Reaching Outside Your Walls

Advice sure isn’t short these days on how to survive or grow business in a challenging economy. Seems like everyone has an opinion on what we could do better or differently to attract business. One common suggestion that makes me wince every time I read it is the suggestion of adding new lines of merchandise to your gallery. I say this because the reasons this is recommended are things like; taking advantage of the traffic in your shops, appealing to a market outside custom framing and becoming a more interesting place to shop.

As a former retailer who once carried over 200,000 SKUs and a half million dollars in inventory, I’d like to say it’s not that easy. Adding a line of merchandise is not a quick fix to growing profitable business. It requires a skill set and management tools that many custom framers have not studied. Knowing how and when to reorder to keep lines fresh and inviting is not easy. Knowing how to be aggressive in marking down slow selling items to keep things turning is an art. Developing marketing plans that support these investments is expensive and can be confusing to your client base. Making sizable investments in new items during times of tight cash flow could be a devastating mistake.

Grow your business by doing what you do best: PICTURE FRAMING!

Instead of expanding and investing your valuable time and money into an area that requires lots of practice and hard work to learn, why not expand what you know best? Why not invest in what you do instead of what you may not know enough about? I’m talking of course about custom framing. It seems much more likely that we’ll find success in doing more of what we know than something we haven’t spent years learning. The idea is to expand your custom framing market because you are already good at it- it’s what you do best.

This concept has one drawback. You will need to leave the 4 walls of your gallery to go out and find more business. It means you will no longer just wait for business to come through the doors, instead you will take custom framing to potential clients.

There are several ways of doing this. Each one however needs to be planned out and studied BEFORE leaving your 4 walls. By planning I mean conducting some research on good local opportunities for additional business, and then building a very simple plan to make it easy for this source to purchase custom framing from you.

For example, if you began asking some basic questions to your clients every time you entered them as a new customer, you can gain a world of insight into where to find more people just like them (people who shop with you). Ask things like what is their favorite restaurant, where do they shop, who is their favorite local photographer, what subdivision do they live in? With the answers to just these few questions recorded in a spreadsheet, you can begin to find opportunity to expand what you do best.

Let’s say a high percentage of your clients answered the restaurant question by naming an upscale little place in town. You could approach the owner of this business letting him know that you share the same clients and that they love his business. Volunteer to place creatively framed art in his restaurant. Commit to making it look really special. In return, ask him if you can place 3 x 5 signs below each piece listing what it is, how much it is AND that it is for sale immediately. Increase the chance of making sales by giving his wait staff a portion of every sale they make- you’ll be amazed how they will push the art. This can work very well. While people eat their favorite foods, have a couple of cocktails and admire your art in a setting they love, they will often add the art to their tab when they finish. Make it even easier for them by offering free delivery. This will allow you to sell large pieces without burdening the client or the restaurant. When you deliver the art to the client bring a packet of information about your gallery and get them to sign up for your email list. Don’t attempt to duplicate the program with another restaurant in the same town. Instead, travel to nearby towns and offer the same deal. Be sure to let them know how well it has been working in other locations.

reach outside your wals

Supply outside locations with an order form that will require the designers to correctly address all the necessary aspects of a basic sale.

Next, tabulate the responses on photographers your clients use. Instead of placing your art in the photographers studio, offer to frame several of his pieces of work. In return, ask if they would be interested in making some money framing their photography. Point out that your studies have shown that you already share many of the same clients. Offer to rebate 15% of every client he sends to you that frames.

Even better, create a simplified framing program that he can sell immediately to his clients. Pre frame several of his best selling sizes or package deals. Create special prices based on anticipated volume that will allow him to markup your framing and add it to his package pricing. This works great because his customers are sold framing while they are excited about the pictures. They never have to make a special trip to you and sales are immediate. Create invoice and order forms for the photographer so that ordering is standardized and easy and so he can charge himself every time he makes a sale. Make it possible for the sales form to be emailed to you as an order and an invoice so you can charge his credit card when he emails his order form. Offer to pick up his orders and return them framed as part of the service. You can also offer to do this service anonymously so that the photographer can introduce it as a new service to his clients.

That’s two ways to increase business by doing more of what you do best- custom framing. More aggressive methods include actually setting up a kiosk gallery inside large home décor galleries that sell unframed art. Offer to place a selection of frame corners and mat samples in an art adjacent to the art. Schedule a couple meetings with the gallery design consultants to instruct them how to measure, and select mats and frames for their art. It is NOT necessary to do a lot of training because you will keep the options very basic. The key is to again supply an easy to understand order form that will require them to correctly address all the necessary aspects of a basic sale (see order form sample). This form can be faxed or emailed to your gallery and you can then provide a quote for their client. Offer a 15% commission on all sales made in their gallery, and deliver the completed pieces to them. Be sure to supply a couple framed mirrors as samples. These kinds of outlets are a fantastic source for custom mirrors.

Finally, consider using the subdivision information you collected to offer seminars to homeowner association meetings. These are fantastic ways to reach potential clients who live in the same neighborhoods as a large number of your current clients. Because of this, you are probably going to hear some great testimonials during your presentations. Be sure to bring along some coupons for a small dollar amount off a frame, and lots of information for these potential clients to take home, A small gift with you logo on it is a great touch also.

Yes, it’s a challenging market. You need to do more than just wait for business to find you. Minimize the risks you take by expanding what you already do best. Find more ways to get framing customers. Doing so will expand your client base and make your company more dominant in your market- something that will pay huge dividends when the economy improves.

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