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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.
An efficient framing shop accomplishes tasks with the least waste of time and effort, making the most of resources at hand. Whether your shop is large or small, its reputation, profitability, and future success depend on how well you deliver quality framing to your customers on time.
Every aspect of the business affects efficiency, from documentation to employee relations, but every business is unique. In this session we’ll examine documentation, processing of framing orders, ordering & allocating materials, production scheduling, and batching.
PROCESSING ORDERS: DOCUMENTATION
First, let’s look at documentation. Every framing order should start with a Work Order, created during the design conversation, showing the customer contact information and all details about the project. A good description and the value of the customer’s property should be included, as well as any necessary information about insurance and liability.
In addition, itemized pricing and a financial summary can be listed. On the subject of money matters, it's always a good idea to require a deposit when the order is placed, and 50% of the total price is generally recommended. This confirms the customer’s commitment to the project and, since the cost of framing materials usually is less than half of the total price, the deposit also improves efficiency by helping the cash flow of the business. These details should be included in the documentation for every order.
Using professional point-of-sale software is among the best ways to improve efficiency, because it provides so many benefits. First, the POS software keeps track of vendor updates, making it easy to keep their items and prices up-to-date. The software also keeps complete customer data and order histories, and makes it possible to review all sorts of reports about material usage, sales, and profitability.
In addition to all of these advantages, point-of-sale software can greatly improve the customer experience of framing design. During the design conversation, a bar-code scanner can instantaneously enter item numbers into a Work Order, making it easy for the framer to give comparative pricing information without having to go through the hassle of repeatedly looking up and calculating prices. And since the software is so fast and easy to use, the framer can spend more quality time talking with customers about features and benefits. For repeat customers, order histories can be very helpful.
When the framing order is placed, giving the customer a copy of the Work Order provides a written record of the framing design. This is important, because the design process usually involves discussion of alternative methods and materials, and sharing the Work Order avoids misunderstanding or confusion about the final choices.
Another copy of the same Work Order should go into the shop and follow the customer’s property throughout the production process, to document the flow of materials and to guide the framing work.
If the Work Order is hand-written, a third copy should be kept safe and separate, perhaps in the Accounting Office, just in case the Shop Copy is lost during processing of the order. Let’s call that a Control Copy. Or, if the Work Order is kept in a POS program, then it could be reproduced as needed. Daily backups of such essential computer data are recommended because, in the event of computer failure or loss, reconstructing the data without daily backups could be a huge task.
An invoice provides a record of the project’s financial details, especially the total amount of the order, the 50% deposit, and the remaining balance due. It can be part of the Work Order, or it may be a separate document, but in any case, the customer and the Accounting Department need to have this information.
Accounting software, which is separate from POS software, is essential for the efficient operation of every modern business. There are many programs available – pick one and use it well. Also, it’s a good idea to have a professional accountant review the business’s financial data periodically; quarterly reviews are generally recommended. A professional accountant can help with the complexities of tax reporting, as well.
PROCESSING FRAMING ORDERS
So, processing of a framing order starts with the design conversation, creation of a Work Order, collection of a deposit, and distribution of the paperwork for the customer, for the shop, and for accounting.
The next step is to put the customer’s property away until the work begins. The storage for incoming work could involve large drawers, covered boxes or shelves, or other provisions to keep the customer’s property clean, dry, safe, and secure.
Next, set up efficient processing of the order through all steps of production. In the back room, this can be done efficiently by using a Central Schedule Calendar to keep track of the framing work from start to finish. This calendar needs to be accessible to everyone in the shop, and updated frequently with hand-written notations, so it should be rather large, at least 24” x 36” (60 cm x 90 cm), and hang in an easily-accessible place. A glass surface is best, for convenient use with wet-erase markers. The Central Schedule Calendar is easy to maintain minute-by-minute as daily production goes on, and it shows all of the shop’s work at a glance.
As soon as an order is taken and the customer’s property is put away, write the customer’s name and Work Order number into the due date on the calendar. If a Work Order is for multiple frames, show the quantity in parentheses. As soon as the framing begins, mark the Work Order number with a dot on the calendar. As soon as the job is done, mark it with a checkmark.
This example of a Central Schedule Calendar shows all of the shop’s current framing orders in various stages of production. Notice that it is easy to see which jobs are underway, which ones are completed, and which ones have not yet been started. By keeping this calendar up-to-date, it is easy to see the current status of every order in the shop at any time.
Completed weeks are to be cleaned off of the calendar and renumbered in time to write in the following month’s jobs.
While the Central Schedule Calendar shows a running record of jobs in the shop, the Shop Copy of the Work Order provides a written record of progress on each job. Up to the moment production begins, all Work Orders reside on one of five clipboards hanging near the Central Schedule Calendar. Here’s how those Five Clipboards work:
The “New Jobs To Order” clipboard is where all new orders go to begin processing, as soon as the customer’s property is put away and the order is entered on the Central Schedule Calendar. At regular intervals – perhaps daily, depending on how often you place orders to suppliers, check stock for all of the framing materials on the incoming orders. For each component of the framing, the Work Order is noted to indicate “Stock” or “Order” in the margins. If the materials are all in stock, the Work Order goes straight to the “Jobs To Do” clipboard until production begins. If materials need to be ordered, then the Work Order goes to the “Open Purchase Orders” clipboard to await entry of the orders to vendors.
The “Open Purchase Orders” clipboard holds the open Purchase Orders to vendors, as well as the Work Orders requiring materials to be ordered. When the orders have been placed, the dates are noted on the Work Orders, which are then moved to the “Work Orders Waiting” clipboard.
The “Work Orders Waiting” clipboard holds the orders awaiting arrival of ordered materials. Or, if the processing of an order is delayed for any reason, this is the clipboard where it should be held.
When all of the materials have arrived and the project can proceed, the Work Order is held on the “Jobs To Do” clipboard until it's time to begin the actual framing. That is, when a framer is ready to start on a new job, he or she goes to this clipboard for the next order to build. So, the Work Orders on this clipboard should be kept in chronological order by due date.
Finally, the “Completed Jobs” clipboard holds the Work Orders for finished framing projects. When the framing is done, inspected, packaged, and the customer has been notified to pick up, the Work Order stays here until the customer picks up the framing. So, this clipboard may be kept in the gallery area near the completed work, where customers would come to pick up their framing. When customers forget to pick up their framing, this clipboard provides the information necessary for reminders.
Here is an example of a completed Work Order created from a POS program, showing the notations it has accumulated throughout processing of the order. These completed Work Orders should be filed alphabetically by customer name, for future reference. If you use POS software, it’s a good idea to revise any orders that might have been changed during processing. For example, if substitute materials were used or dimensions were corrected, that would be useful to know in case the customer comes back to duplicate the order in the future.
At the first opportunity after taking in a new framing order, check stock and allocate the on-hand materials. Doing this promptly allows the most time for consolidating material requirements and placing orders to suppliers, while still allowing sufficient time to receive the ordered items before they are needed.
Efficiency is greatly affected by the way all sorts of framing materials are purchased. For example, too much inventory adds cost, ties up cash, and requires added space. On the other hand, too little inventory of commonly-used items requires placing orders more frequently than necessary. Evaluating usage and adjusting inventory can be done manually, but a point-of-sale system enables the fastest, most convenient, and most accurate reporting of usage by line item, which can help to keep stock in balance. No matter how it's accomplished, keeping stock in balance is essential to keep the efficient frame shop.
Moulding is often the most costly component of the frame, and there are many moulding profiles for customers to choose from. In a typical frame shop, some profiles are used often, and others are seldom used. So, it's important to decide the best way to purchase each particular profile, based on its usage. Generally, we have three choices:
Purchasing in full lengths offers the lowest cost per-foot, but it requires handling and suitable storage space, plus the labor to cut and join the frames. Purchasing full boxes offers even greater savings in cost per-foot, but requires more storage space and the larger total investment could tie up cash flow. Also, since there will be some leftover moulding, waste is an issue. For framers who have the tools and expertise to cut and join, the cost savings can be significant, at least for their frequently-used moulding profiles.
Purchasing chops costs somewhat more than length, since the supplier cuts the miters. This purchase alternative requires less space and labor, and there’s no waste. For mouldings not often used, which might include the majority of profiles, purchasing chops may be the best choice, as the higher cost per-foot might be outweighed by the savings of labor and waste.
Purchasing joined frames is the highest-cost method of buying moulding, but this method eliminates the labor to cut and join, and again, there is no waste. Purchasing joined frames also eliminates the need for the tools to cut and join, and their maintenance, and the shop floor space they would occupy. Buying cut and joined frames may be the most efficient use of resources, especially for small shops that may lack the floor space or money to acquire all of the typical framing tools and equipment.
Quality is another factor that could influence the buying decision. If a particular supplier tends to cut sloppy miters, maybe it would be better to buy length and do the work yourself, rather than buying chops or joined frames from that supplier. Or, if a particular profile is too large for your equipment, or has a complicated shape, or very delicate decoration, it might be better to let the supplier deal with those complexities.
Other framing materials, such as matboards, glazing, mounting boards, adhesives, and hardware should also be purchased as efficiently as possible. For example, order early, rather than waiting until a few days before production. It is most efficient to have plenty of time to receive and check the materials coming in. Also, consolidate items and suppliers when it is practical. That is, ordering most of your materials from one or two suppliers, rather than placing smaller orders with several suppliers, probably would save time and money. When you can do this, there would be fewer Purchase Orders to handle and fewer invoices to process for payment. Small-order charges can be avoided and shipping cost can be reduced. Quantity discounts may be available with the larger orders, too.
While it may be most efficient to consolidate materials and buy from fewer suppliers, there is also merit to having multiple suppliers for essential items. Special short-term promotions or discounts, or temporary delays, such as stock shortages or an occasional closing for inventory or vacation could make an alternative supplier very useful.
As soon as materials are received, check them in and process the suppliers’ invoices for payment. When discounts are offered for early payment, earning them can add up to significant savings. In any case, avoid late payments, which could injure the business relationship. Suppliers always appreciate timely payments, and when unusual cooperation is needed, such as special discounts for a large order, or urgent delivery, suppliers are more likely to cooperate with their framing customers that have a history of paying promptly.
SCHEDULING FRAMING ASSEMBLY
The assembly of a frame can be done in many ways, depending on the layout of the shop and the staff available to do the work. In any case, there is merit to establishing and following a consistent process for routine orders, unless there is some reason to do otherwise. Here is a typical sequence of processing:
First, check to be sure that the correct materials are on hand and in good condition. Do this as soon as possible after taking in the order and after receiving ordered materials. So, if there are any problems, you may have time to reorder and receive the materials before they are needed for assembly of the framing.
Generally, it’s a good idea to assemble the framing package from the inside outward. That is, begin with mounting of the artwork, because this determines the dimensions for the outer frame parts. If dimensional calculations have to be changed for any reason, you’ll want to know about it before processing the other framing components.
Next, cut the mats and apply the decorative features, if any. Doing this work early in the assembly process allows time for applied paints & inks to dry thoroughly. Assemble the matting and mounted art.
After assembling the art and matting, cut the glass (or acrylic) and install spacers, if needed. This completes the “frame package” that will be inserted into the frame. Keep it clean and safe while you do the dirty work of cutting & joining the frame moulding.
Finally, place the frame package into the frame and complete the fitting and finishing, including labeling. The shop’s identification label is essential, but other information may be included on the back of the frame, as well. For example, if a special hanging system is installed, hanging instructions might be helpful to the customer. If the framing includes special features, such as preservation mounting or UV-filtering glass, a listing of those features on the back of the frame may be useful for making repairs or upgrades in the future.
Now, let’s talk about organizing production. For a small frame shop, where one or two people build only one or a few frames per day, the sequence of the production process may not make much difference. But for a busy frame shop, where several people are building a number of frames per day, the sequence of production may be very important to the efficiency of the shop. Look at it as a matter of choreography; making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time, and not interfering with one another.
In any case, production batching may improve efficiency of the shop. No matter how many framers are working together, batching makes the best use of time to setup and cleanup work stations. That is, if a framer has to build three frames on a given day, there would be benefits to doing all of the mounting in one stage, then cutting all of the matting, then cutting & joining all of the frames, and then doing all of the fitting & finishing.
Production batching works especially well in larger shops, where the work can be delegated to framers who are specially-trained in certain tasks. Production batching places each framer in a limited area of the shop, which minimizes distractions and time wasted in going from one task to another.
Production batching can have some disadvantages, too. Doing the same task repeatedly could become monotonous or boring. For framers who enjoy variety in their work, it may be better to build a frame from start to finish before moving on to other tasks. Sometimes the continuity of production batching can be inconvenient, if assembly needs to accommodate special features. For example, it may be best to assemble a frame of multiple elements stacked together, and then measure the depth of the frame before cutting spacers.
The point is, what works best in one production situation might not work best in another. The best course of action is to learn and try out the alternative production methods, then choose what works best for each project in your particular shop.
CONCLUSION As you can see, improving efficiency of a framing shop involves every aspect of the business. In our next video in this series, we’ll continue discussing topics regarding efficiency, like shop layout, equipment, maintenance & upkeep, personnel relations, and motivation of employees.
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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