Jody: Welcome to made in Miami where we’re interviewing small business owners that have their businesses here and are thriving in Miami. Every month we’ll be interviewing another small business to give you insights on how they’re making it. In Miami today we’re going to be talking with Cris and Claire from FrameWorks.
So would you two introduce yourselves. The name of your company in the best way for people to find you.
Cris Sweeny: Our company is FrameWorks the best way to find us is frameworksmiami.com. My name is Cris Sweeny on one of the founders and co-owners of FrameWorks.
Claire Lardner: My name is Clare Lardner and I’m the other founder of FrameWorks located in Miami. We have two locations, one in Coconut Grove and one in the Bird Road Arts District.
Jody: Great. Okay. So can you tell me why and how you started this business.
Cris: Why I started this business was I believed that having a business that made a difference in people’s lives was what life should be about. I didn’t care what I made, I cared about who I was about how I made things. So, I researched businesses. I was living in New York City at the time and researched businesses and on a wing and a prayer and a MasterCard spent a week in a frame shop in Key West and then opened my doors in Miami and fully believed that I could make it work. Which obviously 30 years later we have.
Jody: Yeah. Great. So then when did you join the company?
Claire: I joined the company in 1995 and we decided that between the two of us we can actually grow the business more and make more of an impact particularly in Coconut Grove.
Jody: Great. So tell me a little bit about the products and services that you offer. What do you guys do?
Claire: Frameworks is an art sourcing, picture framing, art printing company. We have 25 people employed from being a creative director creating artwork putting it on paper plexiglass whatever material down to framing it for our hospitality clients. Our two locations also have residential custom framing that does anything from museum to low end framing.
Cris: In a nutshell, we’re a full art and framing fabrication company.
Jody: You know, I was over at your place the other day and some of the photographs that you were showing me like people come with their artwork to actually be fabricated whether it gets printed on aluminum, or on canvas, or even on wallpaper, right?
Claire: We’ve had people in our business who’ve been with us for over 20 years and the people that are behind the counter have the experience of being able to work with your art, creating a design that gives you the wow factor when people walk into your house.
Jody: You know when I go into your frame shop with something to be framed I just go here what do you think. And they always do a magnificent job. I don’t even know if you saw the last piece they did for me. That was brilliant. So, do you think that you were destined to be in this business.
Cris: Well, obviously, because that’s where I am. I guess for me there’s no question. I mean, had you asked me 30 years ago if I would end up here, I couldn’t see that path for sure. I feel like we’ve really trusted our intuition as owners and continued to build the business and made decisions and investment decisions in a way that maybe doesn’t follow an exact script or the way you’re supposed to do it, but we don’t really care.
Jody: So, what would you say is the biggest challenge of this business.
Cris: Well, I think the challenge for me personally is having to get up every day and continue to be inspired and continue to lead in a way that people want to participate. Now that the company has grown, that the team wants to be there. You know, how do I need to do that. After three years of doing the same thing and do it so that it inspires people to want to follow what we’ve created.
Jody: And what is the most challenging thing for you.
Claire: The most challenging thing is to get our name out there. Most people that we want to do business with don’t know our complete capabilities. And, it’s getting our reputation outsourced to other people. Once somebody has come to work with us and they realize who we are and our capabilities, but more who we are, they tend to stay with us forever. As one client said, we’re the best kept secret.
Jody: So in my experience, there are people who know you, but they may not know the full scope of what you do. Even the way you explained it – fabrication – what does that mean? That they will know you can cut wood, and make words, and imprint on anything even the wallpaper or the hospital wallpaper that’s bacteria free. So, there’s just so many things, it’s almost hard to know the full scope of everything that you can do. What’s the most interesting project that you’ve done recently?
Cris: I would say one of the most interesting projects we did was for a hotel property in one of the islands, where the designer came to us with a crazy idea that they wanted to put sort of like an abstract interpretation of a map and incorporate it into the headboard with lights. OK, so that was the concept they came to us with, and we actually ended up cutting out the islands and putting plexiglass on the back so it could be reverse lit. So, they were hand-finished boards, 5 foot by 10 foot, which is pretty big to work on. So I think that we did something like 50 of those. And then they actually built them into the wall as the headboard and they just came out exquisite. Again, completely outside of what you would conceive as a frame shop. Which is, as you know, where we began.
Jody: Do you have a favorite project?
Claire: The same.
Jody: Yeah. It was really cool. Yeah. Okay good. So. What’s an obstacle that you’ve overcome in the business? And how did you overcome it?
Claire: The obstacle was losing our youngest daughter to suicide and as any survivor will tell you that gut wrench of that and what you do with your life and is your life worth going forward and then realizing at the same time that you have a business to run and that you have to find a way deep down to run it. And then, realizing that the people that are with you, because they’re in your business culture, they actually want to help you and they love you enough that they will pick themselves up, even in their pain – because their pain is your pain – they will find a way to help you. That’s been our biggest struggle, coming back from the death of our daughter.
Cris: I would agree.
Jody: If you could start the business all over again what would you do differently?
Cris: I’m not sure I would! Like I said, a wing and a prayer and a MasterCard. People actually ask us frequently about starting businesses and I’m really a devil’s advocate. It takes a lot of courage and a stick-to-it-ness and unwilling… You have to be willing to do literally whatever it takes to survive. And it’s not easy. It is not easy. There were many, many, many weeks and time periods where employees got paid and vendors didn’t. And making those kinds of decisions and trying to sleep at night with that. It’s just not easy. Not to say people shouldn’t do it, but I went in, you know, ignorance was bliss, in the sense I really had no idea! I feel like our strength and courage as human beings have allowed us to be successful because without that it’s very, very difficult, especially over such a long period of time.
Jody: Would you like to add to that?
Claire: Yeah. When we were in Coconut Grove, covering the store there, we would see people open up businesses. They would open up a business and think, well I’m open, people will come. And they don’t realize the financial struggles, the emotional struggles that are there. And, they have to have the fortitude and the belief in themselves or, if you have a partner, that partner, that you can get through it. People just because you open the door, they don’t come, you’ve got to get them in.
Jody: It’s not like that movie right?
Claire: No, it’s not the same as the movies. And so, if people want to start a business, they have to take a really hard look at themselves, do they have the ability to withstand these struggles and the emotional rollercoaster? There is always a roller coaster. It’s never smooth sailing because if its smooth sailing, that means your business is not needed because the world’s gone past you. You always have to keep reinventing yourselves. And that’s the struggle that I think a lot of businesses forget. They forget to reinvent themselves they think I know my business model and it’s good, it’s stagnant, I don’t need to do anything and that’s when people leave you. You always have to keep reinventing and looking for ways to engage your client or your customer.
Jody: Ah, that was beautiful Claire because you know after the recession many people even the best business people in the world lost their businesses. And that Business Model and the ability to shift and innovate is what kept many of the small businesses going. They were scrappy enough to be able to go in there and do whatever it took, as you said.
As business owners and entrepreneurs, you have to juggle many things. How do you keep focused? How do you get refocused, if you’ve lost your focus?
Cris: We call our business coach.
Jody: Thank you! It’s a good structure, we call ours to!
Cris: I mean, that is absolutely one of the tools in our toolbox, for sure.
Claire: The same thing. If you don’t have outside people to look at your business, then again, you’re you’ve got blinders on, you’re not looking at the whole thing. You have to have an outside source, whether it’s a business coach, a friend, a competitor, somebody that can turn to you and say, “Your eye’s not on the ball or this is what you’re missing.” Because that, again, is going to reinventing yourself because, again, you can’t just sit on your chair and just bury your head on the desk, it won’t work.
Jody: That Kaizen concept of constant never ending improvement and innovation.
Cris: And, one of the other things for me is when I feel like that we’re stuck, or there’s a source of friction, is sometimes it takes just getting in the trenches and getting the car to move up the hill a little bit, to rock it and to actually get in the trenches. And again, as we’ve grown and added more layers in our team, sometimes it doesn’t feel like you should be doing that.
Jody: Well, you know, one of the things that I find with clients, is they’ll resist having team meetings, like we don’t have time for that, we’re too busy. But you’ve been pretty religious about your meetings. Can you say a little bit about that?
Cris: Well I feel like I don’t think our meetings are a waste of time. I think they’re a fundamental forum for different departments to be in communication about what’s happening. So, I absolutely believe that you have to do it consistently. You just can’t miss because once you start missing it allows for it to not be meaningful, or matter. So, we just build them into our schedule for the team and they’re just as important as other learning tools and working hard.
Jody: So here’s a fun question. If you only had a thousand dollars to invest in the business where would you invest it? Another piece of equipment?
Cris: It doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of our equipment. So, a thousand dollars, in the scope of what we do, is very minuscule. So it’s hard for me to think that a thousand dollars could make a huge impact. So, if I was looking to, I would probably put it towards doing something with the team. Whether we go out for beer or something that would make a difference for the entire team. An event, a moment.
Jody: What would you say?
Claire: I have to agree that it would have to be related to the team because a thousand dollars doesn’t even buy one of our computers. When the times are tough, like when we hit the recession, if the team is behind you, they will be behind you no matter what and they’ll stick with you through the ups and the downs. But if you don’t have the team, they’ll walk away. And so, anything that you can do to get the team to believe in themselves, the team members to believe in themselves and do with each other.
I’ll go back to the meetings that you were talking to Chris about. We have different divisions. We have production, we have creative and we have residential or custom. If you didn’t have intergroup meetings, custom would have no idea what creative was doing, creative would have no idea what production, and this allows everybody to get to know one another. And then, if one group is overworked, creative or custom will chip in and say, Hey, I’ve got somebody that can help you. So, it gets everybody to treat everybody as a human being versus a co-worker.
Jody: If you could give me a description of your business in just three words what would they be?
Claire: Humans. Human resources. We’re a…
Cris: Innovation. Team. Determination.
Jody: And, what’s three words for you? Team and what?
Claire: Basically, the same. We’re nowhere without the team. We’re nowhere without our innovation. And we’re nowhere without going after the work. So it’s determination.
Jody: I think is limitless possibilities.
Cris: Relentless pursuit of excellence.
Jody: That’s more than three words and it was really great. OK. So. What advice would you give to someone who’s starting out?
Claire: If you don’t believe in yourself and you are not willing to take a risk, then don’t go into the business. You have to trust yourself. And, if you don’t, as Chris said, jump, you’ll never grow.
Jody: So what is the best thing about being in business in Miami?
Cris: The best thing about being in business in Miami is, has been, the extraordinary privilege and honor of the thousands and thousands of people that we’ve been able to interact and engage with. And, in particular, to see the impact on the people in our lives, you know, whether it was selling a frame or, you know, giving a kid a job that didn’t have a chance. To see that ripple effect is how the world changes.
Jody: What’s the best thing about doing business in Miami for you, Claire?
Claire: I think what I found was, when we lost our daughter, the number of people who we had touched, came to give us support. Whether it was family, friends and a lot of our clients and customers, who we’ve known over the years, there was such an outpouring of love and support that I think it would be really hard to find elsewhere in the country.
Jody: Well you’re certainly a gift to the city of Miami, the two of you as human beings and your business and your team, because, you have an extraordinary team. It’s amazing what you all get done! It really is. So, thank you for being here this morning and taking your time for this interview. And that’s made in Miami.