If you’ve got a knack for craftsmanship and an eye for detail, starting a picture framing business might be right up your alley.
This kind of business offers the opportunity to work creatively and interact with various artists and photographers. Whether you plan to set up a small home-based business or a larger store, this guide will provide you with an overview of the business, steps to get started, and answers to common questions.
At its core, a picture framing business is about preserving and enhancing art, photos, memorabilia, and various other keepsakes. You’re providing a service that’s both functional and artistic. Your target customers could range from individual art collectors to corporate clients who want to decorate their office spaces. Revenue streams might include custom framing, ready-made frames, and even frame repairs or restorations.
The custom picture framing industry plays an important role in preserving cherished photos, artwork, memorabilia, and other prized possessions. According to market research, the retail custom framing market generates around $2 billion in annual revenue.
While dominated by small independent shops, the industry remains highly fragmented, with close to an estimated 5,000 picture framing businesses operating nationwide. The typical shop offers customized framing services, working with clients to select moulding, matting, and glass options to create one-of-a-kind framed pieces.
In recent years, the industry has faced competition from mass-produced ready-made frames sold at big box craft and home furnishing retailers. However, custom framing maintains consumer appeal for those seeking superior design and craftsmanship.
Trends shaping today’s custom framing industry include an emphasis on the design consultation experience, growth of computerized mat cutting systems, and shops expanding into related services like printing and photo restoration.
For entrepreneurs with artistic talent and customer service skills, a custom framing shop can provide a rewarding small business opportunity. Careful positioning as a skilled design expert helps independent framers compete with large retailers on quality, not price.
The target customer values quality, design aesthetic, and preserving meaningful items. Business comes from both individual retail clients and professional/trade accounts.
- Homeowners: Homeowners making decor upgrades or moving into a new home are a major customer group, as they often get artwork, photos, diplomas, etc., custom framed to adorn their walls.
- Art collectors: Serious art collectors invest in professional-grade custom framing to preserve and present fine art pieces. This includes painters and photographers framing their own work.
- Memorabilia owners: People with memorabilia like sports jerseys, concert posters, antiques, etc., commonly frame these items to preserve and display them.
- Photography enthusiasts: Photography buffs who want high-quality framing for their best prints and contest submissions.
- Gift givers: Those giving framed photos or artwork as gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays purchase custom framing.
- Designers/decorators: Interior designers source custom framing for clients to achieve specific decorative visions.
- Crafters and hobbyists: Crafters who make original artwork, shadowboxes, needlepoints, etc., to frame and sell.
Checklist To Start A Picture Framing Business
Starting a picture framing business can be an exciting venture for art and design enthusiasts. Yet, like any business, it comes with its fair share of challenges. This is where our checklist comes into play. From conducting thorough market research to business registration, securing funding, and more, our checklist aims to empower you with the knowledge and confidence you need to kickstart your business journey.
Step 1: Assess the Market
You wouldn’t want to dive headfirst into a pool without checking the depth, right? That’s basically what you’re doing if you skip market research. Knowing your market’s pulse helps you answer crucial questions. Is there an unmet demand for picture framing in your area? What’s the competition like? The info you gather helps you make informed decisions. You’ll know where to set up shop, how to price your services, and even how to market your business to attract customers.
Some low-cost ways to evaluate the market before committing to a framing shop include:
- Surveys: Leverage social media or online survey platforms to create surveys asking people what they look for in framing services. You could also include questions about how often they buy frames, how much they’re willing to spend, etc.
- Competitive analysis: Keep your friends close and your competitors closer. Check out other framing businesses in your desired area. What are they doing right? Where are they falling short? This can give you a good sense of what’s working and what gaps in the market you could fill.
- Local business directories: Websites like Yelp or Google My Business can give you an idea of the existing framing businesses in your area, along with customer reviews. Use this to gauge demand and see what people value in a framing service.
- Interviews: Get personal and talk to potential customers, maybe at local art shows or community events. This qualitative research can offer insights you won’t get from simple surveys.
- Social media monitoring: Use platforms like Facebook and Instagram to observe what people are saying about existing framing services or art exhibits. Are they complaining about prices, lack of options, or poor service? These are all gaps you could fill.
- Potential partners: Reach out to local interior designers to discuss volume and types of custom framing projects they source annually.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
It may sound like paperwork, but a business plan is actually the flesh and bones of your business idea. A business plan is not only a document that lenders expect to see if you are looking for funding, but the process also helps crystallize your vision and gives you a clear direction as you start your business.
While all of the sections are needed, there are a few that I recommend focusing on if funding is needed. These would include:
- Market analysis: After all the legwork you did researching the market, here’s where you lay out the data. Show that there’s a gap in the market that your picture framing business can fill. Why will you succeed where others haven’t? Maybe you’re sourcing unique, sustainable materials or offering a faster turnaround.
- Financial projections: Numbers talk, especially to lenders. Project your income and cash flow for the next three years. This should be as specific as possible.
- Marketing strategy: How will you attract and retain customers? Will you offer loyalty programs, seasonal discounts, or partnerships with local artists? Lenders want to see that you’ve got a game plan to bring in business.
- Management team: Lenders are interested in who’s running the business. Outline the experience, skills, and qualifications of your team. Show that the people behind the business have the knowledge and expertise to make it successful. For a picture framing business, this might include experience in the art industry, business management, or retail.
- Loan request and use of funds: Clearly specify how much money you’re asking for and how exactly you plan to use it. Whether it’s for procuring materials, leasing a location, or marketing, itemize these costs.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Secure Funding
Getting your hands on the cash to start your business is where the rubber meets the road. You’ve done your homework, you’ve got a plan, and now it’s time to fuel your venture. The process can be tough, especially for a niche business like picture framing, but let’s break it down.
The first pocket you’ll likely reach into is your own. The major upside? No loan payments to worry about. You’re not adding another bill to your monthly outflow, giving you a bit more breathing room to get your business off the ground.
But, if you need more than what is in your pocket, you will have to look for additional funding sources. A few of the more common ones for this type of small business include:
Friends and family: Your circle might be more willing to take a chance on you than traditional financial institutions. However, don’t let the familiarity trick you into informal arrangements. Always put terms in writing. Contracts preserve relationships, trust me.
Bank loans: Most lenders will want you to have skin in the game, typically requiring you to invest about 15%-25% of your personal funds. They’ll scrutinize your credit score and need collateral. If they feel the loan is too risky, they might still back you but under the umbrella of an SBA loan guarantee, making the deal a bit less risky for them.
Microloans: If your startup costs are on the lower side or if traditional lenders aren’t biting, consider a microloan. These are smaller loans often accompanied by business training — a nice twofer. Just know that the interest rates might be a bit steeper than traditional loans.
Angel investors: These are typically local folks who have a soft spot for the kind of business you’re running and the extra cash to back it. But keep in mind that angels usually want to see businesses with strong growth prospects. Picture framing is a specialized industry, so it might be a harder sell compared to something like tech. Investors, even angel ones, usually want to back businesses they think will scale quickly and offer hefty returns.
Step 4: Select your Location
Your first task is to identify a suitable location for your business. Careful thought and consideration should be given when looking for a location so that you reach your intended market. For example, if your shop specializes in museum-quality framing, you probably work with museums and art dealers and don’t need a storefront to attract customers. A 2nd-floor location should be suitable, and you will save considerably on rent.
For others, an ideal location could be in shopping centers, arts districts, or near home decor stores where potential customers are likely to frequent. Consider factors such as foot traffic, parking availability, and proximity to complementary businesses.
Another option is to operate out of your home, workshop, or garage, at least initially, in order to keep costs down and build clientele. It is a very viable option as costs are much lower. Working out of the home presents some limitations as the business is less visible.
Regardless of where you choose to set up shop, ensure that the place you’re considering meets all local building codes and zoning regulations. You don’t want any nasty surprises after doing so much work to get the doors open.
Step 5: Register the Business
So, you’ve got your idea, your plan, and maybe even some startup capital. Now you’ve got to make it official. I’m talking paperwork, forms, and, yes, more planning. But this time, it’s to get your picture framing business legally off the ground. Note that each state has its own set of rules and fees, so it’s important to check local regulations.
Business structure: First things first, you’ll need to decide what type of business structure best suits your picture framing company. Here are the four main types:
- Sole proprietorship: This is the most straightforward and cost-effective option, especially if you’re planning to run a small operation. It’s just you running the show. The downside? Your personal assets aren’t separate from your business ones, so if things go south, you’re personally on the hook.
- Partnership: If you’re teaming up with someone, a partnership could be a good fit. It allows for shared responsibility, but like a sole proprietorship, it doesn’t offer personal asset protection.
- Corporation: This is a more complex structure. It provides protection for your personal assets and allows you to sell shares to raise investment capital. However, it’s also costly to set up and has more administrative requirements.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC): This structure offers a mix of the simplicity of a sole proprietorship or partnership with the liability protection of a corporation.
LLCs are often favored in the framing business because they offer a good balance between liability protection and operational simplicity.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
ZenBusiness - Best for beginners. $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Northwest - Best privacy protection. $39 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
Related: Tips for naming a picture frame shop
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Obtain business licenses and permits: Depending on your location, there will likely be a variety of general licenses or permits needed before opening. This could include a business license, seller’s permit, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).
Related: What licenses do picture framing businesses need?
Step 6: Source Materials & Equipment
You’ve got your funding secured and your business registered, and now it’s time to start ordering materials and equipment.
Start with an inventory list that breaks down every material and piece of equipment you’ll need to operate. From framing materials like wood, metal, and glass, to specialized tools and machinery for cutting and assembling frames—you need to know it all. Research suppliers that specialize in the materials you’ll need.
Most inventory suppliers will not provide pricing or set up accounts until your business is registered and a location exists. Once you have these in place, you can negotiate terms with suppliers. These terms can include pricing, minimum order quantities, and delivery schedules.
Step 7: Hire Staff
Many framing shops start as sole operations, but if hiring employees is in your plan, you need to be aware of and cover the legal bases.
The requirements differ in each state, but in summary, before hiring employees, you will likely need to obtin an EIN, set up tax withholding records, verify employment eligibility, register with your state’s labor department, and get workers’ compensation insurance.
Related: Guide to hiring your first employee
Step 8: Create a Marketing Plan
You could be the Michelangelo of frame-making, but without solid marketing, they won’t sell themselves. Getting the word out about your business is how you turn your skills into sales.
The advertising strategy will depend on the customer you are trying to reach and the type of framing shop you have, i.e., storefront vs. non-storefront, mass-market vs. custom.
Creating a website is a common way to market a picture framing business. Building a website is easy these days with drag and drop templates offered by Shopify, Wix, or Squarespace, to name a few. A website can also be set up for online sales, potentially expanding your marketing reach outside of your local area. Once the website is up, if you have a physical storefront, claiming your business on relevant online business directories is important. For example, setting up a Google Business Profile can help your business appear in local search results and Google Maps. Other online directories relevant to the art and framing industry can also be beneficial. Then, leverage platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to showcase your work. These visual platforms can make your craftsmanship come alive to potential customers.
In addition to online channels, you may consider diving into the local scene as well. Sponsor an art event, host a frame-making workshop, or collaborate with local artists. Being active in your community builds brand awareness and creates a local customer base that no amount of online marketing can replicate. Also, networking with related businesses like interior designers and home stagers can be a powerful way to get in front of customers as well.
Step 9: Prepare to Open!
Alright, you’re almost at the finish line. Every business is going to have different needs, but there are still some loose ends to tie up before you can throw open the doors. A few of these may include
Business insurance: Don’t overlook this. Accidents happen, and an insurance policy could be the thing that saves your business. Look for insurance that covers property damage, general liability, and if you’re hiring, workers’ compensation.
Bookkeeping: Get this in place ASAP. You need to keep track of money coming in and out. Whether you use software like Wave Accounting (FREE) or Quickbooks, hire an accountant, or do it the old-fashioned way using pen and paper, make sure you have a system.
Contracts: Contracts with suppliers, landlords, and even employment contracts need to be ironed out. For example, you might need a consignment agreement if you’re partnering with artists to sell their work alongside your framing services.
Bank account: Open a separate account solely for business expenses. Mixing personal and business funds is a big no-no.
Management software: For this business, point-of-sale systems like FrameReady, Framiac, and Square. These tools can help streamline your operations, from inventory management to sales processing could be incredibly helpful for tracking sales, inventory, and customer data.
Setting pricing: This is crucial. You need to know the cost of materials, labor, and overhead to set a profitable yet competitive price.
Grand opening: Plan a grand opening event to attract potential customers. This could involve special promotions, local press coverage, or collaborations with nearby businesses.
Common Questions When Starting a Picture Framing Business
How much does it cost to start a picture framing business?
Starting a picture frame shop has low startup costs, low risk, and it’s easy to get started quickly. Many frame shops start because the owners were making frames as a hobby and had already purchased many of the tools, lowering their initial expenses. While you may already have many of these tools, they may not be up to the volume of work, so don’t be afraid to invest in better tools, especially if they are being used every day.
On average, to get started, you’re looking at an initial investment ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, depending on various factors like location, equipment, and scale of operation. Here’s a breakdown to give you an idea of where your money might go.
Location deposits: Depending on your area, you could be looking at a range from $1,500 to $5,000 per initial deposit. Some landlords may also require a security deposit as well.
Utilities: Initial setup for water, electricity, and internet could run you around $500.
Equipment and Supplies
Framing tools: Framing equipment like mat cutters, tables, tools, etc. ranges from $5,000-$20,000 for quality commercial grade.
Furniture and fixtures: Counters, shelves, and storage could set you back about $3,000.
Business registration: Filing fees for your business structure—be it a sole proprietorship, partnership, or LLC—can range from $50 to $800.
Licensing: Expect to spend around $200 to $400 on various local and state licenses.
Materials: Stocking up on frames, glass, and mats could cost you upwards of $5,000.
Initial marketing: Your launch campaign, which might include flyers, online ads, and possibly a launch event, could cost around $2,000.
Business insurance: For the initial year, you’re probably looking at a premium of around $600 to $1,200.
POS system: A point-of-sale system tailored for a picture framing business might cost you $1,000 to $2,000 upfront.
How profitable is a picture framing business?
Determining the profit potential for a picture framing business isn’t a one-size-fits-all equation, but there are some industry standards that can give you a ballpark figure.
According to industry data, a solo picture framing shop owner can generate around $200,000 in annual revenue on average, assuming they complete 10-15 custom framing jobs per week at an average price of $150-300 each. Cost of goods sold ranges from 40-60% for materials, so at 50% COGS, the gross margin is $100,000.
Estimating expenses like rent ($24,000 annually), payroll, licensing and insurance ($3,000), advertising ($4,800), equipment financing, and other supplies ($10,000), the total operating overhead is approximately $41,800 per year.
This translates to a pre-tax net profit of $58,200 annually for a solo framing shop owner working full-time hours with steady client traffic.
Please note that these are hypothetical calculations and actual profits can vary based on a range of factors. It’s also important to remember that these figures don’t take into account any taxes or unexpected expenses that might arise.
What skills are helpful for running a picture framing business?
Running a successful picture framing business requires a mix of technical, artistic, and business skills. Here are some key skills that can be helpful:
Framing skills: The most basic skill needed is the ability to frame pictures well. This involves understanding different types of frames, mat cutting, glass cutting, and how to assemble and secure everything together.
Artistic sense: Having a good eye for design is crucial in this business. You’ll need to advise customers on the best frames and mats to complement their artwork or photos.
Customer service: Customer service skills can’t be overlooked. You’re not just framing art; you’re helping people preserve memories or investments. Listening to your customers, understanding their needs, and guiding them in making choices can go a long way in building repeat business and garnering positive reviews.
Business skills: Project management skills will help you juggle multiple orders, keep track of inventory, and ensure that deadlines are met. Basic accounting and bookkeeping skills are also important, especially if you’re starting small without a dedicated financial team. You’ll be handling invoices, tracking expenses, and managing cash flow.
Technical knowledge: Understanding the tools and materials used in picture framing is important. This includes knowing how to handle different types of art and photos, as well as understanding how to use framing tools and equipment safely and effectively.
Attention to detail: Framing is a meticulous job that requires precision and attention to detail. A small mistake can ruin an artwork or photo, so it’s important to be careful and precise in your work.
Problem-solving skills: No matter how well you plan, you’re going to hit some bumps. Being able to adapt to changing situations, troubleshoot issues, and come up with solutions on the fly can be a big advantage.
So, while you do need to know your way around a miter saw and mat cutter, running a successful picture framing business is about juggling various roles that go beyond the workshop
What is the NAICS code for a picture framing business?
The NAICS code for a picture framing business is 321999, which is classified as All Other Miscellaneous Wood Product Manufacturing.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.