House Calls
to Build Better Clients

Many clients are looking for great in-home personal service that is based on providing your experience and taste in framing their artwork.

By Heidi Knodle

“…Step right up, step right up, bargains galore, one-tenth of a dollar, we got service after sales, three for a dollar, we got a year-end clearance, we got a white sale, act now, act now, and receive as our gift, our gift to you, they come in all colors, one size fits all, everything must go, going out of business, going out of business sale, fifty percent off original retail price, skip the middle man, don't settle for less. You can step right up, step right up….”

Tom Waits, Step Right Up

“Extend your shop hours, keep the neon ‘open’ sign on, have a sale, match anyone’s price.” Does that sound like a verse out of Tom Waits’ song? Well, not exactly. These are all things that I have heard from frame shop owners trying to create more business. Not to say that these don’t work for getting a new client into your shop, but my thought is that we could all learn a lesson from the doctors of yesteryear and make house calls to clients. They almost always pay off in the end. 
     Neiman Marcus has succeeded as a high-end department store by offering personal shopping services to clients who want an expert opinion on fashion. Personal shoppers help you choose clothing and accessories to best fit your lifestyle and shape. They have built a business geared toward personal service. This is what I built my business on when I opened the doors in 2004. 
     What I always heard from my clients is that, besides giving them a great design, I always provided them with great personal service. I found that clients were proud of their homes and wanted me to see them, not only to show me their art collections but also to see the interior design of their houses. By seeing these homes, I could understand their design sense and connect with the vision that they had for their lifestyles. I noticed that these clients took a lot of pride in showing me their homes and that they appreciated my advice on the design of the framing so that it would complement their interiors. By making house calls I provide a service similar to that of an interior designer or art consultant. The only difference is that my service focuses on framing.
     The first time I received a call to come to a client’s home to view a possible framing job was in 1996. Someone called the shop and asked if I would come to her home right away to look at framing 20 pieces of artwork. My employer at the time did not like me to leave the shop. He said that if I were out of the shop, I would not be making sales and bringing in money. So he forbade me to go on house calls. 
     Well, he wasn’t in on the day I received that call, so I went to see the potential client. I walked into the home and there before me were more than 250 pieces of artwork for framing! I was overwhelmed by the amount of art that was arranged on the music room floor. I looked over everything for the next few hours and told the client that I would be there in the morning with a crew to inventory the artwork and work out potential designs. I returned the next day to show the client a few samples and to catalog the artwork. She liked what I had recommended for the assortment of drawings and paintings and placed an order for almost $80,000 for the first batch of framing. Who said leaving the shop couldn’t be profitable?
     Before I knew it, I was being asked by designers to come to their clients’ homes for framing consultation. Every time I would go to a new client’s home, I would wind up coming back to the shop with several pieces for framing. And these were not just little frame jobs. They included master paintings and drawings of museum quality—all to be framed with the highest quality handmade frames available. 
     What I found was that these wealthy art patrons were willing to pay for an experienced framer to come to their homes and provide them with framing designs that would complement their collections and lifestyles. They did not want to take artwork off the walls and drive it to a shop and have the work designed there. They wanted someone else to do that. 
     When I make a house call to a client’s home today, I don’t bring samples to show. I have found that clients are buying my experience and taste in framing artwork for their homes. I educated myself on the different periods of interior design, antiques, and furnishings. Before arriving for the appointment, I also ask a potential client what the style the home and interior is and what artwork is to be framed. 
     When beginning work with a new client, I show a few samples of the period that would be appropriate for the artwork and discuss the different finishing options for the completed frame. I constantly educate clients about the various periods of frame styles and finishes as I show them each sample. By the time I have framed a few pieces for clients, they usually understand where I am going with a design and feel comfortable having me making the choices for framing in the future. I have a vision of how I want artwork displayed in a setting and discuss that with the client. Most of my on-site clients never know what a finished project will look like. Most just say, “You pick what is best; I trust you.” I have built a professional relationship with my clients and they trust my judgment to determine what is best for the artwork.
     The payoffs from this service are many. I spend less time working on a frame design, clients spend more on each frame since they feel they are getting better service, and you always walk out with a frame order. Usually a client will call for me to come and pick up artwork for framing and I return with more than I expected. Clients will ask for an opinion on whether something should be reframed, if it meets archival standards, or if the artwork needs restoration. The best payoff is that the client has your trust. They have invited you into their homes, and the relationship changes at that point. You are a consultant, not just a “picture framer.”
     For an initial consultation I charge $150 an hour including travel time door-to-door. If a client makes a large purchase, I do not charge for consultation time. But clients are charged for delivery and installation services. Collectors realize that your time, like theirs, is valuable. They are used to paying for delivery, installation, interior design, and art consultant fees. If a client has made a significant purchase and would like a discount, I offer to give “full service for the full price.” That mean design, delivery, and installation fees will be waived with full retail price on the framing. Clients are generally happy with this arrangement.
     When you begin providing house calls, clients who have used the service become comfortable with it and always want you to travel to their homes. They are paying more for great service and do not want to be told that you can’t do it.” 
     I’ve even had a client who was having more than $30,000 in framing done fly me in his private jet an hour away to install several of those paintings in his second home. The client was willing to pay whatever we wanted to charge for a full day for installation and provide my lodging. 
     My former employer who didn’t want me to leave the shop didn’t care that a client was willing to pay more than $1,000 for art installation services. The attitude of “if you’re not in the shop, you’re not making money” meant that I had to tell that client “no” and, instead, find another local frame shop to install the artwork. We never heard from that client again. The lesson is to get out of the shop. House calls pay off.

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