The Bigger Picture
By Allison Zisko
By most accounts, the photo frame business has been flat in 2012, a victim of a still-weak economy and price deflation.
The wall business continues to be stronger than the tabletop frame business, and its higher tickets prices of $29, $39 and $49 offset prices for tabletop frames, which hover between $7.99 and $12.99. Within the wall business, vendors said, architectural and larger portrait frame sizes such as 10-by-13; collages that can be arranged over a couch or up a stairwell; and more decorative wire designs are popular.
"Developing collages at the key price points and creating larger size, multi-opening frames have been the two biggest factors driving our business," said Jeff Zunick, group president of home decor for Lifetime Brands.
"The whole wall business has exploded because of the amount of creativity on the part of the consumer," said Mike Wluka, vice president at Malden, who credited Pinterest with fueling consumer interest in design. "There are thousands of views of what people are doing and how creative they can be."
The frame business in general is driven by freshness and uniqueness of product, said Richard Feldstein, president of Prinz. "If products are fresh and have something that creates interest ... [they] get the nod ... and get put in the [consumer's] basket."
With slowed retail foot traffic and diminished display space in many channels of distribution, according to vendors interviewed, there is a need to help retailers with merchandising and presentation whenever possible. "It's up to retailers to make their stores more interesting, more entertaining, to draw people in," Wluka said. This can be achieved through fixturing, point-of-purchase displays, signage and other details. "A lot of retailers are looking at that to make shopping more enjoyable and the category easier to shop."
Category management is more important than ever, agreed Scott Slater, CEO of the Nielsen Bainbridge Group, which includes the Burnes, Pinnacle and Bainbridge (custom framing) brands. Advising retailers on space allocation, product margin, margin enhancement and so forth is more important than selling a particular SKU, he said. "Having category management will provide the foundation for success."
In Slater's view, the frame business has turned into a price-motivated market and needs to return to a growth-motivated market with features and benefits that consumers want to pay for. Noting that in some instances greeting cards cost more than photo frames, he said, "The problem is not consumer resistance, the problem is there hasn't been consumer value." That can be achieved by retailers who choose to focus on better quality product, he said. In a sluggish retail environment, he added, "core basics" sell best.
There are some strong fashion trends, however. Feldstein said that embellishments such as metal pieces on the corners of wooden frames or brooch-like decorations are well-received, particularly if they are paired with reclaimed or upcycled materials. Enamel and metal combinations are another strong look. He also noted the rise of typography, or a free flow of words or phrases that serve as a backdrop. Finishes such as black, brown or gray washes are also popular. "If you get the right gray wash it can be very attractive," Feldstein said.
"Black is still the dominant color but the warm colors are doing extremely well," said Wluka.
"Key trends in the frame business for us are the use of multi-dimensional profiles," said Zunick. "We are mixing different collage styles into one frame to create a unique look that is selling well. We are also adding larger frame sizes to our collage layouts such as 5-by-7 and 8-by-10 openings. These items are selling well."
Frames sizes have also changed since consumers started taking and printing more images from their smartphones and tablets. Feldstein noted an increase in the number of retailer requests he has gotten from retailers for 4-by-4 frames, spurred by computer applications like Instagram and Hipstamatic, and anticipates growing demand for panoramic frames now that the iPhone 5 has panoramic capability. In the same way, "the enlargement business keeps getting better and better" because the ability to enlarge and print photos has gotten easier.
"The low-tech side of a high-tech industry is going to be strong over the next few years," noted Feldstein. "I'm glad to be in the industry I'm in."