Art Business Today Column
Wessex Pictures MD ASHLEY YOUNGER who has been working in the family business for 32 years, explains why he is still passionate about supplying the framing industry.
How’s business for your customers?
It’s hard, but framers who are offering something a little bit special are doing well. You’ve got to stand out from the crowd and be creative in thinking how to do so. Examples are offering specialist glass; colour matching handfinished frames to customers’ décor; making multiple mounts; lending pictures to customers over the weekend so they can decide whether to buy (and I’m told they nearly always do). These are all services that B&Q and Tesco will never offer.
What advice would you give a struggling framer?
Looking at your opening hours might be a good start. Nine to five might work for you, but would a couple of late nights be more convenient for customers? And Sunday is becoming the new Saturday, so perhaps you should shut on Monday instead? I would also point out that framers have to be creative about selling, as well as framing. You’ve got to make the experience of shopping with you enjoyable. People want to be looked after and flattered. If someone brings in three or four pictures for framing, why not offer them a cup of coffee? You’ve got to enjoy interacting with customers, to be genuinely interested in their artwork and their framing requirements. I’m very busy, but if a new customer walks into our showroom I go and speak to them in person. My passion for this industry rubs off on them. Really caring about your business and your customers is your best sales tool. I’d emphasise that you won’t sell what customers can’t see, so you’ve got to have lots of samples available, including on your walls and in your window. We have framed sports shirts, fans, shoes and thimbles in our showroom, so framers can see what they could be doing. If you offer handfinishing , make sure that there are samples on the wall demonstrating that you can match frames to any décor. I know a framer whose mountboard corner samples are all double and triple mounts. I also know a frameshop close to a big rugby ground, which didn’t have any framed rugby memorabilia on display; the moment the owner put a framed shirt in the window people started ordering. People are
unlikely to walk in and ask if you frame weddingsouvenirs, but if you put a frame in your window which includes an order ofservice, fabric swatch, box of matchesfrom the venue, champagne cork and sand from the beach, it might just give them the idea.
Is the industry contracting?
Not any more. There were more startups 20 years ago, but less retail shops are opening now across the retail gift and homewares sector. The last few years has seen a steady decline in the number of framers, as people retire and aren’t replaced, but this has levelled off. Framers operating at the bottom end of the price range gradually shut their doors as they couldn’t compete with the multiples.
What will the bespoke framing industry look like in another 32 years?
It’ll be strong. I don’t just mean the top end; lower middle range framers should be doing fine too. People will value service and unique products more than ever as the rest of the retail industry becomes more standardised across the world.
What are your plans for Wessex Pictures?
Our customers are business owners, so they care about the quality of service we offer, and we pride ourselves on our service. We are working with decision makers, which is much more satisfying than doing business with faceless corporations.
What would you like to change?
No tax for picture framers. Failing that, I’d like to see more people supporting Spring Fair International, both exhibitors and visitors. How are you going to see the latest trends and get new ideas if you don’t go to the show? There’s no effective alternative to interacting with a range of suppliers, and actually seeing and touching different products, all under the same roof at the same time. Catalogues, sales reps nor the internet can replicate this experience. Take specialist glass: lots of our customers are doing really well with this, and they all first saw it, and discussed its potential, at the exhibition.
I look forward to welcoming Art Business Today readers onto our stand,
C20/D19, in Hall 3 at Spring Fair
We will focus on increasing our share of UK wholesale business; we want to keep on growing and opening new branches. We are always on the lookout for new opportunities, including bringing new products to the marketplace. Maybe one of my four children (the eldest is 18) will have some ideas if they choose to come into the business. They do holiday jobs here already.
What do you like most about the business?