By Michael Derr, CPF
One day a couple months ago, the constant barrage of news stories I had been reading on the dismal economy hit home, as a guy delivering supplies to my frameshop told me one of my competitors in town had closed.
The news got me thinking about my own business and my efforts to keep it open. It also made me consider the efforts of business owners in general and what the successful ones were doing on a daily basis to remain that way. I wondered, “What were their successful practices, and how could I emulate them?”
The question is one I had pondered in the past after reading the best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Steven Covey. I thought it might be a good time to reevaluate my operations. Dr. Covey’s book cites seven principles for success in life and business. Here, I have applied the book’s wisdom behind each habit to the custom picture-framing industry—both for the sake of my own frame shop and the greater good of the trade.
Habit 1: Be proactive about how your gallery looks.
We are in a visual industry, and for us, appearance is everything. Take time to change the look of your gallery once in a while. Moving things around even once a year can revitalize not only your own interest in the gallery but your clientele’s as well. Clutter and disarray tend to turn customers away, so keep your gallery and sales area neat and tidy, even if the backroom is not. People will determine whether to do business with you within the first few seconds of entering your store. Make sure you put your best foot forward.
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind, and keep goals mobile.
At the onset of starting a business, my colleagues and I created a business plan. For the first few years, we looked at it and compared our projections to what we actually were producing. After the first couple years, we began to get out of the habit of looking at the numbers and setting new goals and achievement mile markers. To continue growing the business, it helps to have a goal in mind and some sort of way to check your progression. Reevaluate your goals, and set short-term achievements that will let you know you are on the right track. Like Will Rogers said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
Habit 3: Put first things first.
Why did you start your own business? If it was to make millions of dollars, then picture framing might not have been the best choice. For me, the business was a creative outlet that provides the freedoms that come with being your own boss. I take time off to be with my family and take vacations when I can. I like the ability to make the time for things that are significant to me. So, what is important to you? I might go out on a limb here and say that most of us probably didn’t start our own business to be a slave to the almighty dollar.
Habit 4: Think win-win. Consider principles of mutual benefit.
I try to curb codependent tendencies and charge enough to keep my lights on and stay in business. I try to price my products and services to where I can keep clients happy, pay the bills and make a little profit. If I didn’t charge enough for a product, then I obviously would have a little trouble paying the rent. The customer might be happy with the price, but I wouldn’t be in business the next time they needed framing done.
In contrast, if I drastically overcharge customers, then they might take their business elsewhere. Many years ago, we added a point-of-sale software program that in large part is the reason we are still in business today. That being said, you still need to consider the specific needs of your business (rent prices, available client base, etc.).
Pricing your products and services so you can stay in business, attract new clients and keep your current customer base happy creates a win-win situation for everyone.
Sometimes, it’s OK to give things away. For instance, a customer came in years ago looking for hangers for pictures. I handed the person a dozen or so of the giveaway hangers we staple to the wire. He asked me how much I wanted for them, and I told him to come see me when he had some framing to do. Five projects later from him, I think I recouped my cost for those few picture hangers I gave away.
Habit 5: Understand your business.
Understanding what my business is and what we do was one habit that was hard to comprehend at first. Over the years, I began to realize that we could not be everything to everybody. I discovered that we have limitations; there are projects we cannot do and others we simply don’t want to do. Having the confidence and conviction to be able to convey that to customers has helped tremendously.
For instance, we once tried staining and finishing our own mouldings. We found that this process was too messy and more time-consuming for us than the return we were getting. It is nice to know how to do it, and we might, on occasion, stain and finish a stick of raw moulding, but it is not a service that we typically provide. The lesson we learned: It is important to know your business.
Habit 6: Synergize: Cooperate creatively with your peers and community.
Think about co-op buying; there is power in numbers. Buying a box of matboards or foam-centered board and splitting them among your peers would reduce the cost of boards that you use all the time.
If you have the only large mounting press in town, let your peers know that they can come over and use the press for a nominal fee. Or, if you have the only computerized mat cutter in town, let the other frame shops know if they need a multi-opening mat, you would be happy to save them some time and cut it for them for only a token charge.
Become the go-to place for your community. There are all kinds of creative ways to do this. For instance, if there is an event or concert series that needs to sell tickets, offer your store as a temporary box office. It will draw people that might not have otherwise entered your store. Sometimes, these same organizations are looking for places to hold meetings. With a few chairs and maybe a table or two, your gallery could become a meeting place. Getting involved in your community is easy. Be careful not to go overboard, though. From chamber of commerce events to business networking groups and service organizations, you could be so busy networking and promoting your business that you find it hard to actually work the business. Moderation is key to cooperation.
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw.
Why sharpen the blade of a saw? They get dull, wear out and do not cut as well. The same thing can happen to business owners and their employees. Just as the task of keeping your tools in good working condition is a good one, so too is the practice of sharpening your own metal acuity. Knowledge is power. Attending classes and seminars and reading trade publications will refuel and revitalize your mind and attitude.
Do not limit your search for knowledge to just the picture-framing industry. With a little searching, you likely could find classes in business, advertising and human relations within your community or in a nearby city. Even taking classes in the other fields that are closely associated with framing, such as needlework, photography and scrapbooking, will give you a better understanding of how we can serve those clients, not to mention give you more business leads.
Michael “Doc” Derr, CPF, opened Frame-n-Art Gallery in Albuquerque, N.M., in 1994, and he’s won many awards for his creative framing. Also an industry educator, Derr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.