It’s been 8 years. It feels much like dog years. Small businesses that actually succeed after year 1 are rare…but to make it year number 8 feels like a huge accomplishment. Of course, it hasn’t been without struggle, fears, and a whole lot of self-doubt. Let’s throw in a worldwide pandemic to top it off. But, one thing that keeps driving the bus are my customers. They have no idea the role they’ve played in my business.
If you’ve been around, you know the journey, and you’ve probably been a huge part of the journey without even realizing it.
The Beginning of Framed!
Framed started 8 years ago. I was at my parent’s house for the weekend with my 5 & 7 year-olds. If I could just make it to their house, I knew I could get a break from most of my Mom duties. Grandma steps in, and it’s like I don’t exist. I kind of love it. It allowed me to really think about big picture things in my life. I mean, you aren’t fixing snacks and cleaning up after your kids all day, you have an opportunity to dream.
I’d been working at a local art studio for a year now. I was teaching painting classes 3 nights a week, running the studio’s daily operations, and managing most of the social media. I loved it. I loved it SO much!
I had stepped away from my Fortune 500 company a year before, completely terrified of making this art thing work, but things were going great. Over the last year, I taught classes on canvas. These classes were packed every night, and the ladies had so much fun.
"Why is your business called Framed?"
My art was getting better, and I wanted to frame some of my pieces. We had weird canvas sizes at the studio, and anything you wanted to frame, you had to have it custom done. Even the most boring, common frame was a minimum of $80 to frame. That seemed crazy to me.
In my true DIY nature, I found a way around it. I had a woodworker I knew make me some basic frames the size I needed. I painted them to coordinate with my paintings and hung them up. I was so proud of them. Then, of course, I shared them on social media….isn’t this how all businesses get started?!?
The interest in my frames blew up. I made them for my friends and family that had been coming to my classes, but now other people wanted them, people I didn’t know.
So here I am, back at my parents’ house, thinking of a way I could offer my frames to the students from my classes. It was genius. I already had the perfect audience…I saw them every night! With a lot of encouragement from my parents, I went home and started my business. Now you know why it’s called Framed!
As my frames were selling like crazy, people started asking for other things. Pretty quickly, I became someone’s personal Pinterest board maker. Anything they could find a picture of, I could make it for them, and I loved it. Things at the studio started changing, and my little side hustle of a business needed more time from me. 2 years in, I made the decision to go all-in with my own business and leave my steady paycheck behind.
I opened my first location. A little storefront no bigger than 600 square feet. My customers were able to pick up their items, shop for custom gifts, and I no longer had to clean up my workstation every time we had dinner!
10 months in, I had my first Christmas season and quickly became the go-to place for custom gifts. I had so many people shopping at once, there was literally a line to get into the building. I knew I had outgrown this little space, and it was time to make big plans for the future.
The second location was born. I was able to have so much more inventory.
I started personalizing items I didn’t make. This was the bottleneck of my business. If I handmade every single thing, I couldn’t keep up, and my shelves were bare.
People started bringing me things from other stores to personalize. While I loved that, I knew there was an opportunity to carry other items. This would give me a way to serve more people with the custom gifts without having to hand-make everything.
I joined forces with another local small business to open my second location. This was a 4000 square foot store that would hold both our businesses and several other small shops. We dreamt of having the gift store of the town…the place you could find all kinds of unique items for yourself or anyone on your list.
We carefully selected vendors that provided different items, but all complemented each other. I also got the studio of my dreams with this new location. I started teaching in my own space, brought hundreds of people a week into our shop to have a night out and enjoy themselves. I absolutely loved it!
It was becoming the go-to place to buy personalized items. It kept me busy during the day, and at night I was teaching. I was exhausted but happy. But, there was this thing gnawing at me all the time. I wanted to start a subscription box with personalized items.
I would dream about it constantly and, in the same dream, talk myself out of it. It’s too hard, nobody would want that, I’m too small.
It was still in the back of my mind. I would see the “regulars” come in. I could usually count on them to come in about once a month. They would pick up stuff for themselves and for gifts. I was constantly getting this comment. “I saw you had new X on Facebook, but now you are sold out. I missed it.” The more I heard that the more I wanted to do something about it.
What if I could create a subscription box for my regulars that was new and exclusive items so they could feel like a VIP??
The Framed Monogram Box was born, and they LOVED it!!
It was growing so fast and taking over my studio. Boxes everywhere, products everywhere, and I was slowly cutting back my paint nights. My kids were getting older, and I was working so many nights. I was missing sports, events, and all kinds of things. I needed a change.
I was a few years in with hundreds of subscribers, paint night dwindled down to 2 nights a month, and I was in the planning stages for the next 6 boxes. I sent a survey out to my subscribers and asked them what their favorite item from the past year was and what they wanted more of? It was an overwhelming response. 85% of them said, we want more t-shirts.
The Framed T-Shirt Club was born, we launched with over 300 subscribers, and we’ve added thousands since.
I get to use my creative side to design t-shirts and curate boxes and was able to eliminate all my nights schlepping paint around. It was hard to let go. I loved the paint nights, but I also loved being home every night with my family and not miss my kids activities anymore. Business was changing, and I had to change with it!
The subscriptions were growing. It was amazing to see what an online presence I was building. I had subscribers in 47 of the 50 states. I knew I needed to grow my online shop as well.
It was hard. Splitting inventory with the store, people asking if something they saw in the store was available online. I felt like I was letting down this audience I had built across the country. I felt torn.
I had this amazing group of local customers. If I didn’t have the items in the physical store and only online, would they still shop with me?? In rolls 2020….you can pretty much write the story from there. I was forced to close my retail location for more than 45 days. This was it….this moment was either going to make or break me.
As we locked the doors, I took pictures of every single item I had in the shop and went home to add it to my online shop. That’s where the magic happened. I had more sales over the next 60 days than I could have possibly imagined. This is what my audience wanted.
They wanted to be able to shop all my things online anytime. I had created convenience for them. There was no longer the stress of what I would keep for the online shop and the physical shop. I could put it all online all the time.
In 2020, subscriptions were at an all-time high, online sales had blown past anything we would have expected, and I knew what I needed to do next. I needed more space.
Box fulfillment and packing became harder and harder out of my studio. Deliveries had nowhere to go. I had no room to store the online inventory. We were so unproductive, we spent half our day shifting products from one side of the room to the other, depending on what we were working on. We needed a larger workspace.
The Framed Warehouse
Onto our third location, the Framed Warehouse. 7000 square feet of open space. We’d been working out of less than 1000 square feet (my studio).
This felt like a dream.
We instantly became more efficient. Orders were going out faster than ever, the box packing days were so smooth, and all we could do is wonder why we waited so long for a bigger space. The truth is, it is a hard decision to let go of our second location.
As sales grew online, it just makes sense to focus on the 90% of the business instead of the 10%.
Change is inevitable in business, but listening to what your customers want and telling you about their buying habits is the only way small businesses will thrive. I am so grateful for this journey. From the kitchen table to the warehouse, each chapter of the Framed book is so significant. I wouldn’t change a thing.
I get the question all the time, why is your business called Framed? You don’t sell frames….oh, but I did. I still have some of those frames I made 8 years ago hanging on my wall today. Every time I look at them, I am reminded of how this thing started and the incredible journey.
I am so glad you are a part of this journey. Whether you’ve been here since the beginning or somewhere along the way. Thank you. Thank you for supporting my small business and letting me be a part of your life.
💕 Sarah and the entire Framed! crew