Two Fast Frame retail shops opened for business last week in Scottsdale, Ariz. Another of the custom framing stores is expected to hang a shingle within the next couple of days in Brazil.
The speed at which the list of Fast Frame locations is growing is all part of the plan for the Newbury Park-based operation. The company said it intends to open 35 stores in 1998, which would bring to nearly 200 the total of Fast Frame sites in the United States and abroad.
"We are getting a tremendous amount of new inquiries, which is allowing us to open stores in new markets," said Brian Harper, president and chief executive of Fast Frame. The company opened in Newcastle, England, in the early 1980s and established its headquarters in Thousand Oaks in 1985.
"We are actively pursuing [the purchase of] other existing independent frame shops," he said. "We will either convert them into franchises or acquire them for the company."
The majority of Fast Frame shops are franchises, but Harper said the company will open more of its own shops in the coming year. Of the additional locations, he said, 10 will be new franchises, 10 will be acquisitions converted to franchises and 10 will be acquisitions turned into company-owned stores.
"When we franchise we only pick up royalties, which is 7.5% in our case," Harper said. "We already have company stores in Thousand Oaks and West Los Angeles. They have been successful and we want to capitalize on that."
Harper attributes the success of Fast Frame as a whole largely to a cohesiveness between individual stores and the corporate office.
"When I took over as CEO and president in 1995, one of the things that was lacking was that the company had expanded in the late '80s and early '90s but the franchises weren't getting the attention they deserved," Harper said. "I wanted to concentrate on getting the gaps filled, giving the owners good validation. We started up a franchise advisory council, which helps with communication."
It also doesn't hurt, he said, that the large baby-boomer segment of the population has become a major percentage of the framing market.
In particular, he said, the age group's growing interest in nostalgia fits well with Fast Frame's marketing of frames used to display memorabilia.
"Baby boomers maybe didn't think, in their 30s and 40s, too much about family history and the memorabilia they collected," Harper said. "But now they are in their 50s, and they are starting to think about it. They have memorabilia in their closets, in their drawers."
Although Harper admits that custom framing is more a luxury than a necessity, he said the business was not hurt by the early 1990s downturn of the national and California economy.
Of Fast Frame's 164 stores, 93 are in California--including six in Ventura County and one in Santa Barbara. The balance are spread throughout Phoenix, Chicago, Atlanta and the Twin Cities region.
Fast Frame recently contracted with a developer planning to open about a dozen stores in the San Diego area over the next two years. Internationally, in addition to four stores in Brazil, Fast Frame has shops in Japan and Australia. Company officials are planning to expand into the Dominican Republic and Switzerland.
Fast Frame provides master licensing rights overseas and in return is paid a reduced royalty and a fee for the use of the company name and framing process.
"We see interest increasing internationally, albeit one of the challenges for companies in the U.S. is they go into another country and don't understand the cultural differences," Harper said. "We have had a huge amount of inquiries, but we do not want to do more than two new countries in a year."