Introduction to the selling specifics of framing, indicating the client and their demands. Sharing personal experiences about the first considerations in sales and customer service.
The retail custom framing industry was once populated only by local, independently-owned businesses operated by experienced framers with high levels of expertise in their craft, and professional customer service. A couple of decades ago, larger, multiple-location retail businesses entered the framing industry, and they have changed the nature of it. The framing industry is changing even more now, with the rise of online framing businesses.
What may be described as traditional custom framing remained relatively stable for a very long time. There have been advances in framing technology and consumer marketing all along, as the industry has grown and matured. However, the past few decades have brought tremendous change, and the industry continues to evolve at a fast pace.
Sales operations and market players
In traditional, retail custom picture framing at the local level, the sales process usually is personal, involving the framer as the seller and a consumer – or perhaps a couple – as the buyer. In the typical scenario, customers bring artworks or objects into their local gallery for framing. The gallery’s design showroom is set up with framed examples demonstrating the framers’ expertise, as well as samples of the frame mouldings, mats, and decorative features generally available.
The item to be framed is placed on a table for examination and measuring, and then a detailed conversation between the customer and framer determines the best framing design for the project at hand. Sometimes the design process is simple, involving only selection of a frame moulding for a canvas painting, for example. Or, if a grouping of three-dimensional objects is to be framed, a specific layout is arranged and the conversation focuses on how best to tell the story depicted in the framed presentation.
Based on the customer’s stated purposes, and preferences of color and style, the framer shows samples, recommends suitable framing features and explains their benefits. After the customer has selected the components and is satisfied with all elements of the framing design, the framer writes up the order to create a permanent record of the transaction, and usually collects a monetary deposit to continue the framing work.
The framer safely stores the customer’s property while the framing materials are gathered and prepared. The actual framing work takes place over a period of days or weeks, and then the framer gives notice that the framing is complete. The customer comes in to pick-up the finished framing and pays the balance due on the order. Or, sometimes the framer can deliver and hang the frame for the customer.
That’s the typical scenario for consumer custom framing in an independently-owned and operated neighborhood framing shop, which might also serve commercial customers, but commercial framing probably would be different. For example, an interior design company could contact the framer to request a proposal for framing some number of artworks for new commercial construction or for a remodeling project. In this case, the framer would create the framing design and deliver a formal proposal including a competitive price for the job. The commercial customer would review the proposals received from several framers and award the order to the framer deemed best for the project.
These scenarios are typical for traditional, independently-owned, brick-and-mortar framing businesses serving local or regional markets. In some places, especially metropolitan areas, large retail chains, such as craft stores, offer custom framing in some or all of their retail locations. To consumers, these retailers probably seem similar to the traditional, independently-owned custom framers, but there may be significant differences in their operations. The framing design may be done in the local store, but some or all of the actual framing work may be done in a remote shop location serving multiple retail outlets. In this case, the large retail company adapts the economies of scale to custom framing production, taking advantage of lower costs and profitability to offer lower retail prices. The local store may only be a convenient drop-off and pick-up point for the customer.
In recent years, the internet has brought a new type of player into the framing industry, offering custom framing online. Online framing businesses generally offer designs in relatively few standard packages, inviting customers to choose the main components using an attractively-designed, user-friendly ordering process on a website. Like the large retail chain stores offering custom framing, online framing companies take advantage of the economies of scale, doing the framing work in well-organized shops designed for high production – framing factories, really.
Of course they offer far fewer choices of color and style, but they make the buying process easy, and they sell for lower prices. Even including packing and shipping charges both ways, the consumer’s total cost for framing typical artwork may be lower than that of the small, neighborhood custom framer, and the large retail chain store, too.
It may be a sign of the times that many of today’s framing customers are attracted to the large chain stores and online framing operations, and don’t seem to miss the wide selection of framing components found in the small, independently-owned, neighborhood framing shop, or the professional design expertise, or the excellent workmanship, or the personal service. And it isn’t all about price.
My own framing business, started from scratch three decades ago, is a traditional, brick-and-mortar, small, independently-owned, local framing shop. In 1988, it was a very different business than it is today, but like so many experienced framers, I adapted to the changing market conditions. My business was sold a few years ago, but the new owner is still running it profitably.
Yes, the framing industry has changed a lot over the years and the evolution continues. Perhaps the majority of framing customers will embrace the newcomers to our industry. There will always be a place for small, independent framers, but we need to keep up with the latest in framing technology for the sake of efficiency, quality, and productivity. We also need to keep up with marketing and advertising, in order to attract customers into our businesses and help them appreciate what we can do for them.
In our “Sales and Customer Service” video series, we will share advice about promoting and selling custom framing, including preservation framing, and preparing the customer gallery and showroom. We’ll suggest innovative sales strategies to work with customers face-to-face at the framing design table. We’ll also talk about how to deal with objections and difficult customers, and offer ideas on how to improve sales.