Friday, February 22, 2013

Why is Framing So Friggin Expensive?

$500 to $750. That's how much I was told it would cost to frame a shirt I had brought in to Aaron Brothers. And the price, you understand, would be for only the simplest frame and the cheapest materials. If I insisted on paying this rock bottom price, again, for framing a shirt, well there wasn't much they could do for me. They could probably fashion a frame out of some particle board they found in the parking lot, and maybe use glass they'd salvaged from the windshield of an abandoned Dodge Dart. But hey, if I wanted to put a shirt in a frame and only pay $750, these were the compromises I would have to make.

What kind of alternate universe bullshit is this? In what reality does it cost $500 to $750 to put some glass and wood around a shirt?

Okay, I knew framing was expensive. I had had posters framed before, paying $200 a pop for what they claimed was the absolute bedrock, bottom of the barrel price. So when I walked in that day with the shirt, I had already mentally prepared myself to agree to pay $200, though I'd have to do it through clenched teeth and with the knowledge that at half that price it would still be a ripoff. So when Mr. Friendly at the counter quoted his paycheck sized number at me, I wasn't even angry. My reaction was laughter. We were on two different planets. He was in a world where ordinary people walk in and agree to pay $750 to put a shirt in a frame. I was in a world where you pay parts and labor for a service. We were on two different sides of a pane of museum quality, no smudge glass.

Anyone in the framing business: please listen closely to what I am about to say. Because I know you are ready to explain to me in a frustrated, didactic tone about the true costs of framing, and how $750 to put some wood around a shirt really is a bargain. But before that, listen to me. The problem is that people have expectations about what something should cost. Even without framing expertise, people look at any service and they ballpark what they judge to be a fair price. When they look at a framed poster, they see the parts: wood, glass, matting, screws, string - all of which cost close to nothing at Home Depot, and they can estimate about an hour of labor. So they calculate the costs of these basic materials, plus the cost of an hour of labor of one of these strip mall employees, throw in a small premium to keep the lights on in the store... and you end up at about $40. That's how much it should cost to frame a poster: about $40. So when this person gets quoted $300, after the discount, and it will be ready in 8 days, there is total incomprehension. Parts, labor, overhead: it doesn't add up to $300. It adds up to $40. And it should be ready in an hour. And there should be a little comfortable seating area and a free soda while you wait. That should be framing. This is why all of your customers seem to be angry all the time. This is why their jaws drop, or they laugh and walk out.

So now let's entertain the objections from the framers. I've read them and I'll paraphrase them:
"It's called custom framing, genius. Each work order requires a unique frame, personally nibbled to size by our colony of trained termites. And that glass? There's only one company in the world that makes glass of the quality we require at Aaron Brothers, and it's in deepest, remotest Tibet. Do you have any idea how expensive it is? And the framing process? You think this is a fast food worker getting minimum wage to flip a burger? This is a trained artisan who needs the finest precision to correctly align and mat your poster. You want to skimp on that? How foolish are you going to feel in 200 years if you see an air bubble or oxygen damage in the frame? Who's the chump then? All that plus the rising costs of commercial rent, and the continuing effects of the 2009 global paintbrush shortage, and you're lucky we're even still in business. $750 is a steal to frame your shirt, and you're a fool if you don't take it."

Here's an actual quote I pulled from a framer's online forum, where the professional framer is venting his frustration about customers who don't understand the price:

"The reality is that most people are not used to buying a product that’s custom made. If you go into Nordstroms to buy a good tie, it could very easily be in the $125 range. Made of nice fabric. Mass produced. Probably 10 minutes worth of time put into it. The typical frame job takes an hour and a quarter. Many people have become accustomed to paying $125 for a tie because it is what it is – along with everything else we buy, including clothes, plumbing and car repair."

So now here I think we get to the point. Yes, some ties cost $125. But.... other ties cost $10. I understand that for $125 maybe I'm getting something hand stiched, or from a big deal designer. But, if I don't care about any of that, I can get a $10 tie. I might even be able to get 2-for-1. And, more good news, the $10 tie gets the job done just fine.

I suppose I could be persuaded that custom framing for a shirt might get into the $750 range if every aspect of it was custom built by the most highly trained craftspeople using the finest materials. But where's the $10 alternative if I don't give a shit about any of that? What if I don't need my shirt to hang in the Guggenheim? If I needed my ceiling painted eggshell white, and Michelangelo showed up and said he'd do it for a million dollars - I'm sure he could justify his price. But what if I don't need Michelangelo? What if I just need a guy with some drop cloths and a paint roller? Where do I find that service?

So keep your $750 quote and point me to the $40 shop. And if the framer's response now is "Pfft. Fine. Buy a frame and do it yourself." then I say no. I don't want to. What a waste of my time. I want to pay someone to do it. What part of that is difficult to understand? In the meantime I will sooner burn $750 in front of an Aaron Brothers store before I hand it over to let them frame a shirt.

The shirt was signed by the 1988 Saturday Night Live cast by the way. It's pretty sweet.


Anonymous said...

Framing a shirt signed by people? That's almost as weird as being quoted $750 to do it. It's taste up your ass stuff, something Americans excel at, like those shops that sell 'collectable' crap put in a frame, although you'd be hard pressed to walk out with even Honey Boo Boo's stained panties in a plastic frame for that kind of money.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly how I always feel when getting things framed! Drives me nuts... Especially when I tell them I want the most budget option possible, and then they quote me for some crazy no-reflection UV glass and I have to harass them to admit that I can actually just get basic glass for 60 dollars cheaper... I understand that it is an art, and I wouldn't even mind paying like 80 bucks to frame something... I'm sure that would be paying the craftsperson close to 50 dollars an hour for their work. And that seems fair to me. But there's never that option... Why the hell not?