Framing a Foundation in Business
A single picture is said to be worth a thousand words, but as art-involved endeavors go, Franchise Concepts, Inc. (FCI) is an enterprise that offers that many reasons – and more- to focus on the fundamentals that help frame it as a market masterpiece among franchises specializing in the retail of wall art, alluring accessories and custom framing services.
Picturing the Potential
In the United States, consumer demand for home-and-office décor is estimated to generate close to $30 billion per year. FCI has staked an enviable claim in both American and Canadian markets through the galvanization of three succinct store brands respectively recognized as Deck the Walls, The Great Frame Up and Framing & Art Centre.
Sharing some history, FCI Vice President of Franchise Development Dave Dahl explains that these brands, when they originally opened in the 1970s, all operated independently of one another. The Great Frame Up (the largest and oldest of the three) launched in 1971 and quickly garnered prestige as a leading American purveyor of professional framing services, so vital for the promotion and preservation of all manner of art, as well as any minutia of materials one might wish to highlight and hang-on-the-wall for display. In 1974, a similarly-focused franchise known as the Framing & Art Centre was founded in Canada. Generally situated among neighborhood shopping centers, the Framing & Art Centres likewise grew and are distinguished today as that nation’s largest and most recognized framing franchise, in fact, it is the only operation of its kind that has exclusive rights to offer travelers with Air Miles reward miles – picture that. Deck the Walls began in 1979. Like the other two, it became equally engaged and prospered as a provider of professional framing services, the sale of specialty prints as well as other forms of wall art, and accessory galore.
Dave Dahl actually owned several Deck the Walls franchises in the San Francisco area of California. His business was rolling right along until he experienced what may be the worst kind of shake-up any entrepreneur can ever endure – San Francisco’s infamous 1989 earthquake, a 7.1 magnitude event that resulted in more than 60 deaths and incalculable devastation to homes, businesses and municipal infrastructure. In the wake of that decimation, Dahl says he and wife ultimately determined to seek out other geographic alternatives thereby compelling him to sell his stores. He was subsequently approached by corporate principals who successfully persuaded him to assume a new role as regional manager. Several years later, in 1994, Deck the Walls elected to expand the company through an acquisition campaign which realized potential opportunities with The Great Frame Up and Canada’s Framing & Art Centre. With their professional passions and mutual interests so aligned, Dahl says the decision to marry the three all culminated from a logical proposal. FCI incorporated in 1996, and today facilitates the franchising of the store brands which are independently owned and operated, and continue to enjoy a reputation as an industry leader within their very specialized field. To that point, it is worthy to note that the hanging and displaying of art work is an art unto itself. The processes of these businesses are furthered by franchisees that are not simply complemented by art aficionados, but actual artisans who have been highly trained to honest-to-goodness know their craft. Furthermore, each continues to represent a one-stop-shop for sourcing the diverse, but quality materials and decorative delights capable of catering to even the most discriminating do-it-yourselfer.
Focusing on Franchisees
While competition from big-box-type stores does exist, Dahl affirms that FCI franchisees are posed with advantages that help their stores glean recognition as a stand-out from others.
The first of these advantages is found in FCI’s unwavering emphasis that franchisees adopt an awareness that they are much more than mere merchants … they are members of a community. “I think this is one thing that really sets us most apart,” says Dahl. “We encourage owners to be very involved in their local community.”
He says while “virtually everybody” participates in activities associated with respective community Chambers of Commerce and civic associations, franchisees also find special appeal participating in “Creative Self Expression,” The Great Frame Up’s national student art program.
This initiative routinely finds franchise owners collaborating with students and educators in art programs at area schools. Student efforts in oil, chalk, pencil and photographic mediums comprise juried art shows annually exhibited in each store. The program has been designed to encourage creative expression and instill budding artists with practical insight into professional applications relative to careers involving art. There’s another perk too. Finalists are selected from each community who then participate at a national stage that awards a trip to California for an equally encouraging encounter with Emmy Award-winning Actress and Artist Jane Seymour within her elegant estate nestled amidst California’s panoramic Pacific coast. Of course, for parents, there is a bigger deal in having their kids venture other places, like college. To this end, FCI awards scholarships enabling them to further their education in art. “Programs like this keep our people involved,” says Dahl, noting that in a number of cases, stores have been owned by multiple generations of the same family. In other instances, retail staff has gone on to own their own franchise. This kind of retention connotes to continuity of service and consistent familiarity with customers: an aspect often obscured at big-box stores where there is seemingly constant turn-over. “There’s a difference in the atmosphere,” notes Dahl.
While store owners focus on fulfilling their customers’ needs, FCI is steadfastly focusing on helping their franchisees. Describing their corporate culture, Dahl avows, “Our motto for years has been the success of franchisees is our highest priority… and we live by that.”
FCI engages a staff of less than two dozen whose primary purpose is to serve the franchise holders. This team offers everything from one-on-one mentoring that assists with merchandising or marketing needs, diversifying inventory, business logistics and more. Dahl says FCI has no products to sell, but plenty of services. This can include identifying market trends, insight on purchasing products for the best prices from the vast array of vendors which they have worked with, and all in terms both convenient and cost effective. Marketing and advertising support is complemented by FCI’s relationship with WebbMason, a company that has garnered national recognition for their expertise in developing innovative, interactive and integrated marketing solutions. New store owners are also immersed in training during a 10-day, hands-on, session conducted by Certified Master Picture Framer at FCI headquarters in St. Peters, Missouri. Following this training, Dahl says his team takes advantage of current computer technology to stay in constant communication with the franchisees.
Likewise, technology underlies much of the day-to-day processes within the store. There is computerized point-of-sale systems, digital catalogs of images, and on the custom framing side, stores are complemented with equipment that allows them to rapidly cut frames and matting to customer specification.
FCI also facilitates an Online, E-commerce tool called “Shopforart.com”. In this way, whatever image or art work consumers may wish to acquire, say, something they can’t find on display at their local store, it can be purchased online. These purchases are then shipped, not to the customer, but to the store closest to that customer. In turn, that branch is provided with the profit from the sale.
As economic changes have occurred nationally, Dahl says FCI has been particularly diligent in serving their franchisees, in some cases, going as far as helping to negotiate better leasing prices from commercial property landlords. They have also helped secure cost effective insurance rates or reduced fees for credit card processing.
“You don’t last 41 years if you’re not taking care of your franchisees… that simply has got to be our focus. It always has been and will continue to be,” says Dahl.
With the technology, training and ongoing mentoring, FCI enables almost anyone to get into the business. Dahl says he has seen franchises launched by everyone from nuclear physicists and plumbers to other professionals who retired from one career only to start another. Good communication and customer service skills are the key components, says Dahl. “We can teach everything else.”
FCI currently has more than 160 stores throughout the US and Canada, and Dahl says that number is expected to climb to 200 over the next few years. The company is constantly, but carefully, looking to connect with new franchisees and new opportunities, while adhering to proven formulas for success involving customer service, community involvement, incorporation of cutting-edge technology, quality inventory and quality operators for the franchises. This is the framework that helps FCI maintain a picture-perfect pose for further prosperity.