Business Overview

Everyone that buys a painting or has a nice photograph or a portrait made of their family may also need to have that work framed. Framing requires a specialized skill set that includes having craft-person talents, the ability to do simple carpentry, to know how to safely run a table saw, and have a good eye for pleasing aesthetic designs. You will need to understand color combinations and how to make a painting or a photo nicely framed to fit in well with the intended surroundings.

Who is this business right for?

People drawn to this business have a keen aesthetic eye for the details that make a framed item attractive. They also like to interface with the public and encourage their customers’ personal style and expression in how a customer wants something framed. A custom framing shop is all about serving others to help them make their decorative ideas come true.

What happens during a typical day at a picture framing business?

You will need to maintain a clean and attractive retail environment in order to attract customers. It should be well-lit and catch the eye when someone passes by the store. There is a huge amount of customer service in this business because the choices are based on the aesthetic tastes of the customers.

Your main job will be to guide your customers in their selections, which should be fun, yet requires considerable patience. You will spend most of the day working with potential customers to help them select how they want items to be framed. There are many choices and sometimes this feels overwhelming to the customers. It is your job to assure them that they are making good decorative choices.

Part of the time you will create the physical frames themselves, which is a skill set like a handy person in that you will need to be able to cut the wooden molding to the correct lengths and at the correct angles. Then, you sand the cut edges and put the pieces together with a nail gun. You will use wax of the correct color to fill the nail holes so they are not easily seen. The next step is to use a razor cutter table device to make the matting the correct size and then put it all together under glass or plexi-glass with the item displayed in a perfect manner. To finish the piece you will add a paper backing to the frame and brackets with a hanging wire in the correct position, so that the piece will hang properly.

This may sound easy to do from this simple description, but it does take a bit of practice to get good at doing this work.

What is the target market?

The best customers are the ones who come back repeatedly and those that refer their friends to your shop. They may be collectors with a big house or they may be interior designers with a huge list of clientele that need framed artwork. It is also possible to serve local galleries and museums for the art pieces that they need framed or reframed.

How does a picture framing business make money?

Like any retail shop, the minimum markup is between 30% to 40% over the wholesale costs of the materials and the labor used to make the custom framing. For specialized work, using rare and exotic woods, it is possible to charge a lot more. Many framing shops work on a one-time double cost, which means that the price of the custom work is twice the cost of the labor and materials.

The price you can charge depends on the clientele you serve. For those collectors with expensive paintings, they are quite comfortable paying many hundreds of dollars to frame a painting that cost them thousands of dollars.

What is the growth potential for a picture framing business?

As word gets out and your customer base expands, significant growth becomes possible within a single location. Employees can be added and your shop can be expanded. Online sales can also be a great way to generate additional income. There are franchises available so this business can go national. There are already some very successful national chains.

Getting Started

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful picture framing business?

You will need to have a love of the artwork or the photos you are framing and want to make them all to look the best you can make them look, with your framing efforts enhancing them.

What are the costs involved in opening a picture framing business?

It is important to have a very visible retail location and not be in a low-traffic area. This means you need to have a retail store on a street with high-traffic volume or in a place where there is significant foot traffic. This is expensive; however, without this ability for your store to be seen, your business will probably suffer.

Because your store needs to be very visible and easily accessible, the rent will be very high. Allocate a budget of $1 to $3 per square foot for each month’s rent. Typically a framing store is at least 2,000 square feet. This means monthly rent will be $2,000 to $9,000. In expensive areas, expect to pay twice this amount for your rent.

You need to have supplies as well. Because you can get supplies as needed about $10,000 is average amount needed for those things you want to put on display. Shelves will be needed to display smaller items for sale; however, most of the displayed items will be on the walls or shown on movable panels. Allocate about $25,000 for the fixtures and equipment needed to set up a basic framing store.

It is possible to start in this business with about $50,000 in many cities in America.

What are the steps to start a picture framing business?

Once you're ready to start your picture framing business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the initial costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2. Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your security guard company is sued.

STEP 3. Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

STEP 4. Open a business bank account

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 5. Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

STEP 7. Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8. Define your brand.

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

STEP 9. Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Growing Your Business

How to promote & market a picture framing business

Opening one store in one market and gaining a good reputation allows you to open another store in a market far enough away not to compete with yourself, but to repeat your success in a new area. It is a terrific idea to open a framing shop in an area with lots of new, expensive, custom house construction that is ongoing in order to serve the rich people who are moving into the new area.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

The best way to attract customers and retain them is to always do a good job, treat every customer with politeness, and give them expert advice. You can put a sticker on the back of any artwork you frame and hopefully the persons buying the artwork will see this on the back and ask you to do more work for them, when they have similar needs in the future. Advertise in the yellow pages and in online directories also.

How and when to build a team

You will need to start with at least one retail store clerk and one framing expert to do the back office shop work of framing, while the retail store is open. You can add more framers when there is sufficient demand for the framing work.

This is a small retail operation and the staffing is usually modest, except when there is a need to produce more framing orders that may suddenly come in. Creating this demand depends on your success in marketing your products to others and the number of daily visitors to your shop. You will build up a team faster if you also capture the attention and gain business from the local art galleries, museums, and clients of interior designers.

Legal Considerations

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

Maintain Personal Asset Protection

Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.

  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
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To learn more about maintaining your LLC's corporate veil, read our guide and protect your personal assets.

Certificate of Occupancy

Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a picture framing business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your picture framing business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Earning Potential

How much can you charge customers?

The cost to the customer is at least 30% to 40% markup from your wholesale cost for the materials and the labor used to complete the framing job. Many framing shops work on the basis of using 100% markup over costs. It all depends on the clientele.

What are the ongoing expenses for a picture framing business?

Your ongoing expenses will be rent and utilities as well as the cost for any marketing campaigns. Typical marketing campaigns are the home delivery of flyers that have a discount offer. These flyers are distributed door-to-door by hand to save on postage costs. They are put on the doors or under the doors in the areas with the finest houses in the town. It would be reasonable to budget $500 per month for this effort to get started, which includes the cost of printing the flyers and having them delivered to the houses by hand.

How much profit can a picture framing business make?

A typical retail store will have gross revenues of about $200,000 or more per year and the profits are around 15% for the owner, after paying all the expenses.

How can you make your business more profitable?

You can sell art and framed photographs as well as the framing services. Have artists do custom work on commission, hang artwork on the walls that are for sale on a consignment basis (you only pay for it, if it sells), and have the artists make in-store appearances to generate higher sales volumes. Work with interior designers and other local art galleries to expand your good reputation. Sell your products at wholesale for others to re-sell at retail. Market your products on the Internet.

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