the whole region. 1 of those frame shops is only a mile or two away and offers a huge selection of mouldings etc.
    4) The space has great parking and location but the building itself is nothing special. Looks basically like a house. So in terms of expressing that this is a fine art sort of establishment, the exterior of the building is not really helping.
    5) I have no more than $5,000 to put into the business to get it started. Honestly the only MAJOR piece of equipment I truly need is new mat cutter.

    In order to compete with the established frame shops and BB stores, I plan to frame at the lowest prices around because of the limited selection of mats and frames. However, my opinion (and many might disagree) is that frame shops offer too many options. I feel that if there is less to chose from, the decisions will less daunting for the customer. And again, my space is limited so I kind of have to go this route. My hopes is that the shop itself will also be an interesting place to come into and look around.


    For anyone who made through this whole post (my apologies as it has gotten lengthy) if you have some words of wisdom, advice, or cautionary tales, I'd be very grateful to hear it.
    Last edited: May 19, 2017
    shayla likes this.
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  2. Paul Cascio

    Paul Cascio SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    I would suggest starting from home as a part-time business. This could reduce your startup expense, monthly break-even point, and downside risk significantly. Small steps in the scenario you described.
    Dave likes this.
  3. IFGL

    IFGL SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    I kind of went that route all be it twenty years ago and in another country to you, being cheap got me established, didn't really make me any money though, now we are well established we are probably the most expensive frame shop in our city with prices comparable to US framers most UK framers are considerably cheaper, we are still very busy doing around 80 bespoke jobs per week plus internet sales and trade sales, most of the work we do comes from outside the low income area we are based in, we have even had work from other countries, geographical location whilst still being important is not the be all and end all.
  4. CB Art & Framing

    CB Art & Framing SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    My suggestions:-
    -Use retail space to display samples, examples and art for sale. Also, do "clean work" there like mounting matt cutting, fitting. Build a design table, that can also be work table. Maximize space with some flat files for storing art, samples etc.
    -Do "dirty' work in your Moms basement. Chopping, joining, sanding, painting etc.
    -Don't aim to be the cheapest in town. That's what you said your grandmother did. Rather display awesome examples of your work and charge a fair price.
    -Reach out to photographers and artists. They will travel if you give them good service.
    -Put a well designed large SIGN outside.
    FramingT likes this.
  5. David Waldmann

    David Waldmann SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    I'll second the "don't try to be cheap". There will always be someone cheaper, until they go out of business because they aren't making money, and if it's you trying to be cheapest it may well be you who goes out of business.

    That is not to say that you should strive to NOT be the cheapest. There are quite a few operators out there who are the cheapest in their locale mostly by being smart about buying. But I don't believe they are trying to win a race to the bottom.
    JWB9999999, artfolio and shayla like this.
  6. John Ranes II CPF GCF

    John Ranes II CPF GCF SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Hi Alex,

    Welcome to the Grumble forum and good luck with your venture...

    Indeed do a search on starting up and you will find multiple thread with all sorts of opinions on how to proceed...and in there, will be some gems of wisdom... take notes and extract what is of value to YOU.

    The population numbers sound OK... In the old days when middle class Americans purchased custom framing regularly, 8-10,000 people per frame shop was the rule of thumb. Realistically consider how far people will drive to get to you, and do travel routes make any of those population figures realistic to consider as potential clients?

    American consumers sadly as a whole don't buy artwork and display it in their homes as much as they used to and not as much as other 1st world countries... Framers often frame family photos, documents, sports memorabilia, family memorabilia and needleart. Keep this in mind....

    Your second thought of diversifying with local boutique items making your business more unique and complimenting your art sales, framing sales with other sales is a good track to consider. The key to success here, is always consider profitability and marketability when selecting any addition products to create your identity. :)

    That's NICE, but the number one goal of ANY business is to stay in business... You can survive with selling non-expensive items as long as you are profitable.

    Because this is a family member, still sign a simple contract so that everyone understands the terms!

    All custom framing is perceived as a "luxury" item... but depending upon need and taste of the client, most medium income families can afford to have this custom framed from time-to-time. Readymades, kit frames, close-out mouldings all allow you as a framer to create less expensive options.

    That one frame shop only 2 miles away should probably be of concern in such a small local population of 13,000. Offering a "huge selection of mouldings etc." should not be of concern. Anyone can place hundreds of corner samples on the walls... it's your framing options, framing knowlege, marketing, service and turn-around time that can set your framing business apart.

    That is honestly not much to start with. A good, slightly used manual mat cutter can be acquired for less than $700... that's easy, but your budget will quickly get eaten when you start doing a build-out on your space to make it attractive and professional.

    Like a couple of other posters have stated, BIG MISTAKE... Having the lowest prices around is a sure way to be gone in 12-18 months.

    In respect to having too many framing options available and confusing the consumer... that is the job of the DESIGNER.... to make the customer feel comfortable and the make the task not too daunting... Product doesn't do that... lake of good service might.

    Five very solid great tips listed here!

    Last edited: May 20, 2017
    FramingT, Dave, Joe B and 3 others like this.
  7. Alex_607

    Alex_607 Grumbler in Training

    Thanks for the warm welcome and the great tips so far! It's much appreciated.
    shayla likes this.
  8. shayla

    shayla WOW Framer

    Hi, Alex. How are you at balancing your own design taste with what someone else might want? Are you able to give suggestions while creating room for them to still feel relaxed and engaged?
  9. simplymatted

    simplymatted SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Ill toss in my two cents. Three letters come to mind. BNI. Thats stands for Business Networking International. Its a business referral group. I know besides myslef there are a few others here involved. I have been part for 9 years. I consider them a very important part of my business. Probably 20%. Call my store when you get a chance and Ill explain it to you. 989 892 9000
  10. wpfay

    wpfay Angry Badger

    I started with a BFA as well. It took me too many years to get the business side of my brain to catch up with the artist's side. It does sound like you can start up fairly slowly with low overhead, and that might give you a chance to get some business education either from a local college or by attending WCAF* in January. There is some real good business education available that is specifically geared for frame shops.
    Some of the advice I've been given that seems to have gotten through is: You do not want to be either the most or least expensive shop in your area. Your pricing should not be the first thing a customer thinks about when your name is mentioned. The quality of your work, your customer service, or the positive experience of working with you should lead the conversation. If someone says "That project sure was expensive" make sure it's followed with "but worth every penny".

    *West Coast Art and Frame along with the PPFA's National Conference
    John Ranes II CPF GCF and shayla like this.
  11. samcrimm

    samcrimm CGF, Certified Grumble Framer

    I opened in February, I have 240 sq ft, but my LOCATION is the trick, I have as much as 50 people (women) walk by my business, and I walked out and greet everyone I can and tell them what I am doing and give them my card.
    I DID 20 frames last week........only post to Facebook (personal page), the local paper did a store on me and the local cable company did too. I have not wasted a dime on advertising, where I am it a huge waste of money!

    shayla likes this.
  12. bruce papier

    bruce papier MGF, Master Grumble Framer

    The demographics on frame shops are really tough (in my opinion at least). Your being in New York might make the population per shop figure completely different that it is here in Indiana. I'm in a city of around 200,000 with a metropolitan population of maybe 250,000. We have four BB's and four independents as competition. I don't think any of the independents (including us) are exactly knocking them dead. It's a tough gig.
  13. UzZx32QU

    UzZx32QU Administrator Staff Member

    Are you able to do some commercial photography?

    200sqft is not a lot of area to do framing from and sell art work. IMHO I'd market myself as a photographer doing jobs for money framing your own stuff to maximize profit. If you then do some fine art photography, sell online framed and unframed. Consign your stuff to other galleries to get better known.

  14. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter PFG, Picture Framing God

    Wally has some great advice. But, consider finding something that creates a powerful price impression for pedestrian framing (posters, for example) and 'what the market will bear' pricing on those items where your skills may shine. The worst thing that might happen is for your client to tell another consumer 'that project sure was expensive'

    Pricing is dynamic
  15. Alex_607

    Alex_607 Grumbler in Training

    Thanks everyone. I think I will ditch my plan of trying to be the lowest but still aim to keep prices down where I can without compromising quality materials.

    shayla: My plan is start with a small variety of frames and mats that would cover a wide variety of tastes. I lean towards minimalistic and contemporary framing styles but would definitely work with the customer to design towards their tastes unless of course they have no idea where to start. That's a different story of course.

    I will maybe take some of the art selling online (prints only most likely) and only hang a small amount of works in the retail space. Mostly going to stick with limited edition prints and nothing too big.

    Thanks good advice. I have show in some galleries and would like to get out there more. I have done various commercial photography and will essentially use the space as an office/meeting place for potential clients. I have been involved with wedding photography for several year and while there significant money to be made in that business, I really do not enjoy it very much. Which is why I have stuck to retouching as it is more behind the scenes. I also do drawing commissions, portraits of people and pets. So I will display some of these in the store.

    I plan to generate income from a few different things and see what works best. The framing will be the major service provided but plan to tap into some of my other skills where I can.

    Yes... this is something I have always found difficult and never been very good at. I will absolutely need to develop these skills to make this work.
  16. Alex_607

    Alex_607 Grumbler in Training

    Does anyone have an opinion on this business name?

    Platform Pictures
    "Custom Framing, Gallery, & More"

    I'm not stuck to the word Pictures and was originally going to just call it Platforms, in reference to different artistic or expressive Platforms.
  17. Alex_607

    Alex_607 Grumbler in Training

    Also thinking Platform Arts. With the same tagline.
  18. CB Art & Framing

    CB Art & Framing SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    Sorry, but I don't like the name. It feels a bit vague.
    How about using your name?
    The tag line is great.
  19. Cliff Wilson

    Cliff Wilson SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer

    A business name should convey immediately to a naive potential customer, what that business does.
    Try any potential name out on someone who doesn't know what you're trying do do.
    "What do you think <insert name here> does?"
    If they don't answer the way you want, it's not a good name.

    Also, relative to pricing questions ... It's not how much you charge, but how much you make.
    You CAN have some very low retail price points if you are aggressive with how you buy.
  20. Daniel Smith

    Daniel Smith Grumbler

    Try to compete because you are the cheapest guy puts a limit on what clients will think of you. You will have already established yourself as a "lowball framer" and it will stick.

    Emphasize quality and Preservation Framing and doing the job right - with options at a lower price point but still with your personal touch. Some pre-packaged framing deals to augment higher cost custom jobs. A framing class on choosing matting or frames will help get your name out. Community involvement will pay off but be careful of those who will want to take advantage of your free offers.

    Really watch for the 'give us a deal and we'll do more with you' folks. I have done 'first three jobs at regular cost - 4th is the special deal' and find it works to cut the cheapies who will take advantage of you. You reward repeat clients, not encourage cheap folks who will try to take advantage of you.

    Don't get into pricing wars with Michaels/Hobby Lobby because you will never win.
    John Ranes II CPF GCF likes this.
  21. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter PFG, Picture Framing God

    Not sure I would make a big deal of quality and preservation. The fact client is n your shop indicates they 'trust' you to get it right. Great quote seen here by Jared is Customers care more about Conversation than Conservation. Impress them with a dozen or so other things. It's like going in to get a brake job and the guy telling you how anti-lock brakes work

    Too often framers think they are selling to other framers. Concentrate on things consumers really care about: how great it will look, how much it will cost and how long it will take

    Of course, if they ask you percentages of ultraviolet blockage or alpha celloulous vs rag, answer away.

    Pricing Wars? They have already won that 'perception' battle. Perhaps a sign in window stating 'We will beat any Michael's pricing' might get someone to come in that otherwise migt just keep on walking knowing you are much more expensive. And for heaven's sake talk t o them about style and design. Can't ever remember ever being asked what type of hinges we used

    Just a suggestion
  22. Daniel Smith

    Daniel Smith Grumbler

    Bob, I would definitely emphasize preservation and quality. General terms with quality and protecting the customers artwork and showing it at its best being emphasized. No need to get technical unless specifically asked.
    From mat board to glass choices - the idea of Best, Better and Good while making sure the low quality products are not in your shop will help customer confidence. "If it isn't good quality, we don't do it" is one thing I believe is important to get across. You can do this with displays and simple, quiet education of the clients. Showing faded and protected work in a small display often attracts attention. Especially valuable with kids art projects from grade school and such.

    Get their 'art' from the refrigerator door to the walls and have it last longer, look better and help the kids with self confidence and pride as they see Mom and Dad VALUE their creation. You are framing and selling a lifestyle and doing it with materials that will last. Building repeat customers who are happy and tell their friends about you will keep you in business.

    Have a few friends who are fine art photographers. Very successful. Their whole living is made from fine art photography - all hand done by them. Images in over 100 museums across the world and none of it given away free. All purchased it. They sell quality and their vision and it builds repeat business for them. Very different from the 'art in the park' guy with his $40 print. Theirs are $1500 and up. At the same time they offer posters and cards as well as books of their work. Price points that allow the normal spender to get images without going broke. Occasionally a 'print special' is done. Framing shops can do the same - emphasize quality and craftsmanship, provide pricing that works on various levels and reward customers with 'specials' every now & then. Repeat clients deserve more consideration and offering them that extra service or deal can only help.

    You don't always sell the highest quality but you do sell quality and service.

    One thing the friends who are so successful do is keep records of everyone they talk to. Note cards with kids names, important dates and even a record of what you talked about. Takes time - but if you call them 9 months later, once they hear your name the note file is open and the contact sheet quickly found and they can ask about how your son did in that Pop Warner football season, the daughter who was just starting a school play, your anniversary surprise for the spouse, etc. That gets repeat business as you are talking with a friend who remembers you and your information - not a throwaway contact.

    Good service, personal service and quality sells well.
  23. Bob Carter

    Bob Carter PFG, Picture Framing God

    no argument but one of the brightest guys in this industry was Marc Bluestone. When he dealt with issues like UV glass His response was 'do you want your art to fade?' Explained it simply in 'customer terms'; then move on to other relateble items that encourage in engaging conversation

    Find what works for your client remembering that clients are like Baskin Robbins; come in lots of flavors. Listen more than talk. Nobody comes in for an education but wants design, style and comfort. Don't you find most clients, especially first timers are intimidated and have little idea of what they want? Consider t his 'Showtime'. What does Jim Miller say about 'sell te sizzle, not the steak'/

    Think of last several visits where you were the customer and you walked out pretty happy

    These are just recommendations that might be worth considering
  24. kartoffelngeist

    kartoffelngeist Grumbler in Training

    I'd say getting some business knowledge is probably a good idea if this is something you struggle with. All the framing knowledge in the world will be no use to you if you can't run a business effectively.

    I'm assuming you won't be looking at doing an MBA or anything like that, but have a look at www.edx.org or www.alison.org to find a free course which will meet your needs. There are loads of relevant ones.

    Good luck!
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