Both our online and brick-and-mortar businesses bring us a steady flow of new and repeat Customer inquiries, questions, queries, sales, complaints and problems. No two Customer are like, and so are the challenges. For instance, we have been packing parcels in the same manner and method for years. And while one Customer will post us a glowing review for how we do it, yet another will complain that there’s too much packing. We do however have very good business reputation which, in great part, derives from our experience in the picture framing industry, around 50 years.
Being custom picture framers affords us an unique capability to service and satisfy pretty much all of the inquiries we receive. Some of the Customer calls we receive are memorable, and we jot them in a diary, as lessons to be remembered in Customer Service. Some of these are shown below ...
1) Online Order from a Customer at Patterson Lakes, Victoria. This Customer placed an online order for a football display case meant as birthday present for a family member. The Order came in to us in plenty of time for the local Melbourne Metro delivery and we dispatched it well before the deadline. The day before the important day the Customer rang us, she still hadn’t received the parcel!
We inquired with the Couriers, don’t worry, they said, it’s on board and due to be delivered that very day. Sure enough, the morning of the birthday came, and still no delivery. Not to worry, we were reassured, it’ll be done in the afternoon. Panicky Customer rang us again at 3 pm, where was her birthday present? This is when we decided to save the Customer, so to speak.
One of staff lives in a neighbouring suburb and was going home that way. Would she mind dropping of a football case to the Customer to save her day? No problem, she graciously agreed. And so we delivered the birthday present football case, just in time for the evening presentation. When the original parcel was delivered ( days later ) it was imply returned to us, the sender.
2) Unusual email inquiry from Dunkwa-On-Offin, Central region, Ghana. We received several emails from the principal of a fashion concern from far-away Ghana. The Ghanaian gentleman also opened an online account and requested our technical help and financial assistance. He propose that we provide all “support and counselling” (sic) as to how acquire all necessary equipment and materials to establish a picture framing moulding factory in Ghana.
He advised us that, though new to the picture framing business, he perceived great opportunities for both ourselves as sponsors and principals and suggested himself as “ Our Man in Ghana”. Would be interested in furthering his business proposal he asked? We found it necessary to regretfully and politely decline his business proposal for a number of reasons.
The first one is that we do not sell to or supply anyone outside of Australia or overseas, nor do we have any interest whatsoever in pursuing such sales. The second one is that we do not manufacture mouldings at all, and most Australian manufacturers have long ceased doing so because our local manufacturing costs are so high as to make production of this product economically uncompetitive.
A third one is that custom picture framing is a somewhat expensive field of human endeavour, largely peculiar to first-world, developed countries, and highly unlikely to fluorish or prosper in the proposed continent. And a fourth one is the patently obvious, commercial reason, no Australian bank, insurer or underwriter would loan to, insure, underwrite or stand behind any enterprise proposing such a perilous undertaking.
3) Telephone inquiries for wholesale pricing inquiry, cheaper prices and bulk order discounts. Our office receives many inquiries such requests every month. With regards to wholesaling, the answer is easy and simple, no, we do not wholesale. The main reason for this is simply that there just isn’t that much of a profit in selling picture frames, or photo frames.
Here ‘s a quick example. For example, take the average A4 Certificate Frame. For us, such a frame would land at about $1.65 and often we used to to retail it at $1.99 to match the larger department stores’ discounted prices. By any stretch of imagination, a $.34 gross profit x frame just isn’t enough for a decent retail margin, let alone wholesale. If we could sell say, 1 thousand frames each order, then, this gross profit would be fine, but , in reality, the average Australian online retail order is made up of an average of about 3 frames.
There are a couple of factors behind the cut-throat discounting of photo frames and picture frames. The first, is of course, the commodification of this once, hand-crafted, household furnishing by large department stores. Once commodified, it became intrinsically, commercially prostituted and sold for the lowest price to highest number of Customers.
And when a product is sold by the criteria, no-one can make much money out of it, except the larger discounting chains, as they are happy to keep selling something that keep selling, even if they make a few cents on each. The other, not so well known factor, is the cultural diversification of the picture framing wholesale industry.
As recently as 20, 30 years ago, it was largely English-speaking, Australian buyers, who travelled to Asian fairs and explosions to view new products, meet manufacturers and establish commercial relationships. They usually accomplished this with the aid and assistance of skilled Mandarin interpreters or with buyers’ agencies who provided such services.
However and since the mid 1990’s, the greater and increasing migration of Asian and Chinese nationals to Australia created a whole new class of native, Mandarin-speaking, budding entrepreneurs. They perceived new business opportunities, seized the initiative, and, with time, they supplanted the English-speaking Australian buyers in the importing and wholesale enterprises.
A drive around and about our local industrial precinct of Moorabbin will reveal that the majority of importers-wholesalers display both English and Mandarin signage attesting to this change. This diversification means that there are now many more smaller importers, retailing directly to the public, that there were once. This has generally meant increased wholesale competition, lower margins for wholesalers, and concomitant cheaper goods for retailers and thence, Customers.
A last observation on the topic of Customers asking for discounts is that these inquiries continued even during the COVID-19 commercial disruptions. In vain we tried to tell Customers that many picture frame factories in China were closed or working at greatly reduced capacity. Futilely we warned them that imports, supplies and shipments were down to a trickle and that demand was greatly exceeding supply.
Regrettably, even after explaining these issues, some Customers still aggressively pursued this approach and could not be reasoned with.
4) Online inquiry for low-priced, high-quality, mass-produced, imported photo frames. We fielded this particular inquiry early this year. The female inquirer, a small, upmarket, exclusive, boutique, artist’s studio in Sydney, provided exact and exacting picture frames specifications and requirements as follows:
a) The ready-made frames she sought were to be immaculate, free from the smallest of blemishes and with perfect, mitred corners.
b) The wood materials had to be certified environmentally-friendly, with carbon-neutral glass and of window-glazing quality.
c) The window mat had to be either conservation or museum quality, with each frame individually boxed for presentations.
d) The presentation box design was to have been customized to her styling and colours.
e) Delivery had to be made within 24 hours of ordering and immediate replacement was expected of any damaged or broken frame.
f) A wholesale credit account was required and extra discounts for bulk orders were sought.
g) On the plus side, the Customer expected but not guaranteed monthly order of about 18 to 24 frames.
h) Oh, by the by, did we perchance field a Sales Representative in Sydney that could come and show her some of our frame samples?
Ergo, and In case other Customers ask us the same questions, here are the answers to each of the queries we were posed.
Answer to a) This is simply not possible. The ready-made frames we import and sell are popular because these are excellent value for money, and not because these are perfectly made. While perfection in picture framing is achievable, it comes at far too high a cost to be commercially viable. Customers expect the average A2 Black poster frame to be worth around $15 to $20, not $200 each.
It is simply unrealistic to expect any importer to distribute photo frames or picture frames to the mass market of Australia Customers at a high price. The true criterion of successful distribution is value for money. Customer perceive this and, in the main, this is the principal and most important driver of sales.
Answer to b) To our knowledge, none of the manufacturers we have imported from adhere, adopt or advertise those standards. The most common moulding materials is Medium Density Fibreboard MDF which, while environmentally-friendly, Is not carbon neutral.
As for the glazing of the picture frames, it is never of the 3mm thickness used in window glazing because it’s simply not needed so thick and it’s never been made that way. Picture framing clear float glass is generally 1.5 to 1.8m thick and that is an acceptable thickness bearing in mind that photo frames and picture frames are indoor, not outdoor accessories, and not imperilled by the throwing or falling of stones, balls, hail and other hazards.
Answer to c) Again, we know of mass-produced or imported frames needing, requiring or featuring the conservation or museum quality standards. Most Customers are not aware of this but higher quality mat board or mount boards can be 10 or even 20 times the prices of production mat boards. While higher quality mats are desirable in picture framing, this can be an overpriced overkill when framing open edition, mechanical, commercial reproduction art of no intrinsic or commercial value.
The relative expense of acid-free framing compared to conservation or museum picture framing is details at “Picture Frames and Picture Framing Standards". To put this particular requirement in perspective, it’d be like someone ringing up car showrooms looking for a family car, only to be told that the only cars available are Lamborghinis or Maseratis.
Answer to d) We simply don’t know of anyone who brings in certificate frames or ready-made frames with presentation boxes. With certificate frames, all the companies we supply want the cheapest, especially when they buy in bulk, and a presentation box, which in most cases is discarded after opening it, just adds to the cost.
We have had some inquiries in the past for a few small runs and we quoted our Customers accordingly, but they never accepted the price quotations.In some cases, the presentation boxes ended up costing more than the frames, largely because the former were to be locally made and the frames imported. This is unsurprising give that we are one of the highest cost manufacturers in the world.
Answer to e) This delivery requirement is simply unrealistic give that the freight would have had to go to Perth and Brisbane, around 3,000 and 1,400 kilometres away. We consign freight to all of Australia’s top freight, transport and courier companies and none can or will meet those deadlines, it’s just not possible with standard or normal commercial freight schedules. As for the immediate replacement of any products lost or damaged, this policy is not included in our Terms and Conditions of Sale.
The reason for this is that replacements can and often do, get lost or damaged as well. When this happens the claim liability from a claimant customers still exists and has not been extinguished. The only way to extinguish a claim, is to make good the loss a Customer has suffered, and this can only be done by way of refund, which we promptly effect.
Answer to f) We just mightn’t be the right fit for the artist’s studio Customer as we sell by retail only and do not wholesale. As for a credit or a trading account, we sell primarily online, and in common with our industry’s practice, all orders are prepaid before shipping thus negating credit availability. With regard to any extra and additional discounts above and beyond those which we may have already listed online, we regret, we have none available.
Answer to g) While we appreciate and are grateful for all orders, small, medium or large, the prospective Customer’s estimated monthly ordering quantity would be deemed insufficient by most retailers to either warrant or justify discounts greater than those already offered. As to that old marketing chestnut of discounting to attract, foster and gain Customers’ loyalty, see eponymous post “The chimera of the loyalty of customers".
Answer to h) Retail sales of photo frames and picture frames are generally a low-profit enterprise. Profitability is unpredictable, sporadic and minimal and each frame may generate a profit of as little as 29 cents. With wafer-thin margins such as these, luxuries such as having a sales representative on the road costing onwards to $100,000 a year are both unaffordable and uneconomical. More to the point though, who would need a salesman-woman or a salesperson at all when buyers do is compare a seller’s products to the cheapest available online?
5) Contact page message wanting custom size, clip frames. A Brisbane Customer contacted us several times asking if we could make custom-made clip frames, or frameless frames, as a lot of people call them. Unfortunately, the short answer is no, because these would end up as being too expensive to sell, given our comparatively high local labour costs. Here, a casual reader here might observe, well, why not quote a price, and if the Customer accepts, make them!
The huge problem is here is public perception. For decades, clip frames were the sort of things people saw at the languishing in bottom shelves of 2-dollar shops, costing a couple of bucks, cheap as chips.
We always made clip frames, for years, and years, until about 20 years ago when the internet really took to the fore and people started to be more and more price conscious. It was around then that we began noticing that we were starting to get negative feedback about the pricing of custom clip frames, which had never happened before.
The general criticism ran something like this: “ I can buy these online for a few bucks, why do you want so much money to make me a couple ?” To be truthful, we didn’t know what to say when things like that were being said to us. The pricing had always been pretty much the same, and clip frames had to be slowly, custom built by hand.
Take a typical A3 clip frame as an example, there were 46 disparate manufacturing operations and processes involved in making one. For those not in the know, this is actually more operation than a custom picture frame, partly because of the need to drill all the holes for the Swiss Clips. And so the cost is what it is, if one wants to keep making clip frames in Australia.
But Customers voted with their wallets, so we stopped making them, began importing them from China and won’t go back to making them here again anytime soon.
6) Personal inquiry about buying ready-made frames for sporting memorabilia We actually have had this question put to us quite a few times from custom picture framing Customers who noticed that we also sell Shadow Boxes and Ready-Made picture frames. Frequently, this has happened when Customers have collected a completed custom picture frame and mentioned that they also have some sport memorabilia needing to frame.
These items usually comprise of a football jumper , a scarf, photos, medals, ribbons, pins badges, event tickets, and sometimes, more. More of often than now, however, Customers discuss and speculate with us on the likely expense of this specialized framing which can often be in the hundreds of dollars.
At the mention of the high expense of memorabilia framing, quite a few Customers ask us if our pre-made, ready-made frames would suit their memorabilia. And this is where it gets a little tricky.
Theoretically, memorabilia could be framed in these frames, but who would do it? We wouldn’t do it, because as professional picture framers, we couldn’t guarantee any framing work with frames which we have not built. In addition, how could we charge the required profit to stay in the picture framing business if we started using ready-made frames for custom framing? It couldn’t be done!
It’d be akin to you going to a restaurant with your own Aldi-bought pasta and asking them to use it for your marinara so as to save on your bill. The other difficult aspect with this proposition is that memorabilia usually requires conservation or museum-standard framing using high quality materials which are just not available with off-the-shelf frames.
Yet another difficulty is that sports memorabilia invariably requires object-mounting and this is very difficult, if not impossible to properly and professionally achieve using mass-produced frames. And this is why whenever we are asked this particular question, we reply that we wouldn’t recommend doing it, but if Customers wants to try, it’s their frame!