From soccer moms to artists to the president of the United States, photo retailers and labs are meeting the needs of a variety of people with the addition of custom matting and framing services. The new CMC (computerized mat cutter) machines evoke curiosity, and in some cases fascination, within the industry. According to Marj Fiore, a custom framing guru at Speedway Custom Photo Lab in Daytona Beach, FL, clients are captivated when they see a demonstration of the Wizard 3000 at work. Her husband, Lou Fiore, owner of Speedway, likens its speed, accuracy, and efficiency to that of a "little robot"—a robot fit for royalty, or a presidency, in Fiore's case: their custom matting and framing is hanging in the White House.
Described as "the highlight" of her CMC experience, Marj explains how she was enlisted to service the 43rd leader of the free world with the Wizard 3000. "The LPGA (Ladies Professional Golfing Association) is headquartered here in Daytona Beach, and they were invited to a luncheon with the president," she says. "They wanted to present him with a signed tee flag and pictures of the golfers, so they came to me. I mounted it inside of a shadow-box, and I did red, white, and blue matting."
Gary Andonian, owner of Silver Dog Digital Inc., based out of Georgia, deals with equally powerful clients: soccer moms.
He decided to introduce a Fletcher-Terry CMC to his business to bring in commercial revenue about two years ago. The light bulb flickered on for him when he attended one of his son's Little League games. "I noticed that the mothers were out there taking pictures with telephoto lenses and nice Canon and Nikon cameras, then taking those photos to the local drugstore and ordering 4x6s—they didn't know what they had," he says. "These mothers had really high-resolution images that could blow up to 30x40's." It was then that he realized a new commercial market with fairly lucrative potential. "At Silver Dog Digital, we are trying to get those folks to come to us, instead of just making snapshots," he explains.
CMCs like the Wizard and Fletcher-Terry transform businesses like those of Gary Andonian and the Fiores into more of a one-stop-shop type of operation. "Rather than getting your pictures printed, then having to find a frame shop, you can do it all here," says Andonian. He notes that having computerized custom matting and framing allows him to produce a better end-product as well. "We can actually print what's going into the frame; we have control over the content, whereas typically frame shops have to frame whatever they're brought," he says. "We are also able to control the color of the print to match the frame—it gives us a little bit more flexibility than a frame shop would."
Flexibility is key in a market that has been constantly changing since the introduction of digital. Of late, photo retailers and professional labs have transformed their businesses to fulfill many different demands—not just the ones posed by professional photographers. To stay afloat, these shops have had to dip their feet into the commercial, amateur, and professional markets. According to Marj and Lou Fiore, adding the custom mat/framing service to Speedway was the next logical step. "About 70 to 80 percent of our business is professional and commercial, so we do work for corporate art departments, we do advertising, some work for museums and retail customers," explains Lou. "I think that if you want to grow, you need to expand with the CMC machine for sure," adds Marj. "It is so much more efficient, and it will pay for itself."
"Efficiency" and "creativity" are two words that may seem to be oxymorons. However, in the case of custom matting and framing, the two go hand in hand. According to Marj, her creativity does not come at the expense of quick turnaround speeds. In fact, her artistry is inspired by the speed and accuracy of the Wizard. "For me, there is more motivation to do more creative things," says Marj. "If I think about the amount of work and time it would take me to cut a triple mat, it's no wonder I couldn't suggest creative multiple and large cuts in the past; it would take too long and it was too labor-intensive," she says. "Now I can take more risks and be more creative."
Accenting Marj's creative eye is the fast pace in which the machine operates—making it easier to close a sale. "With the Wizard, I am able to cut mats while they wait," she explains. "I have some frames in stock; I'll tell them to go get a cup of coffee from Friendly's, and when they come back, I'll have a frame for them. They greatly appreciate it and it's a quick sale."
Andonian also now caters to more fine-art clientele with the Fletcher-Terry CMC in his store. "We do custom, high-end art prints," he says. "We can print on art paper and canvas. A lot of our customers will print their images on a canvas, put it on a stretcher frame, then put the custom frame on that. We can also alter the images and add retouching to make it look like a painting or pop art. It will look like a brush-stroked painting, then we'll print it to canvas and frame it. We offer a lot more than just a straight printout."
Both Gary Andonian and Marj Fiore agree that learning how to use the CMC machines was fairly simple. Both the Fletcher-Terry and the Wizard provided guides and software detailing to the user how to utilize the equipment. When asked whether or not the revenue brought in by the CMCs qualified the cost, both answered with a resounding "yes!" According to Andonian, "It really gives an advantage to businesses that don't have a lot of employees. It's a natural direction to go in to increase your product line."
Increasing product lines in a here-today, gone-tomorrow industry, is priceless. And having the President advertising your services in the White House can't hurt, either.