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Custom Framing Provides Profitable Niche


Wizard’s Integrated Framer Visualization Software allows customers to see what their photos will look like matted and framed within minutes.
Ocean Exposure’s Chris Smith cuts a mat on their Speed-Mat unit.
Jon Weiner installed the Wizard system in January and has been happy with the results.
Ben Ham, owner of Ben ham images, said that the framing business helps complement his photo business and the majestic masterpieces he shoots.
With ten different frame/mat combinations, available corner sets, and the inclusion of a three-tiered Elevations Mat, Framing Made Easy gives users a custom frame without the hassle of being custom.

As the photo retail market continues to grow more competitive, many savvy shops have chosen to diversify into new niche markets and take their businesses in different directions. Custom picture framing is one service that can easily be added to the photo retailer's mix of offerings since it is an ideal complement to the output and imaging services they already provide. Recent industry stats point to the fact that custom framing is a growing viable option.

According to a PMA study, 37% of U.S. households currently have a custom frame in their home. On average, these households have 6.5 framed items each. Based on a household population estimate of 113 million in 2005, there are 250 million custom frames in U.S. households! While these numbers are quite eye-opening, it is still just a niche market. In 2005, about 9.4% of households purchased a custom frame. Due to the expensive nature of custom framing, it is still a luxury item that not all households invest in at the moment.

According to the results, the most popular reason for using custom framing services is to preserve a cherished image or keepsake. This need was most likely to arise among older working or retired couples that own a home and have much higher-than-average incomes. PMA reports that another top reason for custom framing an item was for home décor.

The survey also pointed out that independent stores such as small camera retailers and minilabs can do well in the framing market. In 2005, slightly over one-third of custom frames were purchased at independent custom framing stores. Compared to other industries, this is a relatively large share of the market for the specialty channel to capture. This is likely because of the photographic expertise they possess and the kind that mass merchants are not able to provide.

Nicely Complements Existing Photofinishing Services

"Custom mat cutting and framing is an ideal service that allows camera stores and photofinishers to offer an additional service to entice their customers to come in to the store to do their printing rather than printing at home or at a drugstore," said Matt Boutet, GM at Speed-Mat, Inc.

Speed-Mat, Inc. has been supplying Esterly mat cutters to the industry for more than 33 years. Speed-Mat cutting systems are versatile and are designed for high-production factories, high-end museums, and independent photo locations. The Esterly mat cutters can be used for 2-ply thru 8-ply mat boards and have the versatility of being manually operated, semi-automated or fully automated and integrated with a personal computer.

"If a customer is having any sort of large print made, chances are they're planning on having it matted and framed-if they can get the printing and framing all done at the same location, you've just made their life a lot easier for them," added Boutet. "Our Speed-Mat cutter makes cutting larger quantities of standard mat sizes very easy, so it's possible to turn out a stack of mats suitable for 4x6 or 8x10 photos in a short period of time. Placed near the checkout in poly bags or shrink-wrap, these mats are an attractive option for consumers that didn't come into the shop with framing in mind. Another advantage of the Speed-Mat cutters is the space savings-with a traditional tabletop cutter, you need a large table to set up the cutter; the Speed-Mat mounts up on the wall, saving a lot of space in what is usually already a crowded shop."

One loyal Speed-Mat customer is Larry Smith, owner of Ocean Exposure, a camera/photofinishing/frame shop in Kennebunk, ME. They also have a second camera store location in the resort community of Ogunquit, ME.

"We first opened the Kennebunk location back in 1991 and then added a portrait studio to that location a few years after that," said Smith. "My son Chris became the portrait photographer, and as the studio business increased, we started hand-cutting mats for ready-made frames using Speed-Mat equipment. In time our portrait business really took off. Today we now have a 24x40-foot studio."

The camera store shoots a fair amount of commercial photography, as well as weddings and portraits. "The growth in our photography services in turn helped spur on our framing business," said the elder Smith. "In addition to framing those images, we also frame a lot of the fine art and various giclée prints we output. Over the years we have expanded our framing services to the point where we now have a large area in the back room where we design and produce custom framing. The Speed-Mat unit is a great little machine for a photo shop because it makes it very easy to cut ready-made mats."

Smith commented that he recently retired and his son Chris is now running the day-to-day operations. "When I retired, my son took over the business, and now my role is more of a consultant, but I still enjoy cutting mats in the shop when time permits," he pointed out.

Chris added, "Matting has been a nice profitable sideline for us. It helps supplement our framing business. We don't even need to promote the service. The Speed-Mat unit was a great investment for us."

Utter Wizardry

Another supplier helping to provide a retail solution in the framing marketplace is Wizard International. Wizard's premier product, the Computerized Mat Cutter (CMC), is a complete turnkey system for the retailer or lab owner.

"Photo labs and photo retailers can significantly increase their profits by offering custom framing in-house," said Brian Wolf, CPF, GCF, director, Standards & Training, at Wizard International. "By offering custom matting and framing services, they will no longer need to refer their customers to professional frame shops. Plus, the addition of custom framing components to any job will increase the overall ticket price."

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