Starting an art and framing business

Art and framing businesses have lost ground due to the growth of internet retailers, but there’s still a market. The key is your expertise; it’s unlikely you’ll be able to beat internet retailers on price, but luckily for you framing is an exact science. People are wary of buying frames that they aren’t sure will fit their photographs, and you can use this to your advantage.

What is an art and framing business?

Art and framing businesses are varied and each one is likely to encompass a unique offering. Some businesses may specialise in selling a specific type of frame while others may produce bespoke framing services for high-value prints. All art and framing businesses focus on finding the right border/mount/frame for a piece of art-work, and most provide a specialised service.

Why start an art and framing business?

If you enjoy photography/prints/framing, then an art and framing business is ideal, giving you the chance to turn your hobby into a business. The potential for diversification is high, allowing you to create new revenue streams should you want to try something new or bolster profits.

Art and framing is also a business where expertise is highly-valued (people will often visit your shop because you know what you’re talking about), and this gives you a head-start if you have been working in the industry for a while. If you haven’t, there are training opportunities and qualifications you may wish to explore.

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What skills will I need?

Expertise in the subject area is obviously essential. You’ll need to be confident in your skills because peoples’ artwork often has high financial or sentimental value, and – particularly if you’re framing items by hand – the skills required to make a good job, without causing damage, are considerable.

You’ll also need sound business sense, and the ability to place as much importance on the financial aspects of the business as the art and framing aspects. Unless your business turns a profit you won’t survive; ensuring sufficient liquidity, turnover, profit, etc, is key to success.

Surviving in an online world

Buying frames online is obviously cheaper than buying them in shops. As an art and framing business, your expertise is your USP, and you’re likely to get much of your business because customers need specialist advice. Some people are also wary of buying frames online in case the fit isn’t exact. However, you may wish to hedge your bets by offering an online service alongside your ‘real-world’ business.

If you do decide to start an online arts and framing business, you’ll most likely need an ecommerce website as well as a commercial space in order to sell directly to the public.

Additional revenue streams

Diversifying your services to boost revenue streams is useful to combat the effects of increased competition and a stagnant economy. Art and framing businesses have a number of different options for additional revenue streams:

  • Studio photography e.g. mother and baby, family
  • Camera sales, third party and new
  • Prints and posters
  • Local photography e.g. wedding and sports photography
  • Restoration work
  • Screen-printing e.g. wedding invitations

You don’t have to be an expert photographer to offer these services – you may wish to partner with a local professional in a revenue-sharing agreement. If the photographer creates their own shots, you could also sell these in your shop.

Training and qualifications

The Fine Art Trade Guild is a membership organisation for arts and framing businesses, established in 1910. It offers a range of qualifications, most notably the Guild Commended Framer programme, which is recognised internationally within the framing industry. There’s also an Advanced qualification which can be used to further cement your skills.

Start-up costs

Start-up costs can be considerable; the biggest costs will be rent and stock. People will generally visit an art and framing shop because they’re looking for a specific frame, and you’ll be hard pressed to sell sufficient quantity if you don’t carry a broad spectrum of sizes and shapes so that customers can leave with what they want on the first visit.

Your location is important; where you set up shop will depend on your target demographic. If you sell standard frames, you may look for a high-street location to take advantage of passing trade, but if your services are more specialist and business more likely to come via word-of-mouth, you might be able to save money by opting for an out-of-town location.

Insurance and compliance

Standard policies are important when opening an art and framing business, including public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance. If you take on staff, you’ll also need employer’s liability insurance.

Bear in mind that if you are dealing with very valuable works of art, your standard insurance policy may not cover repair or replacement costs. Make sure you read your policy carefully or deal with a specialist insurer that can advise you on the most suitable policy to take out.