Having met George Park on several occasions, I know that exceptional quality and a professional touch are hallmarks of the way he works. Calling him up for an interview and being answered by a personal assistant, before being transferred to Mr Park himself, illustrates immediately the importance that George attaches to making customers feel valued. From the name Dreamcatcher Framing Company (the naming to be revealed in part 3 of George’s story) to the clear and imaginatively-designed web-site, you will recognise the care taken to get things right. And all of this designed and achieved by George himself. Even more impressive is that this is all a “virtual” image surrounding a business operating from a home workshop. It proves that it is the service you provide and the quality of work that you produce, which can set you apart from the rest – not the size of premises!
But it wasn’t always like this. Going back just 4 years, George, a keen amateur photographer, wanted to show some of his work at home. Looking across the kitchen at pictures he had put into ready made frames started him thinking. How much better would these images look if they were displayed in frames designed for the individually cropped photo, rather than in a standard print format? (or words to that effect).
Unfortunately ready made frames are only available in standard sizes, and so George decided to do some research into how he could frame work for himself. In fact, it all linked up with ideas he’d had about starting a framing business, while still living in South Africa some years before. Investigation then revealed that tools, equipment and premises could cost as much as buying a house. So for the time being the idea went “on hold”. However, now he had started looking at the situation over here, he found a number of possibilities began to surface. And of course, once he found DIYframing.com, he realised that framing his own work was a highly achievable option.
George started work on his own frames in 2003. Soon he wanted to pick up a few of the “tricks of the trade” and became one of the pioneer students of DIYframing’s training programme. Having learnt about basic framing and mount cutting techniques in August 2004, when training operated from the Sunflower Gallery workshops, he has been among the very first to try out new parts of our training programme. He completed our very first session about 3D framing in December 2004 and was, later, part of a group of to work though our second course on Conservation Framing, at our new training centre, Woodlands Farm. In fact, he uses the principles learnt in conservation framing as the foundation for all of his bespoke work.
Now having a “gallery “of his own framed work, George was soon receiving requests from friends and family to frame all sorts of items for them. Inevitably one thing leads to another, and the thought of being able to make an income from a hobby starts to take shape. In the early days, individual pieces may have taken longer to complete, but quality was never compromised.
As George’s reputation grew and the possibility crystallised about taking this further, a change occurred in his full time work. On becoming self employed, and on being contracted in to work for his previous employer, George was then in a position of greater control and flexibility over his professional hours. This, in turn, provided a better opportunity for “growing” the framing business. A local leaflet drop led him to pick up some early work. In fact visiting one property, which George’s wife realised had almost been missed, ended up with him having a chat with the owner of the house. As a result, George was commissioned to frame a valuable piece of artwork and, in doing so, had to find a way of “curing” a warp in the board it was painted on. Often the case with satisfied customers, this has led to further framing projects from the same source and the possibility of helping with artwork to feature in a suite of offices.
Back to the present and George is now awaiting delivery of a suite of 10 photographs, which he is framing for display in a pub that is being re-furbished.
In the next instalments, you can find out about how George built and kitted out his workshop and, later, how the name, logo website and business have been developed.
So there’s George happily working from home, successfully creating a gallery of his own photography, tackling increasing numbers of framing projects for family and friends. Other jobs are starting to come in from the first efforts at marketing, but still he has to work from his kitchen, using any space around the house to store supplies as well as keeping safe artwork before and after framing. It is at this point that most peoples’ minds turn to workshops and sheds.
In fact these thoughts hijacked George’s and his wife’s plans for a rather elegant summerhouse and combined work area. They had been looking at plans for Colonial Barns on the internet as the ideal solution; however the anticipated building costs (0ver £10,000) led them to ideas of building their own summerhouse using a company in the UK. This also coincided with George putting the finishing touches to his training, so he now realised the need to “spread out” so that he could take on a wider range of framing jobs. A summerhouse would mean that they still have a space to sit out and enjoy barbeques in their garden “after hours”, but it could also provide that space for George to work comfortably on his framing. It also addressed the dilemma facing most of us: invest in a workshop in anticipation of increased custom or manage with the kitchen until you have had enough work to afford the workshop?
Size is always an issue because the more space you have to work in, the better. Mind you, it is also true that you will fill whatever space you have. However, for George and his wife, it was equally important that this framing outpost did not spoil the proportions and style of their lovely garden. In the end they have a really good sized summerhouse with an elegant porch offering an impressive 4.8 m square internal work area with a 1.5 m covered porch.
In fact all construction work was undertaken by George himself and has been finished with his trade-mark eye for detail and quality. At DIYframing we remember hearing about him making and pegging out shuttering for a concrete base (all concrete to be transported by the barrow load into place: we did admire his stamina. At that point it would have been so easy for us to have weakened and to have offered to lend a hand: we of course resisted because we know how important it is for George to do things for himself!!! Amazingly, the whole process, from base to having a barbecue on the summerhouse veranda, only took two weeks.
As a working environment it works well all year around. There is an electrical power supply into the summerhouse so internal lighting has been boosted with 4 strip lights and a series of spotlights with daylight bulbs. Heating is also easily maintained and a potential problem with damp has been avoided by using a simple de-humidifier. Workbenches have been built to suit the space and George’s working position: without benches set at the correct height, working for long periods of time can not only be uncomfortable, it can also be very detrimental to health. Although the dehumidifier and moulding racks do mean that storage of mouldings and mountboards is not a major problem, George tends to order stock as he needs it, which avoids a build up of clutter that has to be worked around. In all workspaces it is important to be aware of the “flow and movement” between areas as any project progresses: constantly having to clear tops or having to move back and forth between workstations can be time consuming.
Having the increased space to work in has also made George reconsider some elements of his tool kit. He has now upgraded to a professional, floor-standing moulding guillotine / chopper (Morso) and underpinner. In fact, by coincidence, these new purchases arrived just ahead of that order from the pub for 10 framed photographs, making the whole undertaking much more manageable.
Occasional customers make it to the bottom of George’s garden, although like most people working from home, visiting customers in their own homes is part of the service package. But those that do make it there enjoy their visits and comment on how ideal a place it is to work in. Cats on the veranda, hi-fi switched on, fresh air, cup of coffee, a hobby turned into paid work and your own boss. Perfect? George would certainly say so.
It is strange how things work out. George clearly knows what he wants his framing business to end up like and has the vision to see its development through. There is no detailed master-plan and yet the evolution of Dreamcatcher Framing Company has been like completing a jigsaw puzzle, where pieces come to hand at exactly the right time. The planned summerhouse being able to be modified into a workspace to help cope with increased framing work is one example of the way things have fallen neatly into place.
Another is the coincidence of a bulk order for some framed photography coming just after new workshop tools had been ordered. The over-arching dream has always been to “grow” the framing business alongside his continued day-job. Eventually the emphasis will switch from one to the other so that there is a steady income ready for a leisurely retirement.
The Dreamcatcher name developed from dreamcatchers that George had seen and acquired partly in conjunction with his wife’s interest in varying alternative folklores and spiritual beliefs. A good way of explaining the notion of Dreamcatchers is to quote from native American tradition:
“The Indians believe that the night air is filled with dreams both good and bad. The dreamcatcher, when hung in your place of rest, swinging freely with the air, catches the dreams as they flow by. The good dreams know the way, slipping through the outer holes and slide down the soft feathers so gently that many times the sleeper does not know that he/she is dreaming. The bad dreams not knowing the way, get tangled in the web and perish with the first light of the new day.”
As well as being an enticing way of making a statement about his framing services (Capturing Your Memories In Frames) George also recognised a unique logo for his business in the look of a Dreamcatcher. In fact it took about 4 months for him to be happy with the image and font style for the Dreamcatcher Framing Co logo. Again, George photographed the dreamcatcher and designed the logo himself, but the time has been well spent because it provides a highly distinctive and memorable trademark: making an impact is a vital part of marketing the business.
At this point, early advertising and marketing revolved around the circulation of fliers and pamphlets. Using an insert in a local newspaper managed to target 20 000 homes, but in the end, it was not a huge success. What worked better has been the hard slog that George and his wife have been through, personally posting fliers through letter boxes.
Often you bump into people and it is that dialogue and simple networking that starts the ball rolling. Capturing a customer in this way and delivering top quality work at good prices has meant that Dreamcatcher Framing Company’s reputation is constantly growing. At the moment George’s customer base is firmly based in the domestic market place with the occasional “commercial” project coming from getting himself known and being in the right place at the right time. You address a “home” project only to find that the customer also remembers the work you have done when needing something to be framed for their workplace.
The second major drive for George has been the Dreamcatcher website. Who designed and constructed the site? No prizes for guessing. Any website takes a while to complete and George’s is no exception. Starting by mapping out the look of a page, the essential menus and how pages progress from one to another, the site has taken almost 9 months to arrive at the current “live” version. A great deal of thought has also gone into making it clear to read and easy for clients to move around. Similarly, attention was given to ensuring that the site would feature positively in listings and searches. Buying a search engine optimisation package is not cheap, but has increased the number of site hits. The outcome is that George now receives regular enquires for quotes from the site. The best result so far is that Marie Curie Cancer Care commissioned framing of a cricket bat signed by the victorious England team in the Ashes and of a photograph of Colin Montgomerie with a signed flag from the 18th tee at St. Andrews; these items were to be auctioned off to raise funds for the charity. And who knows what projects will come off of the back of that?
George is now looking to branch out into wedding photography, spotting the earning potential in another of his hobbies. Having developed a number of good contacts through his photography interests, he has a friend and mentor guiding him in this endeavour. Undertaking a number of wedding shoots for family, a couple of (very) willing volunteers and using an opportunity to shadow a professional photographer, George will develop a portfolio of work to market his photography service. This will then be marketed through a new website (under construction) using the working title George Park Photography. It also provides another potential source for the bespoke framing service.
Would George change anything in how he has gone about developing the business? No regrets, nothing different – except perhaps having more disposable money to make the process a little easier.
Is the enthusiasm still there? No hesitation – George would be happy to work 12 hours a day at the bottom of his garden doing work he still thinks of as fun.
So, is George happy with how things are going? At the outset he reckoned on 4 years to turn a profit. Two years in, things are progressing well and he is confident that his “retirement dream” has been captured.
For the illustrated version of this article follow the link: Making The Dream Work