By Tara Crichton
I love when people stop to look in my store’s front window. The longer they stay, the happier I am. Even better is when they come into the store because they just had to see what else was inside. It means my window is doing its job.
Put Your Personality Up Front
My front window is the face of my business that customers see from the street. Once a customer comes inside, I am the face of my business. I’m lucky that people consider picture framing artsy, so I can be quirky in my personal appearance; it only adds to my credibility. In an art business such as picture framing, people will judge you by all the artistic choices they observe in your business decor, advertising, promotion and personal presentation.
This revelation shouldn’t surprise you. Hairdressers must have good hair; if they charge top dollar, they had better have great hair. Everything that customers sense when they enter your space paints a picture in their minds of who you are and what they can expect of your product. What does the art on display in your store have to say about you? Does it look as though you have only one or two frame mouldings to sell? Does it look as though you haven’t framed anything new since the ’90s? Does your space have a bad smell? Is your store dirty or messy? If a customer notices any or all of these things, your business won’t grow and be successful.
Good picture framing is by its nature expensive, and the environment for selling expensive things needs to be inspiring. The exact method of inspiration differs for everyone.
Create Intrigue with Eclectic Accents
My store is eclectic. I’ve branched out into various modes of artistic expression through sculptures, interesting home decor, vintage frames and salvage. For me, anything that’s beautiful and unique is fair game. Oddly enough, there is a strange continuity in the store’s decor, which was completely unintentional. It works for my location and for the customers I want to attract.
One of the most successful picture-framing businesses I know has achieved its success by cultivating its own unique clientele. The business has two small locations in affluent areas of Toronto. When I say small, I mean SMALL. One has dimensions of approximately 10 by 10 feet with basement space for assembly. The other location is twice that size and has a front gallery space. Both locations dedicate 90 percent of their wall space to frame samples. But you won’t find the same frame samples you see at every other frame shop. The business derives its success from being a maverick of the framing world. The owners frame big and spectacular. Its personal presentation and the framing that the business produces have a rock-star vibe, which would-be imitators cannot copy. Customers go to these shops when they have money to spend and they want a piece of that magic for themselves.
Look at your location and decide what kind of customers you want. You can’t have everyone. Give up on that idea right away. If you cheapen your materials and workmanship to appeal to bargain hunters, then bargain hunters will become your clientele. This business strategy works only if the quantity of resulting work is so great that you can still make a profit.
Curate Your Collection
An ambitious picture framer is a curator. You should carefully choose everything that goes into your framing to reflect your artistic sensibility and the quality end product you will produce. Do you really need 100 frames with a black finish? Do you have frames from various companies that are indistinguishable from each other? Choose which ones you actually want to sell and the profiles that will give you the greatest range of finished products.
I am the worst person to advise against frame-sample hording. When I was working as a showroom manager for a national frame importer, I had more than 900 frame samples to work with. Yet, I still missed some of my favorite mouldings from the competition. This mentality does me no favors. It just ends up muddying the waters for my customers and cutting into my bottom line. I have now streamlined my business model with the mouldings I’ve chosen to be my mainstays and the unique, exciting lines that spice up the presentation.
I’ve been disappointed with most of the new moulding lines that have come out lately. They are so depressingly “safe”—that is, boring. I can’t get excited about brown frames. Instead, frames that look like iron fencing, complete with nail heads; frames that have traditional distressed silver beads and wood that looks like tortoiseshell; and frames of stained woods in Japanese red and ebony get my creative juices flowing.
Mats are the exception to the minimalist rule. I find that I really do need every sample out there. The mat companies have stepped up their game by producing new lines that fully optimize and expand the borders of picture framing—pun intended. Some customers would choose heavy jute overlay on gold leaf, pebbles or genuine gold and silver leaf as mat options. Apparently, the sky is the limit. I won’t use these mats every day, but as a person who has mounted gift paper onto matboard sheets to get just the right look, I applaud the innovative vision that led to their creation.
Use Your Creativity
I promote the frames and the framing techniques that comprise my vision through the framed art I display on my walls. Whenever possible, I frame original art that I acquire from local artists, university and college art sales and auctions. I carefully select decorative prints, as well. I creatively frame these gems in the best, most creative way according to their medium. I have so many options: floater frames; shadowbox frames; and mats with spacers, fillets, antireflective glass and linen mats. I do not randomly assemble these pieces as examples of framing technique. Instead, I frame each piece for the art, but I can refer to it as an example if a customer asks. The goal is to educate through inspiration. Customers first see how compelling the framed art is, and then they ask how you accomplished it.
The business you currently run is the business you have chosen. Every choice you have made about location, decor and frame suppliers has come together to create the face of your business. Ask yourself whether the face of your business is the one you want to show the world. It is completely under your control. If you build a business that shows the best that the industry offers, you will attract the customers who appreciate that quality. The universe rewards enterprises that you execute with passion and with a drive for excellence.
Tara Crichton has worked in the framing industry for more than 24 years and is a graduate of University of Guelph with a double major in fine arts. She has worked in every aspect of the framing industry, including retail, wholesale distribution, OEM and art direction. She now owns and operates a gallery just north of Toronto.