Wall frames and poster frames are a huge business

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Frame vendors agree that the reason dollar growth has been concentrated at mass in recent years is that technology has improved the design and quality of mass market frames without necessitating a corresponding increase in prices. At the same time, this improvement, coupled with the emergence of a more value-oriented consumer, has dictated a drastic reduction in the pricing of upscale market frames.

“The mass channel has probably experienced a higher than normal growth rate because the technology now available in Asia is providing it with an opportunity,” observes Rich Giron, vice president of sales and marketing for upscale market vendor Fetco international.

Meanwhile, “the upscale frame market has been coming down to the $9.99 price point to counter what the mass market is doing,” notes Barry Cohen, vice president and general manager of the Weston Gallery.

The ability to achieve expensive wood looks inexpensively with extruded plastic, for example, has helped mass retailers grow their share of the frame market, at the same time it has driven prices sharply down in the upscale market. Acme’s Kiner notes that ornate gold frames resembling wood, but done on polystyrene for a fraction of the cost, have been Acme’s most popular promotional offering this year, at $5 apiece or even two for $6.

Kiner attributes the success of Acme’s promotional business in general – “promotional business has far exceeded our forecasts” – to a much stronger emphasis on fashion.

Intercraft Industries has had “incredible” retail response to its newest upscale entry, reports Scott Slater, vice president of merchandising. The Connoisseur line, launched in September for the Christmas selling season, consists of department-store-type goods at prices that are about half of what they would be in department stores, according to Slater. The price points are $6.99, $9.99 and $14.99.

Reiter of MCS describes the trend at mass as one toward more upscale product at slightly higher retail prices. Such frames are retailing as well as, if not better than, staples, he says.

“We as mass market vendors are putting more pressure on the upper-end people to be creative and differentiate themselves,” observes Steven Scheyer, executive vice president of Decorel. Scheyer says his company “is now doing some of the same things as Burnes” and that, as a result, “there’s much less difference now between the frame assortments at Kmart and Stern’s, for example.”

The mass and upscale markets are coming closing together in more direct ways as well – through acquisitions, for one. Following the path laid down by Burnes when it acquired mass market vendor Holson in 1989, Decorel this year acquired two upscale market frame vendors, Rare Woods and Dax, later merging them into one entity known as Rare Woods Dax. Headquartered in Orangeburg, N.Y., the new company is headed by former Acme and MCS executive Dave Richardson as senior vice president.

Rare Woods Dax is responding to a growth opportunity for poster frames in its market, Scheyer reports. “In the mass market, wall frames and poster frames are a huge business, but the upper-end market had the attitude that everything had to be table-top.”

Although Rare Woods had always been a supplier of tabletop frames, Dax’s strength was in wall frames, Scheyer notes. “We’re approaching high-end frames as a full-line category. We’re coming in with a full menu as the first full-line frame supplier to the upper end.”

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