Custom Framing in a Price-Sensitive Economy

Selling a custom product is different than selling a commodity in any market condition. Because it’s a custom product, it takes far more ability to stimulate, excite and motivate clients to invest in something made just for them.

What custom product merchants are starting to forget as this difficult economic climate drags on is that it’s ALWAYS been more difficult to sell what we produce. It’s never been easy to find people who understand and appreciate the value of something created just for their piece of artwork. That’s because it doesn’t hold value for everyone. It never did. It never will. What we do only has value to those who recognize it. Everyone else believes that custom framing is too expensive for the value it provides. It’s that way with every custom item. Either you value it or you don’t. The bottom line is that you cant make a living selling something to someone who doesn’t value the item for the price it costs.

If creative design is de-emphasized and price is elevated to the most important aspect of custom framing, the industry will never return.

For that reason, the real danger of an ongoing slow economy is the tendency for custom product designers to stop creating stimulating and exciting product. Why? It’s the kiss of a slow death. It means that we are removing the most key ingredient in the value of our creations. In every survey I’ve ever seen about what influences the buying decisions of those who value custom framing, price was NEVER number one. I’m willing to bet the farm that it still isn’t. I bet the major factor involved in choosing and purchasing a custom framing product is the same as it was before the recession- the ability of the design to excite the client. People who still walk into our businesses already know it’s an expensive product. It was before the recession and it always will be- that’s because it’s a one-of-a –kind design made just for them, and therefore more costly than a commodity.

If we forget that, and go on assuming that those choosing to come in today have suddenly placed price as the most determining factor in selecting a design, we are sealing our fate. We will throw away the single most valued aspect of our business. We will stop giving those who value what we do a reason to value us. We will become more like a commodity. We will produce a product that so similar to what can be found at the big box that there is no longer a reason not to go to the big box. We will become ordinary instead of extraordinary. We will no longer hold value for those who truly want what we do.

We need to fix this quickly. We must stop acting like price is number one. It’s not and it cannot become so. Pretend the recession is over if you have to. Convince yourself that the person walking in to get a custom design is taking a break from the recession and is expecting the same value as they have always received. A value based on your talents a designer- not the most inexpensive item you can create. I know that the recession and the reduction is walk-in traffic is real. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t. There a plenty of people who are choosing to place their reduced expendable income in things they value more than custom framing right now. That is the bad news. We are not getting a chance to do business with them right now and that hurts business. But nothing hurts business more than taking value away from our most key clients- the ones who continue to spend disposable income with us today. As I talk to framers around the country they still tell me that they are closing on well over 90% of the sales opportunities they receive. Another indication that those who come into our shops intend on buying and want what we offer. If we are reducing prices or down selling to these clients, we are issuing a self-imposed hardship. Not only are we making the experience less exciting, but we are taking much needed income away from ourselves. Nothing will reduce your profitability faster than lowering your average ticket. Average ticket should always be viewed as a higher importance than closure rate. Get back to showing the best design for the art. Get back to giving clients a reason to value what you do.

Another important aspect of retaining value is to stay committed to preservation grade materials. Reducing prices by starting to use regular glass or paper mats takes the professionalism out of our industry. Stay committed to materials that will give your clients lasting protection and continue to use the qualities of these materials as selling points. I refuse to believe that any customer would choose paper mat or regular glass to save such a small amount. Don’t even give them a choice. Conservation is our responsibility and should be assumed as part of the design process.

One of the most difficult things to do during hard times is to live for the future. When business is tough, it’s hard to do the right things to ensure a successful tomorrow. It is vital however. If we de-emphasize creative design and elevate price to the most important aspect of custom framing our industry will never return. It will be gobbled up by those making it a commodity. Our hope is to continue providing the things our true clients want: unique designs, excellent service and preservation of their valuables. Committing ourselves to providing these will ensure our industry will continue to provide a value to those who have always supported it. Resist the temptation to make price more important than it is. Rededicate yourself to doing what you do best and we’ll be in good shape when the economy improves.

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