Why the $3 billion US framing industry is ready for a shakeup

I have definitely noticed some people quietly scratching their heads on first mention. They don’t say it out loud but I can sense the cogs whirring away as they start wondering “why the heck would you want to get into a dusty old industry like that?”

Maybe it’s my own digital snobbery, or the cries from my echo chamber doling out praise for the latest social / SaaS / AI / VR / big data / unicorn (groan). But when I float this very simple idea past people, it requires a bit of explanation along with a product demo to trigger the light bulbs. It seems a little obtuse to grasp initially.

Now some know-it-all will always say that’s a bad sign. It signals we’re not solving an obvious problem. Or it’s too hard to communicate. Or investors won’t want to invest when the momentum for photo based apps is very clearly digital.

And I admit I had these same thoughts when my Co-founder Mick, first pushed the idea my way. But that is exactly the point.

It seems obvious to me now, but the custom framing industry is a sector that time forgot. Or perhaps in a perfectly ironic reverse Kodak moment, time just hasn’t caught up with yet. Either way, the framing industry is really ripe for someone to come along and ‘blow the dust off’ with an amazingly simple, yet sophisticated way to solve the consumer challenge of framing something beautifully and easily. Just think for a second.

  • We all take so many more photos, but do less with them
  • Phones shoot pics in HD now & digital art has become abundant
  • We all need to furnish our homes, offices, or give gifts
  • Framing is still a massive pain in the ass. It’s expensive, time consuming and often too hard
So why not turn this chore into a joy? Why not make it easy to unlock that happiness sitting in feeds, folders & clouds?

I’ve looked the competition over. Yes, there are some decent framing websites out there that tackle the problem digitally. But that misses the point. Why must I visit one or perhaps multiple stores, or be chained to my desk to do this? Why can’t I do it poolside on holiday, while I’m standing in a New York queue, or sitting on the subway?

And therein lies the opportunity. Ok, so framing is a relatively small industry. Assume $3BN in the US annually with low single digit growth rates under current conditions. But even passing 1% through a (largely) automated eCommerce platform is $30MM, and that assumes it doesn’t get easier for consumers to actually order. I’m sure that any improvements to reduce friction would increase frequency and help grow that industry pie, not to mention the other revenue streams that can be plugged in around it.

And when surveying the other mobile framing app attempts out there, it’s clear no one has built the killer framing app. Mostly, I believe because it’s really frigging difficult. It’s a complex product, involving loads of customization options, requiring really talented user experience designers and hardcore engineering.

And believe me, it’s been hard to build a really, truly Steve Jobsian experience. One thats beautiful, yet functional. Intuitive, yet simple enough to inspire creativity.

Right now, the framing app market is populated by:

High quality artisans, craftsmen and wonderful traditional framing companies that don’t know jack about building beautiful mobile app experiences.

Garage coders trying their luck at building something that ultimately falls short of an attractive consumer proposition backed by solid brand marketing.

Companies taking the easy route by focusing on items that are simpler to design experiences for and produce. Like magnets, cups, or even photo books to some extent.

It seems to me, someone needs to create the tangible equivalent of Instagram for your living room wall. A brand that’s a little aspirational, yet approachable and affordable like Zara clothing. A customer experience worthy of Zappos, executed with the decentralized fulfillment philosophy of 1800 Flowers. And done globally.

Of course it could also all be rubbish. We might launch and find we haven’t built something people like, or need. We may have over-engineered the MVP or fail to establish the brand on message from the beginning.

But the last and most attractive reason for tackling this industry is it can make people really happy. I decided some time ago to only spend my time on building products and services that enhance peoples happiness. Custom framing actually trades on the currency of joy. It inspires gratefulness and allows people to celebrate the memorable moments they have loved in life. The journey of planning a company that unleashes creativity, love and gift giving will surely prove to be of greater long term emotional benefit than any future financial destination.

Framafoto is in the final throes of development. If you’re interested in taking the app for a test drive, sign up at www.framafoto.com for a launch discount.

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