With a title like this you'd think the article would be about the top ten best selling designs, rather than concerning the marketing of your new computerized mat cutter, affectionately referred to as a CMC. There has been some discussion on the Professional Picture Framers Hitchhikers email over CMCs of late. Seems people are attempting to do their homework over what to look for, what questions to ask when shopping for, and whether it is better to rent or buy. Also the dilemma over promotion and marketing of this new technological wonder. The idea is to be able to produce more, better, faster, and with greater profit.
In my first article of this series (How Do You Know When To Go CMC? , March 2001) I talked about the emergence of the computerized mat cutter and its positioning in the custom framing store. Seems it doesn't really matter if you are a single framer shop or a large production operation, there is likely a CMC that will fit both into your needs AND into your budget.
The questions of rent or lease are simply the tip of the iceberg. When shopping there are numerous questions about computer technology, hardware, software, updates, and technical service after the sale, that all need to be addressed. Do all your homework when getting ready for a trade show so you truly know what to ask and what the answers you get really mean to you. Knowing the question to ask is only half the issue, understanding the answer is the other half.
A Little Help From Your Friends
Another way to familiarize yourself with specific cutters is to contact another framer who has acquired the CMC you might wish to know more about. This is an advantage of belonging to a PPFA chapter and being friendly with other local framers. We seem to be a very helpful breed of retailer, and many of us thrive on helping others succeed. Call your CMC manufacturer and see if they have a list of stores who currently are using their machines. Then visit them.
The bottom line is to use the machine first hand when challenging it. That way you actually will get a feel for the equipment and the ease of understanding its software. Any sales representative will make it look foolproof and easy to understand, just plug in this number by that number, pick the corner design from this table of templates, and send it to the cutter. That's what any customer sees. You will need to understand what is going on.
Question More Than Just Mechanics
On PPFA Hitchhikers there are numerous successful custom framers with CMCs very willing and eager to share their knowledge about these extraordinary computerized robots. The questions that seem to come up again and again involve ease of blade changing, motors, moving parts, software, and service. Remember when shopping to inquire about thickness of boards it will cut; edge clearance; warranty information and on what parts; computer upgrades; design flexibility; and the question that seems least asked but every bit as important...what about potential promotional suggestions, yes, advertising campaigns.
Promotion in the Dark Ages
Many years ago back in a previous millenium, I owned and ran the largest art, craft and hobby shop in Redding, Californina called the Hobby Hut. This was before chain stores and super stores, and long before the computer would become a household word, let alone a piece of furniture. I sold numerous products from many very large and successful manufacturers. Print advertising back then was the most popular form of getting your products out to the people. There were often manufacturer incentives for advertising. Meaning, when I featured a particular product line in the yellow pages, newspaper, or mailer, the manufacturer would reimburse me for a portion of the advertising costs. This was their way of thanking me for promoting their product, encouraging me to continue to do so, and to help keep me selling their inventory so I would keep restocking it. That way we both made money and the little retailer felt supported by the products he sold. Ad slicks were provided and line art for any print advertising I chose.
The CMC Promotion Issue
So why should any of that philosophy be different today? Well today we have email, the web, and television yes, but we still find direct mail to be a very powerful tool. Why then have the manufacturers ceased to help us promote products? Wouldn't the same ad slicks and line art help in today's mailers too, or press releases? Even without any subsidization there would be manufacturer support surrounding the promotion of the new service.
Perhaps that hasn't and I have just been removed from that type of retail operation, having become a service oriented retailer and frame designer for the past 10 years. But when I see questions on Hitchhikers come up about "how do I promote" it makes me wonder why this service has to be different. Yes we are discussing apples and oranges here. Promotion of a particular product line will promote additional sales of that product, whereas the promotion of a CMC 'service' will not sell another CMC to that same small town framer. I can see the manufacturers point of view.
When asked about the support of advertising campaigns, promotions, and support material, the answer across the board from all CMC manufacturers interviewed was, "...we put them in touch with other owners of our CMC". These bulletin boards and e-mail contacts are an excellent source, but I would like the manufacturers to consider the rest of the story. After all isn't that part of 'service after the sale too?'
Tucked Away in Back
It has always been a debate as to whether one should hide mat cutting in the back room or put it out front where everyone can watch. When the professional straightline mat cutters come onto the scene they made mat cutting fast and nearly foolproof, very mechanical. The theory was if a customer saw how easy any of this custom framing looked they might not want to spend money for it. Too simple, no value. Wrong thinking perhaps, and it carries over to the new age of the CMC too.
The biggest decision once the new baby is home seems to be where to put the cradle. True, there probably needs to be a computer monitor on the design table to assist in layout and visualization for the customer. And that may already be there for pricing and inventory already. So the first half of the decision has been made.
Where to put the cutter has two schools of thought. The first is to tuck it away in the back room, hidden from public view. That way you hide it from the competition, but moreover avoid the fear that customers will think less of you for a machine cutting the mat rather than it being by hand. One theory is that a machine cut mat can't possibly be worth as much as a manually cut mat, or can it?
Up Front and Proud
The second is to display it proudly out in the front of the store alongside beautifully CMC cut and framed mats, multiple opening mats, and decorative corner combinations that boggle the mind. So positive aspects of CMC visibility would be proudly displaying you store's high tech and progressive image; stimulating customer interest through curiosity; creating potential for specials, and promotional events surrounding the CMC itself. Big news for a small shop.
Are there negatives to letting them see your hand? Maybe, in that it shows how easy it is to operate; you can cut a $25 mat in 1 minute; and it is no longer old school traditional crafty and manual. Are these bad? If the negatives outweigh the positives for you, it needs to be hidden in the back.
Welcome to the 21st Century
It has been taught for years the best way to sell anything is to show it to customers. If they cannot see what it is they are being sold they have a more difficult time in purchasing it. This is why even with a CMC locked away safely in the back workroom you will need a way to show the designs available.
Whether a notebook full of precut 8x10" minimats with decorative corners, 11x14" framed double mats across the top of the room, a pattern sheet with a listing of the template corners available, samples are a must to sell (photo 1). If they are never offered it, they will never buy it.
Whether cut corners or pattern sheet templates, samples of the offered CMC decorative corners are a must. Samples shown courtesy of Gunnar, Wizard, Fletcher-Terry, and Eclipse (clockwise from top oval mat).
Selling up into more elaborate CMC designs is easy but also requires samples. Unique clipart patterns are available for anything from footballs for a high school photograph to a dolphin for a team mascot. Fonts allow for personalization of names and businesses, but again they must be available to choose from (photo 2). All of this can be achieved on a computer monitor but ideas surrounding them on the walls, a pattern sheet they can hold, or a photo album they can flip through, all support the concept. Plus these may create additional sales later with other students from the same team or business, or simply ideas of framing items customers never considered before for future frame jobs.
Besides the more traditional decorative corners the possibilities for special cutouts known as clip art or CAD designs and fonts also need to be available to show. Samples courtesy of Wizard, Gunnar, Fletcher-Terry and Eclipse (clockwise from center top).
Telling the World and Promotionals
Assuming you have chosen to tell the world about your new baby, its time to think of promotions. You will get more mileage about announcing your new cutter than hiding it. Consider for a moment if you live in a small town and are indeed the first on your block with a bouncing baby CMC. Perhaps a birth announcement mailer about "our new arrival", or a special promotion with small 8x10" CMC mats as give-aways with each order picked up are ideas. You could recycle scrap endcuts and make additional sales in the process on these.
Consider an introductory party, or a buy one get one free 8x10" mat cut of their pattern choosing, or a free mat to each child who comes in with something they want framed. Odds are you will also sell the glass and frame to go with the freebie mat, plus they will get to see it cut as they wait. Yes, think recycled materials and standard sizes, but do it.
Business to Business
Send out press releases and photos to local newspapers and magazines, have a ribbon cutting through the local Chamber of Commerce, print it in the yellow pages, take it (the news) on the road to lectures and schools, or offer your store as a potential field trip destination for youth groups and schools. All of these are ideas you will need to develop but can truly jump start your new potential. More exposure to other local businesses is also promotion.
Lectures and luncheons have a lot of potential, particularly with social groups. Rotary, Lions, Chambers of Commerce, women's clubs, leads groups, associations, schools, think of any organization with a logo or special symbol. Then let your imagination go with the possibilities for framing customized certificates, awards, and photographs. Bring samples and distribute give-aways. The point here is you need to connect, to be involved and promote yourself. Making presentations at local group luncheons and being involved in the Chamber of Congress are excellent places to reach other professionals, they have homes and memories too.
Many of us donate discontinued mat boards, mat scraps, and endcuts to local school art departments. Consider the possibilities of sending them precut mats rather than just the blanks. With a CMC it is quick and easy, and may also get additional framing jobs from this. Supporting your community occurs in many ways, and in turn announces new concepts. Not just the lecture, but the goodies to make them remember you.
Home, Trade and Bridal Shows
There is a lot of money spent on weddings, showers, anniversaries, births and home decoration every year. As picture framers we have tried to tap into this market time and time again, often extremely successfully. Another place the new capabilities of your cutter can be marketed is at home shows and bridal fairs. They are a lot of work, but the payback I have experienced from these has been worth the effort.
Again consider showcasing not only your best in shadow boxes and memory boxes, but multiple opening mats for anniversaries, high school memorabilia, font cut mats, logo designs, clipart, and fancy cut corners for every photo or certificate they could ever want framed. Also bring all your scraps and endcuts cut and shrink-wrapped with decorative corners to fit business cards, 4x6" photographs and other standard sizes. Use them as give aways or inexpensive show specials, with your name, address, and phone on the back. These can easily pay for your booth expenses, and they are an in-hand memory of your business and what you can offer them.
Advertising Promotions Using Coupons
Articles have been written about successful ad campaigns forever, some work some do not. The argument for and against coupons and discounting has been debated forever also. I tend to agree with the overall concept that discounting drives suggested prices up and profit level down. If you are a believer in coupons consider using them for your new cutter as a specific promotion. My personal favorite "Champagne Taste, Beer Budget", pay for any sized rectangular mat and get free decorative corners of your choosing. Discounting the whole job through coupons can be dangerous, unless well controlled, modify them to fit this special event.
Selling up is something I don't think I really need to talk about, we all know we need to offer multiple layered mats rather than singles or doubles. The same goes for offering the decorative corners. Suggest it, it may sell. Worse case scenario, you may only sell the triple mat, stacked moulding, with deep wrapped bevel spacer.
The Final Frame
It seems the biggest hurdle for the CMC is fear of using the machine, not the actual dollars. Once the CMC resides at your location it is up to you to make it a financial success. What will ultimately limit the sales successes of the CMC is a lack promotion. With no samples in a book, on a pattern sheet, or on the wall, how will a customer ever know what a keystone, Kobe or double offset corner is, not to mention a castle, circuit, or angled bridge. In fact do you know what these corners look like? And it is true after all, CMC designs will sell themselves if given half the chance. And never put anything up on you wall you really don't want to sell, it's the one they'll want again and again.
NOTE: A special thank you to Matt French from Fletcher-Terry, Mark Eaton of Kaibab Industries, and Michael Bales of Wizard and all the other manufacturers for their helpful assistance and input for this article.
Copyright © 2001 Chris A Paschke
For more articles on mounting basics look under the mounting section in Articles by Subject.
Additional information on all types of mounting is found in:
The Mounting and Laminating Handbook, Second Edition, 2002,
The Mounting And Laminating Handbook, Third Edition, 2008 and
Creative Mounting, Wrapping, And Laminating, 2000 will teach you everything you need to know about getting the most from your dry mount equipment and materials as an innovative frame designer.
All books are available from Designs Ink Publishing through this website.
Chris A Paschke, CPF GCF
Designs Ink Publishing
785 Tucker Road, Suite G-183
Tehachapi, CA 93561