Why Conservation Framing Matters

Conservation is the key to the preservation of the framing industry

By Ken Baur

What are the reasons people have their special possessions custom-framed? Certainly framing allows these possessions to be enjoyed every day. Well-designed framing packages also enhance the art and contribute to the decor of homes and offices. Plus, the proper framing provides protection for valued possessions. 
      Two of these three reasons for custom framing are easy to see—the ability to display something and displaying it in a manner pleasing to the eye. The third benefit of the craft isn’t so obvious. Most clients can’t distinguish between conservation grade materials and materials that don’t protect their valuables. 
      Like most technology, advances in the conservation properties of the materials have happened quite recently. Most of the things framers can now provide clients were not available 15 years ago, and those from just five years ago aren’t as effective as they are now. This means there is a huge void between what most customers are aware of and what framing professionals can provide. 
      It’s a strange thing about voids in consumer knowledge. Although they really are opportunities, many framers view them instead as dilemmas—almost as hurdles to completing a sale. Consider, for example, the question “Should I or should I not offer Museum Glass®? It just might blow the sale if I offer it.”
      One of the most important parts of marketing is to identify and communicate the benefits you offer to clients. Most sales staff get confused at this point and talk about the features of products rather than benefits. For example, you might say you offer a specially coated glazing that keeps 99 percent of UV light rays from reaching the art. That’s a feature. What you really need to say is that you offer glass that provides maximum protection from fading while giving clients a crystal clear view of their art. Those are two huge benefits. 
      Benefits are something that every client should be made aware of. In fact, it is a framer’s obligation as a professional to inform and educate consumers about the benefits that are available. You could even say that withholding such information could be cheating your customers—at least of the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. Most would say it is unprofessional. 
      I’m going to take this notion one step further—withholding knowledge about conservation technology is going to kill the industry. You must offer the latest and best benefits to everyone you serve. Give them the knowledge; let them make the decision. In fact, if you start viewing your role as one of educator instead of salesperson, it will reduce the anxiety you feel about offering more costly benefits. You have a responsibility to communicate the benefits because customers are counting on you to provide them with the full story. Just tell them what they need to know. 
      From the consumer perspective, the reasons custom framers are in business are limited. At the same time, as technology grows, it allows less experienced and less educated framing businesses to enter the industry. They can now produce reasonably competitive product and will continue to evolve as they commoditize what framers do. The advantage they have is that they can offer better prices due to volume. The disadvantage they have is that they are expected to offer low pricing. This means that offering conservation materials and imparting choices with better benefits doesn’t completely fit their business model. 
      But there’s a problem. Custom framers aren’t capitalizing on this. Statistics show that sales of conservation grade glass are declining in independent frame shops! Framers are doing a worse job at presenting the benefits of technology than just two years ago, which is amazing when you think about it. Custom framers are killing their own industry by forfeiting one of the biggest advantages they have over the big boxes—their knowledge of the benefits of technology in the industry. 
      You may be thinking that the reason conservation materials have declined is the recession, just as every aspect of business is in decline. If so, then why are sales for non-conservation glazing materials not showing the same decline? Focus group studies have also shown that when clients are educated about the benefits of conservation grade glazing, they choose it over less costly glazing.
      If you believe these studies, then there is only one logical explanation—that custom framers as professionals are not giving their clients the knowledge they need to make the choice. In fact, framers are making the choice for customers by deciding that price is more important than protection! This is obviously wrong on many levels, but it seems to be occurring.
      Customers have never come to independent framers because they are seeking low prices. They have always come because of custom framers’ design capabilities and knowledge about proper treatment of their valuables. This is what custom framers do best, and it is why they exist in the market. If framers don’t continue to provide the things that customers come to them to get, they will no longer have a market share. Custom frame shops are no longer of benefit if their role is changed by assuming that the knowledge and service they offer doesn’t matter as much as the price. The long-term lesson is that you should go back to having fun by creating designs that are truly unique. Start sharing the benefits of advanced technology with every customer—they are counting on it. 
      Help stop the decline in use of preservation materials. Start a new commitment to educating clients about every benefit available to them, especially those that will protect valuables. It’s critical to the industry’s survival, and very possibly your own survival. It’s also the right thing to do.

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