11 Years and Counting – My Framed! Journey

4 Women in custom designed graphic tees standing in front of a building with large window

 Learn about the journey I’ve been on with my business over these last 11 years. 

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It’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years! Somehow, it feels like I can’t possibly have had this business for so long and that I’ve had it forever at the same time. Small businesses that survive their first year are rare…but to make it more than a decade feels like a huge accomplishment. 

Of course, it hasn’t been without struggles, fears, ups and downs, and a whole lot of self-doubt. But through it all have been my customers. They probably don’t realize they’re the real stars in the story of my business. 

I’m taking you along on my walk down memory lane as I reflect on all that has gone into this 11 year (and counting) journey! 

The Beginning of Framed!

The idea for Framed came to me during a weekend visit to my parents’ house. I knew I’d have time and space to do some big-picture thinking that weekend. After all, when Grandma was around, it was like I didn’t exist! 

At that time, I had been working at a local art studio for about a year after several years in the corporate world. I taught painting classes 3 nights a week, ran the studio’s daily operations, and managed most of the social media. I loved it SO much! 

The Story Behind the Name “Framed!”

As my art got better and better, I wanted to frame some pieces. The canvases we had at the studio were not standard sizes which meant custom framing. I was surprised to discover framing one piece of art – with a frame that was nothing special – cost at least $80! That seemed crazy to me. 

A dedicated DIY-er, I found a way around expensive custom frames. A woodworker I knew made me some basic frames in the size I needed. I painted them to coordinate with my paintings and hung them up. I was so proud of them. 

Of course, I shared pictures of my framed art on social media. You can probably guess what happened next. 

The interest in my frames blew up. I’d made them for my friends and family, but now other people wanted them, people I didn’t know.

I decided to offer my frames to the students from my classes. They were my perfect audience – and I saw them every night. That was the start of my business… and the reason it’s called Framed! 

My frames sold like crazy and soon people started asking me for other things. I became something of a personal Pinterest board. Customers would bring me pictures of something they wanted and I would make it for them. 

Framed 1st location

My little side hustle of a business continued to grow and need more time from me. Two years in, I made the decision to leave my steady paycheck behind to go all-in with Framed! 

My first location was a little storefront no bigger than 600 square feet. It was just big enough for my customers to pick up their items and shop for custom gifts. Best of all, I no longer had to clean up my workstation every time we had dinner!

That first Christmas season established my shop as the go-to place for custom gifts. I had so many people shopping at once there was a line to get into the building. I realized I had outgrown this little space, and it was time to make big plans for the future.

Bigger Spaces and the First Framed! Monogram Box

I joined forces with another local small business to open my second location. The 4000 square foot space housed both of our businesses as well as several other small shops. Our goal was to become the gift store of the town…the place to find all kinds of unique items for yourself or anyone on your list.

This new space also gave me the studio of my dreams. I started teaching in my own space, bringing hundreds of people a week into our shop to have a night out and enjoy themselves. I absolutely loved it!

Framed quickly became the go-to place to buy personalized items. It kept me busy during the day, and at night I taught painting classes. I was exhausted but happy. Still, I wanted to do more. I wanted to start a subscription box with personalized items.

I dreamed about starting a subscription box, but talked myself out of it for a long time. I told myself it was too hard, nobody would want it, and my business was too small. Self-doubt was loud and I listened to it. 

What finally quieted that self-doubt? My customers. 

Those “regulars” who came in at least once a month to shop for themselves and to buy gifts. Many of them would tell me, “I saw you had a new item on Facebook, but now you are sold out. I missed it.” I hated disappointing my most loyal customers and I wanted to do something about it.

What if I could create a subscription box for my regulars that was filled with new and exclusive items so they felt like VIPs?

The Framed Monogram Box™ was born, and my customers – now subscribers – LOVED it!!

More T-Shirts, Please! 

My subscription box grew quickly. So quickly that it soon took over my studio with stacks of boxes and products. I slowly cut back my paint nights. My business needed more of me and so did my family. As my kids got older, teaching evening paint classes meant missing sports, events, and all kinds of things in their lives. 

A couple years into my subscription box, I surveyed my subscribers, asking them what their favorite item from the past year was and what they wanted more of.  They were clear about what they wanted! 85% of them said they wanted more t-shirts.

The Framed T-Shirt Club was born. We launched with over 300 subscribers, and we’ve added thousands since.

Designing t-shirts and curating boxes was the perfect outlet for my creative side. And the recurring income from those subscriptions meant I could stop teaching. I loved the paint nights, but I also loved being home every night with my family and not missing my kids activities anymore. 

Growing My Online Shop  

My subscriptions continued to grow. I had subscribers in 47 of the 50 states. Growing my subscription business far beyond my Texas town showed me I needed to grow my online shop as well. People would ask if items they saw in the store were available online. I felt like I was letting down this audience I had built across the country. 

Balancing my local and online customers was a challenge. Could I go fully online? Should I? I had an amazing group of local customers and wondered if they would still shop with me if I didn’t have physical items in my store. 

Sarah Williams in a maroon fall t-shirt and cream cardigan standing next to a mannequin clothed in a tan so very thankful tee and blue cardigan in a boutique

Soon after, 2020 rolled in. I was forced to close my retail location for more than 45 days. I knew that time could make or break my business.

As we locked the doors, I took pictures of every item I had in the shop, went home, and added them to my online shop. What happened next seemed like magic. I had more sales over the next 60 days than I could have possibly imagined. 

My audience 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 more and more challenging. Deliveries had nowhere to go. I had no room to store the online inventory. My team and I 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

I found the perfect location. 7000 square feet of open space that became the Framed Warehouse. 

It felt like a dream. 

Changing Seasons - Closing The Loft Marketplace

We’d been working out of less than 1000 square feet. The luxury of all this space meant we instantly became more efficient. Orders went out faster than ever and the box packing days were so much smoother. We wondered why we’d waited so long to move to a bigger space. 

The truth is, it was hard to let go of that second location. So much growth happened there – in the business and in me as a business owner! As sales grew online, it made sense to focus on the 90% of the business instead of the 10%.

We’ve now been in the Warehouse for more than three years. I laugh when I remember how big those 7000 square feet felt. Three years later, we’ve filled nearly every inch of the space with new equipment, palettes of product, shelving, desks and more. This space is such a gift. It allows us to grow and expand. 

Our new space also allows us to maintain the work/life/mom balance my team and I need. Instead of the long hours a physical store requires, our Warehouse is open only three days a week. We work from 9-3, allowing for school drop offs and pickups, and are only open until 6:00 one night a week. I love being able to give my amazing team of amazing moms a schedule that works for their lives. 

Our community has always supported me and my business. That’s why it was so important to me to maintain that connection with our local customers. When we moved into the Warehouse, we turned the front part of the space into a storefront. A boutique-style space where customers can come shop with us, pick up their subscriptions, and get loved on by the team. 

The Next Chapter

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 asked frequently, “Why is your business called Framed? You don’t sell frames.” Oh, but I did. I still have some of those frames hanging on my wall today. Every time I look at them, I am reminded of how this all started and the incredible journey I’ve been on.

Sarah Williams holding a stack of Monogram Boxes

What’s next for Framed? I don’t know. This small business life is full of surprises. What I do know is we’ll continue to focus on giving our customers – especially our subscribers – an outstanding experience. Y’all are the reason we do what we do!

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