About this class

This is an online course suitable for beginner level framers, but may benefit everyone in the framing business, regardless of the level of experience. The course will focus on creating a successful framing business based on tips and tricks from the globally renowned framing expert James Miller.

Video transcript

This session describes and compares the popular types of suppliers for picture framing materials; discusses the process of selecting suppliers; and offers recommendations about how to build and maintain good business relationships with them.

Decades ago, before picture framing was a stand-alone industry, framers had to shape and finish their own mouldings, or purchase from cabinet makers or furniture builders, because large-scale manufacturing of picture frame moulding was unheard of.  Most other framing materials were made for other industries, and framers had to buy these products from specialty suppliers. For example, glass was purchased from suppliers of window glass and mirrors. Paperboards were purchased from suppliers of art materials, or perhaps from suppliers of packaging materials. Out of necessity, the framer’s selection of styles and colors was quite limited.

Today, framing businesses can use thousands of different product line-items, keeping relatively small quantities of some everyday items on hand, and purchasing many more items as they are needed.


Lengths of wood, plastic, and aluminum frame mouldings are mass-produced in thousands of profiles and finishes, often in large factories overseas.  Wholesale distributors purchase the mass-produced mouldings in shipping containers, thousands of meters at a time, and warehouse them for resale to framers. Ready-made frames are also mass-produced in foreign factories.  Some large distributors design their own mouldings and ready-made frames, and have them manufactured in the same overseas factories, but most of our suppliers do not own the factories producing these products.

There are some small manufacturers of custom-finished wood lengths, as well as makers of custom-fabricated open frames, made of welded steel and aluminum, not to mention closed-corner, gilded frames of wood. These small manufacturers may be local or regional and mainly serve the high end of the market, because their products are much more expensive than the typical frames cut from lengths of mass-produced moulding. 

The paperboards used for decorative matting and mounting are also mass-produced by matboard manufacturers. To my knowledge, none of them actually manufacture the paper products they use, but purchase their cover papers, core papers, and liner papers in huge rolls, from the same paper mills that manufacture many other types of papers. Then, the matboard manufacturers convert these papers into matboards. They laminate the paper layers together in specially-built machines, cut the boards to size, inspect them, package them, and ship them in truckloads to our distributors, who keep thousands of matboards in local or regional warehouses and sell them to framers, often just a few boards at a time.

Just as matboard manufacturers usually don’t make paper, manufacturers of framing glass usually don’t make glass. Rather, they purchase regular glass in large sizes and quantities from major manufacturers, then they convert the regular glass into several types of framing glass. They coat it, cut it, inspect it, package it, and ship it to our distributors. Just as they purchase matboards, the distributors purchase truckloads of glass and warehouse it for resale to framers in small quantities.

Most of the other products framers use, such as metal hardware, tapes, adhesives, and miscellaneous materials are manufactured in large factories, often in foreign countries, which serve many other industries in addition to picture framing.  And again, framing-industry distributors purchase in large quantities from the manufacturers or regional warehouses, and keep these items for resale to picture framers.

Regardless of their size, picture framing businesses are generally labor-intensive, with labor being the largest component of cost, followed by overhead and materials.  The wholesale distributors that supply our materials are capital-intensive businesses, because of their significant investment in inventory. Distributors provide time-and-place value. That is, their purpose is to have what we need, when we need it, and where we need it.  So, they buy in large quantities, invest in warehousing and material handling, and have them available for us. Many of our routine distributors re-package the products to suit our orders and then ship or deliver to our shops. 

As you can see, wholesale distributors provide invaluable services for their picture framing customers, most of which are very small businesses.  Without the tremendous variety of materials and timely deliveries from wholesale distributors, our picture framing businesses - indeed, our entire industry - would be very different. Can you imagine having to make most of your own primary framing materials for every custom framing job?


Since the picture framing industry is well-served by wholesale distributors, typical picture framing businesses may not have the opportunity – or the need – to purchase their primary materials from the actual manufacturers.  But that’s OK, because in most markets, especially metropolitan areas, picture framers can buy from several good distributors. Some of them may be dedicated to other industries, such as the sign-making distributors that supply our aluminum composite material, fluted polypropylene, and PVC boards in the colors and finishes we want. Or, we may need to purchase a custom-cut mirror from a local window glass supplier. 

Most of the materials that picture framers routinely need are available from dedicated picture framing distributors, and we may have several to choose from. So, how do we decide? The choice of suppliers is important, and probably affects the core of your business.  Here are some essential factors:

Product selection

It’s important to have dependable access to all of the products you are going to sell. There are two ways to approach this: Do you want to have the suppliers determine your selection of products, or have your selection of products determine your suppliers?  That is, you can establish relationships with your preferred suppliers, and then sell the products they offer. Or, you can first select your preferred products, and then find suitable suppliers. This process could go either way, depending on the circumstances in your market. You may not have easy choices.

Preferred suppliers and secondary suppliers

Buy mostly from your preferred suppliers, but try to avoid having only one supplier for your primary material items. In practice, this means buying from your selected secondary suppliers often enough to keep them satisfied with you as a customer. Occasionally, an overseas manufacturer could deliver late to your distributor, or an ocean shipment might be delayed by weather, or a particular supplier could be knocked out by a natural disaster, such as fire or flood. These things happen, and it’s best to have alternative sources lined up in advance.


Try to establish business relationships with suppliers that will enable you to buy most competitively.  Notice I didn’t say buy from the supplier who gives you the best discount, because it’s not that simple. Certainly, negotiating a better wholesale discount is desirable, but lower cost could come in several ways. For example, a particular supplier might allow you to buy small quantities without a small-order charge, and that could save significant cost over time, if you want to buy that way.  Or, if you could earn outstanding discounts when you buy larger quantities, and if you can afford to do it, that may be the best. Or, maybe the supplier would allow you longer payment terms, or lower delivery cost. Cost involves more than end-column pricing, so negotiate where you can.


Try to buy from suppliers who can get you what you need when you need it. If a particular supplier has a reputation for fast, dependable deliveries, that’s an advantage. If the supplier is near enough to deliver on their own trucks, rather than having to ship commercially, that’s also an advantage, even if there’s little or no difference in your final cost.

Payment terms

When your framing business is new, suppliers may require you to pay in advance or on delivery. However, look for opportunities to establish convenient payment terms. Perhaps some suppliers would allow 20 day, 30 days, or even 45 days for payment of invoices. On the plus side, some suppliers offer generous discounts for early payments, often called “cash discounts”, which can add up to significant savings over time. On the minus side, try to avoid having to pay small-order charges or special packaging charges. 

Ease of ordering

Suppliers may accept orders by letter-mail, or phone, or electronically by email or FAX, or on their website, and some suppliers accept orders in multiple ways. When selecting your suppliers, make sure that you will be able to place your orders conveniently.  Or, more to the point, avoid inconvenient ordering requirements. A long time ago, I purchased from a supplier that required orders to be entered with a written Purchase Order sent by letter-mail. That supplier was otherwise satisfactory, but lost favor with my business because ordering was just too slow and inconvenient. I wanted to place orders electronically, and you probably do, too.  

Another comment about placing orders: Always make a written record of your purchases. I recommend using a Purchase Order form of some kind and unless you’re placing your order by phone, transmit the written order to the supplier.  That way, there will be no misunderstandings about what you ordered.

Reputation and performance history

Some suppliers perform well, and some suppliers do not, and things can change over time. Monitor your suppliers all the time, and keep notes. If a particular supplier always delivers on-time, and almost never back-orders items you need, and properly packages the materials to prevent damage in transit, and consistently prices your orders correctly, and does everything you expect most of the time, then favor that supplier. On the other hand, if a particular supplier has chronic problems with delivery, or packaging, or pricing, or otherwise seems not to care about your business relationship, then perhaps you should minimize your business with that supplier.


Just as a framing business depends upon customers to place orders, the business also depends on suppliers to deliver the goods. Establishing good working relationships with suppliers is essential to the success of every framing business.  What can we do, as framing business operators, to establish and nurture good working relationships? Here are some suggestions:

Timely communications

Suppliers appreciate customers who communicate on a timely basis for everyday matters, so be considerate and allow ample time for your suppliers to process and deliver orders.  Certainly, a rush order may be necessary once in a while, but if this is common practice, it can cause a problem in the relationship. Waiting until the last minute makes extra work. If a problem arises, such as delivery of mistaken or damaged goods, or incorrect pricing on an invoice, contact the supplier immediately and initiate whatever action is necessary to remedy the situation. 

Respect the chain of command

Know the chain of command at your supplier and communicate with the person who can best deal with whatever needs to be accomplished. For example, if you want to negotiate a better discount, talk first to your sales representative.  Or, if there is a delivery error, the truck driver probably would not be the person to solve the problem. Instead, contact a sales representative or manager, who has the authority to take care of it. 

Place complete, accurate orders

When you place an order, make sure that the descriptions; such as dimensions of chops, quantities, and part numbers are correct.  If you enter a hand-written order by FAX or give it to a visiting sales representative, make sure it is clearly legible. Suppliers may have many orders to process, and if a particular order requires clarification, it may be shuffled to the bottom of the stack and the supplier may process others’ orders before stopping to call for further information.

Consolidate orders

Rather than placing small orders every day, consolidate your requirements and place larger orders, perhaps once or twice a week. Also, while it is important to have alternative sources for essential materials, it is also a good idea to buy as much as possible from your favorite suppliers. It may be tempting to spread your business around with small orders to multiple suppliers, but consolidating your needs and buying more from key suppliers could only help your business relationships with them.

Pay promptly

As explained earlier, framing distribution is a capital-intensive business.  Because of the significant investment required for a large warehouse and the inventory that fills it, cash flow is extremely important to our suppliers, so paying on time helps to build a strong business relationship. Suppliers appreciate customers who always pay promptly, and will often go out of their way to cooperate with them. Even a small-volume framing customer could earn better discounts if the payment history is good and the business relationship is strong. 

On the other hand, if a customer fails to pay on time – for whatever reason – it can ruin a supplier’s profitability.  The customer whose payments are often late gets smaller discounts and less cooperation. Don’t be that customer. Instead, be sure to pay your suppliers on time.

For credit-worthy customers, a supplier might allow 20 or 30 days for routine payments, and some offer an incentive for early payment, such as a 1% or 2% additional discount for payment on delivery or within 10 days, for example. Especially if there is an incentive, pay early and earn that benefit. Your supplier will love you for it.

Framing shops need good suppliers as well as good customers, so we need to take care of our suppliers as well as our customers.

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James Miller

ArtGlass Framer

James Miller is not only framer but educator on a global scale. Miller specialise in preservation framing, which means that both technique and materials are in huge importance. 
Also being an author of two successful books on professional framing, Miller is one of the most acknowledged framing specialist around the world. Now he has teamed up with GroGlass to provide an online course to invite framers aim for excellence. 

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