All Decked Out: National Custom Framer and Art Retailer Deck the Walls Is Updating Its Image for Today's Marketplace

Article excerpt

Makeover and remodeling shows are sort of the most popular programs on television today. It seems everyone loves seeing someone's appearance or home updated to reflect current styles. But it isn't just people or homes that need a flesh look every once in a while. Business need it, too.

Deck The Walls, a national art and custom framing retailer founded in 1979, is running its own makeover show out of its corporate headquarters in Houston. After spending the past two years revamping its focus, the company is ready to reveal a new look for its 135-plus franchises, which are located in 43 states.

"Retail changes constantly, but there is a real aversion, particularly with framers, to change" said Connie Williams, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Deck The Walls' parent company, Franchise Concepts, Inc., which also owns The Great Frame Up and Framing &Art Centre. "But any retailer who isn't in the process of changing is in the process of dying."

Williams, who owned a Deck The Wails franchise from 1984 to 1992, said the company is ready to reposition itself to reflect what customers want.

"You have to look at the total equation" she said "Marketing can bring [customers] through the door but if the total experience is not what they expected when they walked through the door, you marketing efforts [are] wasted"

Discovery Mission

In 2001, Deck The Walls hired the Stevens, Pa.-based research firm Unity Marketing to perform focus, groups and telephone surveys to find out the decision-making process consumers use when choosing a framing store.

Unity Marketing found that many consumers were unaware that Deck The Walls had skilled designers and that many thought of the company primarily as a retailer of art prints. "We had to find a way to tout framing and emphasize the whole package," explained Melinda Riley, Deck The Walls" director of marketing.

The research also found that framing customers want value, experts, conservation and preservation services, on-premise framing and reasonable turnaround times. In response to the study, officials from Deck The Walls have focused their efforts on store design, marketing, customer service and a creating a more diverse product mix.

Deck The Walls is also adapting to compete in today's marketplace, which has seen a proliferation of pre-framed products available at big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target department stores.

"Why have big boxes been able to take business away?" Williams asked. "Because they have recognized trends and reacted faster. Although framing is a beautiful craft, it is a business. We have to encourage franchisees to embrace change and react quickly."

Store Design

The design of a mall usually sets the standard for Deck The Walls' store designs. But every five to 10 years, store designs change based on each mall's leasing cycle and remodeling requirements. Deck The Walls plans to make each franchisee's next scheduled remodel a big one.

Part of the plan involves implementing a better layout for customers to browse art and frame selections. Terry Abell, director of operations for Deck The Walls, said the company has doubled the surface area of design counters and moved them (and the frame samples) nearer to the front of the sales floor to emphasize custom framing. Deck The Walls also eliminated its sliding chalkwall frame displays on which all frames were showcased. Frames are now spread out over 20 feet of wall space so they are all visible at a glance. "The change in physical layout helps customers understand what their options are," Williams said.

Another major change at Deck The Walls is that customers can now watch craftsman at work. The frame shop used to be hidden in the back of each store. Now, computerized mat cutters, special mounting equipment and the assembly area are dramatically lit on the sales floor. …