These economic times are tough on everyone, including custom picture framers. To help framers deal with the current circumstances, many distributors are taking steps to help their customers cope with the challenges they are facing.
Education & Networking
One area distributors feel is important is education. Mark Butwinski, general manager at M&M Distributors, says that framers need to learn more about using higher end products, such as value-added glazing and matboard. Towards that end, M&M passes along information and savings through flyers and coupons to customers to reiterate what manufacturers are teaching. M&M is emphasizing the importance of educating the customer on higher-end products that will lead to more lucrative sales. Butwinski says, “If they are doing fewer pieces, then framers must increase their profit per job to cover overhead and earn a living.”
Southern Moulding & Supply Co.’s sales manager/new business development manager Tony Leonardo says his company sends “a lot of literature to framers, especially on hot items like digital printing and green mouldings and products, so they can educate their customers,” The brochures explain the products and how they are made and list the certifications.” Sales team members supply flyers and postcards designed so that the shop’s information can be added for marketing. Most often the frame shops create displays using POS items the reps provide. Sometimes the company assists with the brochure design or printing, but this a recent development in the wake of the economic situation.
Jim Miller, president of CMI Moulding, says mostly all of the sales reps have been picture framers so they know the industry as well as the challenges framers face. The “Sales Rep for a Day” program helps framers get started in networking with neighborhood businesses. CMI provides a sales rep to canvass the area and hand out flyers and give away 4”x5” framed mirrors. These tools help introduce framers to other businesses who may need framing services and to their clients.
CMI sales reps also help framers plan gallery openings and special events for additional neighborhood exposure. The reps also show shop owners and local PPFA chapters how to create Internet blogs if they don’t have a website.
Distributors must think of ways to help customers and at the same time continue to generate their own revenues. The bottom line is that framers are struggling in the current economy. And although distributors have to make ends meet, they are also concerned about their customers.
M&M is considering its customers’ financial concerns as much as possible and those expressing difficulty in meeting payments are given some leniency. However, Butwinski says, “This is extremely difficult as all of the manufacturers are pushing hard for 30 day payment from the distributor. This puts extreme hardship on the distributor as many times the invoice is due as we ship the items into the framer. We are, in fact, financing our customers in many cases.”
M&M is trying to limit its own spending. Butwinski explains that price increases across the board are a problem. However, M&M has been “proactive by promoting our new interactive website and printing less catalogs per printing so we may update pricing faster. This costs us extra for setup costs but we feel it is important to give the most accurate up-to-date product and pricing information possible.“
CMI promotes sales to the frame shops. Miller says, “We encourage our customers to run sales by offering discounts. A shop may offer 20 percent to 40 percent off to the public, and we will match that percentage on chops or length.” Michael McCleary, sales manager for CMI points out that frame shops decide on the discount because they know what their clients expect. The company helps framers create flyers and signs to promote these sales.
Making customer service a priority is essential for business. Offering different framing services can ease the transition for some frame shops that have been forced to cut staff.
Betty Lou Curalo, West Shore Distributors’ president, says the company is supplying framers with new programs started in the past year, such as “Just-In-Time” delivery and expanded framing services. “Since frame shops are cutting back on employees, and many are one or two person operations, they are not always able to respond to rush orders or large volume order opportunities, like corporate or hotel jobs, by themselves. We now provide quick turnaround—even same-day service—for a complete range of services as well as products.”
West Shore can also do part of a project for a framer, including chopping and joining frames, mat cutting, dry mounting, glass and acrylic cutting, or complete assembly. They also produce giclées on canvas and paper and offer services related to that, including from print-on-demand, to frame design, to custom framing, to shipping, and complete order fulfillment.
West Shore also hosts an annual Open House and Warehouse Sale in September that allows framers to purchase mouldings, glass, and supplies at deep discounts. Curalo notes that this year the event was expanded to five days. “Despite the current economic conditions, and actually because of them, we had record attendance. Taking advantage of these once-a-year bargain prices helped our customers to stretch their dollars when they need the most inventory to fuel their holiday sales.“ Per customer requests, West Shore is making plans to host a Mini Open House and educational classes.
Like West Shore, Southern now offers a full range of services for framers who may have been forced to decrease their staff. They stretch canvases, custom cut mat and foamboards, and do large chop and join commercial jobs. They also offer chopper blade sharpening offering free along with area pick up and delivery with orders. As of January 2006, Southern also began offering Photo-to-Canvas which allows frame shops to have customer photos printed on canvas.
At United Mfrs. Supplies, Tom Moscato, general manager, says the company has increased inventory levels and decreased its turnaround time for orders. Orders of more than $300 receive free shipping. United also sends out brochures for moulding, equipment, and supplies with every catalog.
Interesting new products can generate added sales. Leonardo says that Southern tries to offer creative products that help framers develop new profit areas and incrase sales by introducing the latest trends to their customers. For example, metal signature mats, engraved matboards, and environmentally conscious bamboo mouldings have seen positive results for framers.
Similarly, CMI created frames that match the Crescent-Brite cores and also imitation linen liners that are easy-to-cut, join, and clean. They also created Star mouldings to coincide with the recent election. The new initiative, "Support Your Local Artist" allows framers to give their rep a piece of art for framing to be displayed in a showroom for a couple of months along with literature about the artist. The framers get back the framed art for display in their shop to help generate more sales
Shipping & Delivery
Distributors are doing their best to accommodate economic challenges. For example, Southern offers its customers five-day-a-week delivery with receipt within three to four days. Delivery frequency has gone up because shops have no money to invest in inventory and are choosing to buy just what is necessary. Delivery minimums have not been increased and there is a flat shipping fee.
Southern is now offering incentive programs like “5 Chops Free UPS” to help curtail rising shipping costs. The company has also added deliveries to towns and cities that it did not service before. Added truck delivery routes have also been keeping costs down for some framers. To adjust to current buying patterns, as of July 2008, Southern created a new pricing program with much higher discounts—up to 50 percent at lesser volumes than before.
M&M now provides free truck delivery twice a week in most areas with a $100 minimum order. In some cases UPS freight is also offered free with a $100 minimum. West Shore and CMI do not have minimum order requirements. CMI is working with UPS and Federal Express to help minimize shipping costs.
Framers can reach companies 24/7 on user-friendly websites. M&M’s secure website (www.mmdistributors.com) offers specials and now enables customers to place orders. The latest addition to the site is the ability to order matboards from Bainbridge, Crescent, and Rising Rag Mats as well as variety of additional glazing products and supplies. There are also closeout specials and other offers that are different from those in the catalogs.
West Shore’s new website (www.westshoreframes.com) also provides customer access to ordering and product information using a password protected account. Customers can create a wish list, check prices, key in frame sizes to calculate prices, and place orders. The Outlet page has larger discounts on clearance items and special purchases. An E-newsletter also provides product reviews, event invitations, and special discounts.
At CMI’s website (www.cmimoulding.com) framers can now place online orders. The “Framed Ideas” section is a blog where sales reps offer framers marketing tips at the national level and also directed to their specific territories.
Southern’s website (www.southernmoulding.com) now allows framers with a business license to request special discounts and pricing.
United Mfrs. (www.unitedmfrs.com) recently updated its website to include more specials and discount offers.