When Susan Tynan founded Framebridge in 2014, her reasoning was simple: Taking materials to be framed could be financially scary and logistically difficult. For example, she would up with a $1,600 tab trying to frame four national park posters.
Offering a service with clear upfront pricing, a wide selection of materials and telephone or e-mail consultation with a designer took a lot of the anxiety and uncertainty out of the process.
The Framebridge idea took off like a house afire, raising $1.25 million from a trio of Washington investors. initially and $9 million by early 2016. Investor Fred Schaufeld of SWaN 7 Legend Venture Partners said that Framebridge “has reinvigorated the customer framing industry and demonstrated tremendous success at an early stage.”
The company is based in the toney Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and has a production facility in Lanham, Md., — and now in Richmond as well.
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In an interview earlier this year, Tynan said that the company has had “really extraordinary growth.”
The business has been dubbed the Warby Parker of art framing — Warby Parker is the company that made online eyeglass ordering popular, with its inexpensive frames and stylish variety of offerings.
Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes describes himself as, “old and conservative” in his purchasing, but he likes that Framebridge is bringing jobs in the booming field of e-commerce.
“My job is to make sure we’re creating jobs,” Barnes said. “I do think it’s something that’s going to expand, and I wish them the best. ... That makes our community that much stronger.”
Anthony Vicars, former director of fulfillment operations for Zappos, was recently named vice president of operations for Framebridge. Vicars, who has led order fulfillment and customer care operations for retailers including Teespring and Nasty Gal, lives in Richmond. The framing center there is slated to eventually have 75 employees. The framing center employs 15 now.
Zappos is known for its customer service experience, which creates personal emotional connection with customers. At Framebridge, a customer submitting art for framing may be contacted by a designer with a friendly note suggesting alternate display options or a different color mat board. Some images can be uploaded to the Framebridge Web site for framing.
A customer will measure an item before Framebridge sends prepaid packaging, select a frame and mat and pay for the transaction. Framebridge re-measures the item once it arrives at a Framebridge location.
“To exceed expectations is just a core piece of what we do,” Vicars said in a recent telephone interview. “Just meeting the expectation, to our mind, is kind of a disappointment to us.”
Vicars, a native of Jenkins in Letcher County, said that the Richmond location is convenient for shipping.
“As e-commerce has grown, when you’re looking at consumer operations ... you can reach over 70 percent of the U.S. population” from Richmond in two-three days, Vicars said.
“The operation in Maryland, they do excellent work there, that’s where most of the knowledge of the operation is, but we needed to establish a kind of keystone operation that would give us capacity to allow us to grow,” Vicars said.
The Richmond building that Framebridge is using has 36,000 square feet. The company has an option to take an additional 24,000 in the same building, Vicars said.
Framebridge in Richmond opened in April and has been shipping out orders since April 18, nearly 3,000 of them so far.
The framing center in Lanham, Md., still does a majority of the company’s volume, Vicars said.
Those who work for the company doing frame work are called designers, because they use their taste and artistic sensibilities in their work, Vicars said.
“Their role is to not just handle the administration and operations of receiving the artwork ... but understanding what the artwork is” to the customer and area where it will be displayed.
The company’s job, Vicars said, is “ensuring that we’re making it easy for you to make these decisions.”