• WELCOME Grumblers
    Backup is now done at 3PM EDT. You may find the server down for up to two minutes at that time.

Talk to me about the industry!

Zakka

Grumbler in Training
Hello,

I'm Zakka, and I'm new here. I have history in the industry, but am wanting to get a grasp of what the picture framing industry is like as an owner these days.

I started framing in the early 90's, then had my own retail storefront in the 90's to early 00's. Moved on to other things, then returned to framing as an employee 6 years ago. I've recently been asked if I am interested in taking over/buying a well respected, very established shop in my hometown. I've been back to framing only part time and don't have the same understanding of the biz I did all those years ago.

Talk to me! Tell me what I need to know! What's changed? What's better? What's worse? Is stepping into an existing shop a good idea these days?
 
Sponsor Wanted

Paul Cascio

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
IMO, buying an existing successful business is the #1 best way to get into framing. Your challenge shifts from building something from nothing, to simply not screwing-up what has already been created. And, because every business can be improved with the addition of new ideas and enthusiasm, you have opportunities for growth. BTW, starting as a home based business is #2 -- low risk, low startup, can begin part-time, and can be expanded gradually.

There's many other benefits to buying an established business too. Here's a few:
1. An established, in-place staff
2. An established and loyal customer base
3. Possible seller financing

A few suggestions:

1. DO NOT CHANGE THE BUSINESS NAME -- If Bubba's Frame Shop is a moneymaker, change your name to Bubba. Also, do not hang an "Under New Management" sign -- you're paying for goodwill, don't diminish its value.
2. Make obtaining a satisfactory lease extension a contingency of the purchase. This gets the Seller to work with the landlord or your behalf.
3. DO NOT enter into an employment contract with the Seller, but do have a reasonable non-compete agreement.
4. Never buy one store when the seller has others. All or none.


Best of success to you.
 
Last edited:

bruce papier

MGF, Master Grumble Framer
Ditto what Paul said. Particularly the non-compete part. We bought an established business. My dad insisted on a 3 year non-compete. The previous owner objected, but agreed. A short time later, another framer called and warned us to watch out because the guy we bought the shop from was famous for ignoring contracts. Sure enough, he tried to open another frame shop in our area the next year. Three years after selling the shop to us, he opened another shop and used the name of our shop in his ads to try to make customers think he was us.
 

poliopete

Grumbler
"Is stepping in to an existing shop a good idea these days?"

I have no experience of purchasing an established frame shop but having sold a successful frame shop/gallery when early retirement became necessary I can offer insight from the vendor's perspective.

I agree with all the valid points from Paul Cascio and if I may expand on a couple of issues namely the stock (inventory).

This is a good opportunity to unload those mouldings that were purchased enthusiastically years ago and have not turned out to be the anticipated best sellers. This can also apply to prints/pictures. In my business I specialised in antique prints, antiquarian maps and cigarette cards. These items sold extremely well back in the 70's and 80's but these days it's a niche market that requires complete understanding. So I would take a close look at the stock you are buying and perhaps seek some advice. I would also consider any off cuts to be worthless.

Although "goodwill" was a substantial part of the buyers costs I genuinely felt uneasy about this, believing that any goodwill that was part of the business walked out of the door along with myself. To ease the transition I worked along side the buyer for a few weeks almost as his assistant introducing him to customers and reps. This worked well.

After selling my business I kept busy building my dream retirement home based on the design of a superb property we stayed in on holiday in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Although I have been very fortunate and visited the US on a number of occasions, this was the vacation of a life time. A few years later I decided I missed framing so much I set up a much smaller enterprise in my double garage.

What ever you decide I wish you every success.

Peter.
 

Zakka

Grumbler in Training
There's many other benefits to buying an established business too. Here's a few:
1. An established, in-place staff
2. An established and loyal customer base
3. Possible seller financing

1. DO NOT CHANGE THE BUSINESS NAME -- If Bubba's Frame Shop is a moneymaker, change your name to Bubba. Also, do not hang an "Under New Management" sign -- you're paying for goodwill, don't diminish its value.
2. Make obtaining a satisfactory lease extension a contingency of the purchase. This gets the Seller to work with the landlord or your behalf.
3. DO NOT enter into an employment contract with the Seller, but do have a reasonable non-compete agreement.
4. Never buy one store when the seller has others. All or none.
Thanks so much, all good points! I agree wholeheartedly with the benefits, and being a member of the well established staff, makes the transition even easier. All the employees have already expressed interest in staying on and wished me well in this.

The name has been an issue, originally they wanted the name changed, and figured doing so meant the cost of 'goodwill' wouldn't be included in the transaction. This is an issue that is still up in the air. The non compete isn't an issue really, but they wouldn't object to something like this being included in the transaction, they are well past ready to retire.
 

Zakka

Grumbler in Training
Ditto what Paul said. Particularly the non-compete part. We bought an established business. My dad insisted on a 3 year non-compete. The previous owner objected, but agreed. A short time later, another framer called and warned us to watch out because the guy we bought the shop from was famous for ignoring contracts. Sure enough, he tried to open another frame shop in our area the next year. Three years after selling the shop to us, he opened another shop and used the name of our shop in his ads to try to make customers think he was us.
Ewh, that sucks. Is there anything you can do to make him stop?!
 

Zakka

Grumbler in Training
This is a good opportunity to unload those mouldings that were purchased enthusiastically years ago and have not turned out to be the anticipated best sellers. This can also apply to prints/pictures. In my business I specialised in antique prints, antiquarian maps and cigarette cards. These items sold extremely well back in the 70's and 80's but these days it's a niche market that requires complete understanding. So I would take a close look at the stock you are buying and perhaps seek some advice. I would also consider any off cuts to be worthless.

Although "goodwill" was a substantial part of the buyers costs I genuinely felt uneasy about this, believing that any goodwill that was part of the business walked out of the door along with myself. To ease the transition I worked along side the buyer for a few weeks almost as his assistant introducing him to customers and reps. This worked well.

After selling my business I kept busy building my dream retirement home based on the design of a superb property we stayed in on holiday in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Although I have been very fortunate and visited the US on a number of occasions, this was the vacation of a life time. A few years later I decided I missed framing so much I set up a much smaller enterprise in my double garage.
Peter, Thank you!

Good points again! We are talking about how to handle the inventory. This is a three prong shop, framing being one of the three departments. So, there is an incredible amount of inventory to deal with. They have already offered to cut partials, and to cull slow selling items before the sale. A few of the reps I already know from my days as a shop owner, but they have already started to talk to newer reps about turning things over to a new person.

A dream retirement home sounds like a wonderful way to keep busy.
 

DVieau2

PFG, Picture Framing God
Maybe I missed it but you haven't said anything about the location.
Free standing, strip center or timing/expiration of the lease. Who owns the property and what are their plans? The goings on related to the location could end up being the biggest of all challenges.

My personal experience is that the operation of any frame shop is easy.
Dealing with Property managers or landlords is difficult.
 

shayla

WOW Framer
We've owned our shop for five years. I worked as an employee at frame shops for 23 before that. We bought it from a woman for whom I'd worked fourteen years and stayed in the same location. I changed the name when we bought the shop, and it's been great. Likely, because I had done almost all the designing for years, and that's what brought folks in.

That said, you're wise to heed Paul's advice about taking care with changes. I recently read a book about local 'restaurant history', and at the end, the author made a few observations. After reviewing a hundred years of restaurants, she suggested easing in when buying an existing business. Folks who made big changes (i.e. name, location, product), often went out of business in the first few years. I thought of a woman who bought the sub sandwich shop nearby a couple of years ago. She had big plans to make a bunch of changes, but so many folks came in for the previous offerings that she stuck with that. She's done great business, and has slowly introduced a few new items. We changed our business name, and people like the way the shop looks now, but other than that, most changes have been invisible to them. (i.e., upgrading old framing equipment and adding more efficient storage.)

As for the status of custom frame shops, my understanding is that the industry is shrinking. Depending on the source, it sounds like there are between six and eight thousand custom frame shops in the US, much fewer than in the past. The industry has changed so much that it's no longer enough to offer generic framing. Shops that still thrive tend to differentiate enough from the big box stores, and with creative, quality designs, that they attract another kind of customer.
 

Joe B

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Everybody is saying what should be done but nobody is talking about how the industry is changing. Now I will act as the Devil's Advocate. Online sales are really starting to hurt many of us. I just heard of another shop that is closing because their customer base is really dwindling. People are buying on line, there is no getting around it and I know of no real way to really compete against it. Then there are the Big Box Stores - Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Joannes, and depending upon where you are at geographically there may be others. Be sure to consider all that into the mix when purchasing a shop. Luckily the shop you are interested in is well established so that will help but remember, a portion of every frame job will be going to pay for your business purchase, lease, insurance, & employees, you will more than likely not be taking out a cent for your personal use for a number of years. Also, remember that no matter what you do, you will loose a number of customers just because the business is under new ownership.

With that said, look at the books from the last 5 years, see what the history is and if there has been significant changes. Price all equipment and supplies. Used equipment has really taken a nose dive and supplies hasn't done much better. After seeing the books make your off based on the monetary history, used equipment values, and supplies value. If you can get the business at a good price taking all that into consideration I would go for it, if you can't get it at a good price turn your back and walk away. Just my opinion - Lots of luck with your decision.
 

Zakka

Grumbler in Training
Maybe I missed it but you haven't said anything about the location.
Free standing, strip center or timing/expiration of the lease. Who owns the property and what are their plans? The goings on related to the location could end up being the biggest of all challenges.

My personal experience is that the operation of any frame shop is easy.
Dealing with Property managers or landlords is difficult.
A leasing dispute put an end to my first retail business, so I completely understand what you're saying.

This business is a retail strip mall, busy area, not much foot traffic, only destination shoppers. It would be a leased property with a landlord that has established himself in the area. The lease price is really reasonable, have done a bit of price checking already. He seems very willing to work with the current owners on a transition. Just recently he said he would replace the heating/cooling system at his expense if we committed to staying on.
 

Zakka

Grumbler in Training
We've owned our shop for five years. I worked as an employee at frame shops for 23 before that. We bought it from a woman for whom I'd worked fourteen years and stayed in the same location. I changed the name when we bought the shop, and it's been great. Likely, because I had done almost all the designing for years, and that's what brought folks in.

That said, you're wise to heed Paul's advice about taking care with changes. I recently read a book about local 'restaurant history', and at the end, the author made a few observations. After reviewing a hundred years of restaurants, she suggested easing in when buying an existing business. Folks who made big changes (i.e. name, location, product), often went out of business in the first few years. I thought of a woman who bought the sub sandwich shop nearby a couple of years ago. She had big plans to make a bunch of changes, but so many folks came in for the previous offerings that she stuck with that. She's done great business, and has slowly introduced a few new items. We changed our business name, and people like the way the shop looks now, but other than that, most changes have been invisible to them. (i.e., upgrading old framing equipment and adding more efficient storage.)

As for the status of custom frame shops, my understanding is that the industry is shrinking. Depending on the source, it sounds like there are between six and eight thousand custom frame shops in the US, much fewer than in the past. The industry has changed so much that it's no longer enough to offer generic framing. Shops that still thrive tend to differentiate enough from the big box stores, and with creative, quality designs, that they attract another kind of customer.
I haven't researched the industry trends yet, but I get this impression from other's I know in the biz.

This shop I'm looking into does do specialized framing, so much so that there really isn't a ton of standard framing done. I had thought it was our shop not doing a good job pulling that type of framing jobs, but, it could be more than that. Maybe there isn't as much room for growth there as I had originally thought.
 

Zakka

Grumbler in Training
Everybody is saying what should be done but nobody is talking about how the industry is changing. Now I will act as the Devil's Advocate. Online sales are really starting to hurt many of us. I just heard of another shop that is closing because their customer base is really dwindling. People are buying on line, there is no getting around it and I know of no real way to really compete against it. Then there are the Big Box Stores - Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Joannes, and depending upon where you are at geographically there may be others. Be sure to consider all that into the mix when purchasing a shop. Luckily the shop you are interested in is well established so that will help but remember, a portion of every frame job will be going to pay for your business purchase, lease, insurance, & employees, you will more than likely not be taking out a cent for your personal use for a number of years. Also, remember that no matter what you do, you will loose a number of customers just because the business is under new ownership.

With that said, look at the books from the last 5 years, see what the history is and if there has been significant changes. Price all equipment and supplies. Used equipment has really taken a nose dive and supplies hasn't done much better. After seeing the books make your off based on the monetary history, used equipment values, and supplies value. If you can get the business at a good price taking all that into consideration I would go for it, if you can't get it at a good price turn your back and walk away. Just my opinion - Lots of luck with your decision.
Again, all great advice!

Thanks again! This is really a great place, I appreciate y'all taking the time to respond and talk this through. It is so very helpful.
 

shayla

WOW Framer
I haven't researched the industry trends yet, but I get this impression from other's I know in the biz.

This shop I'm looking into does do specialized framing, so much so that there really isn't a ton of standard framing done. I had thought it was our shop not doing a good job pulling that type of framing jobs, but, it could be more than that. Maybe there isn't as much room for growth there as I had originally thought.
Another wise step when considering purchase of a business is to have it checked out by an independent financial entity (i.e. accountant, etc...). Important to make sure that the numbers the seller shows are accurate. In our case, it was so, but I know folks on either side of a restaurant tussle who are in court over this. The new owners learned after the fact that the old hadn't portrayed things accurately. It's also great to have an attorney write up a proper bill of sale. This protects everyone. If you do buy it, I second the suggestion to do it cleanly, rather than mire yourself in a weird entanglement with the prior owners. This can sometimes work, but could also go sideways. When we bought our shop, I knew enough about the previous owner to tell my hubby that we should only do it free and clear. We got a loan from a regional group that offers non-traditional loans, and it's worked great. The last thing I can think of right now is, follow that 'lawyer-contract' advice closely. When we closed, the previous owner suggested she pay some $2000.00 transaction tax, in exchange for that much framing credit. It was included in the contract, and has worked well for all involved. She was able to get 'free' framing until her credit ran out, and the supplies cost us much less than that amount.
 

wpfay

Angry Badger
Good advice all around, but I would get out to WCAF and get refreshed on the latest stuff and technology so I would have a better idea about what to look for in a desirable shop.
The comment on the business model of the shop you are interested in made me wonder if the talent that did that specialized framing was going to remain with the new ownership or were you going to have to reinvent the wheel? The value of a business is somewhat diminished if the majority of the knowledge and talent leaves with the previous owner. This is a challenge with a lot of small business owners on their path to retirement.
 

Jim Miller

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
This shop I'm looking into does do specialized framing, so much so that there really isn't a ton of standard framing done.
"specialized framing" just might be the best feature of the business in future growth. In many markets, what could be called "standard" custom framing in local shops is being supplanted by mass-market (craft store) and online framing retailers. There also seems to be a shift of consumer decorating styles away from custom-framed artwork and photos.

When my framing business started in 1988, it was nearly all "standard framing", but by the time I sold the business in 2015, most of the revenue was coming from "specialized framing" projects, such as high-preservation framing of valuables, and three-dimensional objects; garments, heirlooms, hobby collections, and similar work requiring more-advanced methods and materials.

As consumer preferences and retail purchasing trends continue to shift, more frame shops will pass away. The survivors will be the ones doing "specialized framing", which is either impractical or unavailable from mass-market (craft store) and online framing retailers. Admittedly, the potential business in that sort of framing is much less, but profitability is much better and there are fewer competitors.
 

Gilder

MGF, Master Grumble Framer
As consumer preferences and retail purchasing trends continue to shift, more frame shops will pass away. The survivors will be the ones doing "specialized framing", which is either impractical or unavailable from mass-market (craft store) and online framing retailers. Admittedly, the potential business in that sort of framing is much less, but profitability is much better and there are fewer competitors.
We offer this specialized framing and what Mr. Miller says is definitely true. For us it's booming. I don't know the numbers yet since
we are still in December but we are about 40% up to the last year. We do custom framing, we make frames in house, we restore frames,
we restore paintings, we do carving and gilding. There is no competition and customers love it.
 

Bob Carter

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
The survivors will be the ones doing "specialized framing", which is either impractical or unavailable from mass-market (craft store) and online framing retailers.
one word of caution might be to realistically assess your ability to provide 'specialized' services. May I state i rarely met a framer that wasn't convinced they were absolutely the best in design and skill ever. While framers like Jim Miller may not be in a class by themselves, it won't take very long to call roll.
I might suggest two skills not addressed would be a high level of ecommerce savy and really good selling skills. If i were in biz today i would seek out opportunities like etsy and others to compliment and expand offerings. And, be able to attract and capture online sales and increase foot traffic. I have no data to support by i'll bet the majority of 'potential' clients already know where there is a Michael's or Hobby Lobby or will search the web for other options. Be able to compete for their attention

Lastly, everyone has pointed out 'due dilligence'. Do the essential 'due diligence' of getting the pros to do it; cpa and attorney. Recognize you probably aren't knowledgeable; they are.
 

neilframer

PFG, Picture Framing God
We just had a record day at near the end of a record month and a record year.
I'm not sure why so many people wanted to bring framing in the day after Christmas but we like it.:thumbsup:
There were 4 of us waiting on folks designing and writing up orders at the same time.

We do nothing online but we have expanded into large capacity printing and also die bond and plexiglass mounting, laminating and laser cutting projects.
We have all 5-star reviews on three different sites and I believe that this helps bring in the business when folks are looking at shops on the internet.:cool:
Also, we received some excellent gift baskets at Christmas from customers...What could be better than that?:icon21:
 
Last edited:
Sponsor Wanted
Top