What’s selling coast to coast: from sports memorabilia in San Fran to conservation in Connecticut, here’s a slice of what customers are clamoring for across the country

What’s selling coast to coast: from sports memorabilia in San Fran to conservation in Connecticut, here’s a slice of what customers are clamoring for across the country

Carol King

Preserving memories has always been a strong selling point for the framing industry. That holds true today more than ever. As the prospect of war looms and acts of terror become more pronounced, fond memories of good times passed seem to have taken on a renewed preciousness.

In an informal sampling of framing trends, Framing Business News interviewed a handful of framers across the nation. For the most part, all reported that memorabilia framing–whether family photographs or baseball mitts and trophies–has taken a prominent place in their shops. People are framing personal items that hold great sentimental value.

Of course, marketplaces, just like frame shops and customers, differ. Although similarities were uncovered, no two stores were identical.

Frame shops are as diverse as the owners themselves and the people they serve. The stores mentioned in this article differed greatly. Locationwise, some are in villages, others are in metropolises. Their clientele is also varied–some serve retirees while others cater to Fortune 500 movers and shakers. Product offerings ranged from stocking rustic wood samples to manufacturing 23-karat ornate gold frames.

There is no singular definition of a frame shop customer. However, by providing a glimpse of what’s selling in individual marketplaces, FBN hopes to put the spotlight on new or potential trends that are coming down the pike and ignite ideas to expand current business offerings.

Observations from our seven interviewees follow:

Senior Clientele Has Eye for Quality in Arizona

The Frame & I, Prescott, Ariz. Ida Kendall, co-owner

Prescott, Ariz., is described as the state’s “best-preserved” town. It got its start with the discovery of gold and was the state capital until 1889, when Tucson (temporarily) was awarded the distinction.

Today, downtown Prescott’s motto is “History Lives On.” Visitors to the community, according to its Coalition for Tourism, “will find quaint boutiques, fantastic restaurants and an eclectic array of galleries featuring local, regional and national artists.”

Among those galleries is the 20-year-old shop, The Frame & I, owned by Ida Kendall and Kathleen G. Roeth. Customers of the facility are fans of original artwork and upscale prints, as well as collectible items, according to Kendall.

“Our area is comprised of many retirement-age individuals,” she said. “There is a dichotomy in that segment of the market; some are quite affluent while others live month to month. The working-age people in our area are quite often small business owners, real estate professionals, educators or investors.” On average, the shop’s customers spend about $100 to $150 per frame.

“Original artwork and photographs are prominently in the lead for framing requests,” she continued. “We also do quite a bit of object framing, including christening gowns, fireman’s hats, police memorabilia, baby shoes, locks of hair, you name it. Posters are always a staple framing item, but limited-edition offset lithograph prints are dropping way off. However, we are seeing many more giclee prints.”

Treatments are usually in single or double mats, she reported. “The matting is usually 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide,” she said. “Color is popular. We don’t see a lot of the white, black or cream boards that seem to be the design trend elsewhere. Additionally, we use a lot of fillets, both on the frames and on the mats.”

The shop also sees a trend in rustic frames. “The rustic frames are popular, and we are seeing an increase in requests for more variety in color. Gold and silver are always popular, with silver becoming more so every day. Our customers seem to like rare woods, like walnut burl, as well.”

Kendall observed that because of the current economy, customers are less likely to make impulse purchases. “Our clients are attracted to quality design but less willing to spend a lot if they don’t see the value in it,” she said. “To offset that, we are now working more with large companies, designers and art professionals than with individual walk-in customers.”

High End Doing Fine in Los Angeles

Jerry Solomon Enterprises, Los Angeles David Carroll, designer

Jerry Solomon Enterprises is a high-end shop that has gathered a team of top-notch professionals, reported David Carroll, a designer for the company. “On the premises, our staff includes design consultants, craftsmen, carvers, gilders, finishers, mat cutters and fitters,” he said.

“The bulk of our clients are collectors, museums, designers and hotels,” he explained. “Our moulding prices range from $15 a foot to $750 a foot. We recently put a $1,000 frame, purchased at Wiggins of London, on an original work of Picasso for a collector. We have very high-scale customers.”

What’s being framed? “I have not seen any real changes in the trends of the art we work with,” Carroll said. “We are framing works by Picasso and Jasper Johns for the museums. The hotel work seems to be more classic, less non-objective, more abstract. We are also seeing an increased use of carved and gilded frames.”

Ninety percent of the store’s offerings are gilded in 22 to 23 karats or 12-karat white gold, according to Carroll. “We are not seeing a lot of wood finishes,” he said. “We are seeing more opulent finishes. We do some wholesale and have noticed that the smaller shops also are interested in this type of quality.”

The company is housed in a large building that includes 20,000 square feet of showroom and 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space. “This enables us to handle any size of design project,” Carroll said.

About 25 percent of the store’s clientele is walk-in traffic, he noted. “Our walk-in customers are usually interested in conservation framing. We have always been strong advocates on that end. Conservation matting is key for us. Our mats are 100-percent ragboard; we try to avoid the colored buffered boards.”

The store, which has one location, has been in business for 25 years. “We get work from all over the world,” noted Carroll. “For the most part, it comes by word of mouth.”

According to its Web site, the company’s hospitality projects can be seen at Associa Tayahashi of Japan, The Four Seasons Resort and Club in Houston, Irving and Austin, Texas, as well as Scottsdale, Ariz., and Santa Barbara, Calif.; Lucayan Beach resort in the Philippines and MGM Grand Penthouse and Lounges in Las Vegas.

Sports and Leisure Sell in San Francisco

Fastframe, two locations in San Francisco Trent Woods, general manager

Sports-related framing is among the popular sellers for Trent Woods, general manager of two Fastframe locations in San Francisco.

“We see a lot of sports memorabilia, such as jerseys for the San Francisco Giants and items related to the San Francisco 49ers,” Woods said. “When Barry Bonds broke the home-run record, we framed tickets for people who were at the game. We also framed items that related to the opening of the Pacific Bell Park, which is the new home of the Giants.”

Annual sporting events also come into play. “We see a lot of flame jobs come out of the San Francisco Grand Prix race,” Woods added. “The 109-mile bicycle road race starts and finishes on the Embarcadero at the end of Market Street. Lance Armstrong and his U.S. Postal Team were the winners in 2002.”

Travel and leisure are also fuel for framing jobs, said Woods. “We see posters that people purchased on their vacations; but also, people tend to buy original artwork while they are on a trip. Recently, we have seen a rise in artwork from Bali as well as Tibetan-style artwork. The artwork is basically a thin fabric that is painted with idols and icons. We also cater to people who have traveled to Asia and India and bring in Buddhist-styles of work, which are similar to painted textiles.

“There is a moulding by Bay Moulding that is wooden and gold, which has a great pattern that emulates the patterns within these pieces. It works very well with the travel pieces,” he said. “We also sell a lot of fabric mats, which complement the Tibetan pieces. The fabric mats have the richest colors. They are very vibrant.”

He also sees a trend toward bold and rich colors. “When I first opened, the theme was more plain and traditional. Now, people are picking elaborate color schemes and ornate frames. People are moving away from basic black and going toward the greens and the purples.”

His shops additionally service corporate clients, including framing money certificates for the U.S. Mint and photographs of the Presidential cabinet for the Post Office.

His average order sways between $177 and $250. “A year ago, we made a little more, but we’ve been stable. Depending on what people are willing to spend, jobs can range from $56 to more than $1,000.”

He’s glad to be stable in a fluctuating market. “The market can be viewed as distressed,” he said. “When I first opened four years ago, there were frame shops on every corner here, just like a Starbucks. That is no longer the case.”

Conservation Framing Carries Weight in Connecticut

Noroton Gallery and Frame Studio LLC, Darien, Conn. Edie Werchadlo, frame shop manager

Memorabilia framing is among the offshoots of the Sept. 11 tragedies, noted Edie Werchadlo, flame shop manager of Noroton Gallery and Frame Studio, located in Darien about 45 miles outside of Manhattan.

“People are not buying much in the way of original artwork, but they are going for keepsake items and memorabilia. We are framing photographs and shadowboxing precious objects, such as christening gowns, athletic awards, trophies and the like.”

She observed that this buying pattern has lent itself to an increase in commissioned artwork “People who are spending money on original artworks are dictating what images they purchase,” she explained. “We see a lot more house, children’s and pet portraits. People are having portraits done of the people and things that mean the most to them.”

Treatments indicate that people value what they are framing. “Customers are going for the higher quality framing products, but they are using less of them,” she said. “We exclusively sell acid-free matting. People go for traditional. We see some French mats and quite a few double mat jobs. Also, we use fillets on the matting. People are enhancing their artwork, but making the job look natural, not flashy. On that note, natural woods and barn woods are making a comeback in this market.”

The sale of clear conservation glass is also on the upswing, according to Werchadlo. “Simply put, as people become more aware of the need to put sunblock on themselves, they also become more cognizant of the damage that sun can do to their works of art. The logic has translated.”

On the moulding front, she believes in offering an assortment of products from a variety of vendors. “We don’t limit the selection we offer. In fact, we have about 2,000 samples. But there are unique designs, such as those offered by LaMarche and Roma, which are high-quality items that tend to be copied by others,” she said. “Although there are faithful reproductions of these pieces, the quality of the craftsmanship is not the same.”

She describes her clientele as affluent, but “not filthy rich.” Here, the average frame job with matting costs between $150 and $350.

Custom Framing Brings Comfort in Indiana

Kelly’s Custom Frames Inc., Lafayette, Ind. Janie Peters, owner

Operating a framing business in a university town has provided a great deal of comfort to Janie Peters, owner of Kelly’s Custom Frames in Lafayette, Ind.

“We are blessed in our marketplace. Because of our proximity to Purdue University, I have not felt the crunch that everyone is talking about. I realize that framing is for disposable dollars, and I thought I’d be hit by the economy, but so far I have not. I think it might be because Lafayette is a professional city, and we have a lot of the university educators on our client list.”

In turn, her framing jobs offer comfort to her clients, who are framing sentimental items. “Memorabilia framing is extremely prominent with us,” she said. “We specialize in shadowboxes here. Whether it’s a keepsake item or a collage of photographs, we are seeing quite a few customers who are saving memories of their past and preserving what has sentimental value. I think, in part, that is reflective of a nesting instinct that has increased since the atrocities of Sept. 11.

Peters recently created a shadowbox for a gentleman who lost his son. The shadowbox incorporated a baseball mitt and trophies. “It was very touching,” she said. “I truly believe in the importance of having something on you wall that has a personal meaning–whether it is from your grandparents, a lost loved one or a vacation.”

The theory goes hand in hand with the store’s slogan: Anything is suitable for framing. “We see people framing family trees and photographs as well as old handkerchiefs and keys. I have gone through my own treasured belongings to create samples that inspire people or help them to get ideas of sentimental items of their own that they can frame,” said Peters.

Her average customer is 35 years old or older. Typically, jobs range between $100 to $125. In business on her own for about four years, Peters said she currently is seeing changes in her clients’ color preferences. “Chenille and fabric mats are increasing in popularity,” she said. “It’s fun, and it’s trendy. I am having fun with it. Larson-Juhl also has come out with trendy fun stuff, and Nurre Caxton has a traditional sleek line that works well for our clients. My mainstay clients are very traditional. Gemini Moulding is my bread-and-butter vendor.”

Business and Art Markets Merge in Atlanta

Atlanta Picture Framing & Gallery, Marietta, Ga. Ray Worden, owner

The Atlanta area boasts a thriving business marketplace as well as a very strong arts community. Combined, that can translate into sales, according to Ray Worden, who has owned Atlanta Picture Framing & Gallery, located in the suburb of Marietta, for 19 years.

Since the metro area of Atlanta is home to several Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola, UPS and Georgia-Pacific, Worden finds that members of his clientele are framing business awards and certificates, which document their corporate successes.

“For instance, I have clients who work at UPS,” he said. “Many of these people have gotten promoted or moved to various divisions of the company where they have completed specific training programs, which they like to have documented. These types of achievements lend themselves to custom framing the certificates and awards in a manner of showing all of the accomplishments at once.

“As an example, for one client, I framed all of his awards within a plate,” Worden said. “I am definitely seeing more people documenting their work experiences, creating a nice presentation of their corporate accomplishments.”

Framing jobs at Worden’s shop also are born of leisure activities. “I am seeing an increase in travel-related art that is being framed,” he said. “And, apparently, the trips being taken are somewhat exotic. People are remembering their trips by purchasing untraditional items. Recently, I framed an antique comb made of bone that was purchased in Ecuador. I also framed a spear from Africa.

Besides the objects d’art, Worden said people visiting other countries tend to purchase original works by local artists they come across and then bring them home to have them framed. “Some of the original art I see is contemporary, but most of it is traditional, including landscapes, florals and portraits,” he said. “Lately, too, I have been framing a great deal of original artwork created by children.”

The sale and framing of original paintings also seems to be selling more on the home front, Worden observed. “In my framing jobs, I have noticed that people are getting away from the limited-edition prints and purchasing more original works,” he said. “Also, original-looking pieces are attracting interest as well. Sales of giclees and realistic-style reproductions are definitely on the upswing.”

For the most part, wooden frames are most requested at Atlanta Picture Framing & Gallery. “We seem to do well with cherries, mahoganies and dark woods,” noted Worden. “My area is a little more traditional. People come to me because they are seeking a custom framer, and they are willing to pay for the work. On average, I estimate that my framing jobs range in price from $300 to $500.”

Houston Shows Bounce-Back Sales Despite Economic Hardships

Bradley’s Art & Frame, Houston Pat Bradley, vice president

Despite the economic hardships bought on from the demise of Enron and other high-rolling employers, Pat Bradley, vice president of Bradley’s Art & Frame, has faith in the Houston marketplace.

“We are still teaming with designers who are working on projects that began two years ago,” Bradley said. “The middle market seems to be staying fairly strong, which is surprising with the number of people who have been out of work. However, many have found new employment while others have taken on contract positions with the same firms that laid them off.”

Yet, she noted, “I’ve been in this business for 33 years. If I were just starting out here, I’d be scared to death!”

On an up note, Bradley said her holiday selling season was a healthy one. “We saw a great deal of people framing personal memorabilia,” she said. “We do shadowboxes and found that there is quite a demand for the framing of fabrics and textiles. We had 16 the other day.”

Among the items bought in were needle-points, a 48- by 60-inch swatch of mid-19th century embroidered Chinese silk, baby dresses and a Japanese kimono. “We seemed to get some unusual items, maybe more so than we usually get during the holidays,” she said.

However, she noted, the trend of framing fabrics is not new to her shop. “Embroidery is not new, but the volume is up compared to the last two years, for which we are eternally grateful.”

In the moulding arena, Bradley sees purchases leaning toward upscale products. “I don’t mean that people are going for ornate, that was a trend a few years back. But, people are going toward the French rustic, old-world, European looks,” she said. “We have a wall that features new mouldings, which we use to evaluate customer response. There are some new products that are really popular. Italian designs are selling off the wall, and burl wood sales are also very strong.”

During November, she reported, her average sale per customer stood at about $566. “Some of those were multiple items,” she said. “The other two people working in sales averaged between $320 and $325.”

Bradley also observed that print sales are on the decline. “We only have three or four limited editions here for framing, which is low for us,” she said. “Right now, we are not doing a lot of print ordering for people. My sense is that instead of ordering prints, people are having personal items–photographs, textiles and other mementos–framed. People can live without a limited edition; they can enjoy a reproduction. But, there are no substitutes for personal items in home decor.”

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