Vintage Framing Business Attributes Its Success to Industry Experts

By tapping into the power of industry insiders, this decor company became a picture of success.

(Photo: Courtesy Antique Curiosities; illustration: Jessica De Jesus)

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Oct 5, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Bekah Wright is a Los Angeles–based journalist who specializes in travel, entertainment, and lifestyle.

Many small businesses start as a labor of love—rooted in a deep personal passion and often providing a source of supplemental income. That was the case for sisters Allison McCall and Sarah White, founders of Antique Curiosities, which produces beautiful vintage-style framed artwork. Six years after launching, they have grown their business into its own full-scale endeavor. They have successfully overcome the challenges of establishing distribution relationships, staffing efficiently, and managing the logistics of a burgeoning operation.

The sisters learned the art of matting and handcrafting custom frames from prefinished wood after enrolling in a framing class. Soon after, the duo started creating signature vintage framed artwork that McCall would display at her day job selling furniture and upholstery merchandise to wholesalers. This “in” with the wholesale market was key to dealing with a challenge facing many new businesses: awareness and distribution.

Wholesalers who were visiting the furniture and upholstery business where McCall works began buying the framed pieces created by the sisters. The duo quickly saw the benefit of selling pieces in larger quantities to wholesalers rather than one-offs to individual customers. Apart from larger orders, wholesalers have also had a far-reaching impact on Antique Curiosities’ brand growth and additional sales as it distributes pieces to stores around the world.

Last year, Antique Curiosities put this lesson to the test. It invested in booths to display its wares at some of the largest furniture and home decor industry market shows, which are attended by buyers from around the world. “These events bring a lot of interest from bigger companies we wouldn’t have had access to before,” McCall says. “Now, we’re seriously making frames.” Within a year, Antique Curiosities outgrew its rental space.

Cultivating a small, nimble staff has also made a huge difference in the bottom line. The sisters have one full-time employee and one on-call part-timer. “We don’t require that many people, which definitely keeps costs down,” McCall says, pointing out that one skilled full-time worker has the capacity to manufacture up to $400,000 worth of wholesale merchandise a year. Delegating day-to-day tasks to a trained staff also means she doesn’t have to give up her furniture and upholstery job.

(Photo: Courtesy Antique Curiosities)

As the company has grown, so have its challenges—specifically, how to safely ship five frames in one box or $25,000 worth of frames on a shipping pallet and everything in between. “With glass, there can be no movement of any kind in a box, or it will break,” says McCall. “Sometimes, we think we’re packaging to the extreme, yet we still have a lot of damage.” To solve this problem the company sought out the site for insight on packaging fragile pieces, shipping options for smaller orders, and—when needed—getting in contact with the transport carriers that can pick up and ship pallets of large orders. In effect, UPS provides Antique Curiosities with optimal and cost-effective delivery solutions, whether for a customer buying a single piece off Etsy or for a wholesaler looking to outfit multiple showrooms across the globe.

Though it was meant to be a modest creative outlet that could generate a little extra money, Antique Curiosities has made a bigger move toward success. This, too, has served as a lesson to its owners. “Now, we’re long-term planning for the future growth rather than catching up to growth,” McCall says. In other words, don’t be afraid to follow wherever your business leads—especially when it’s to unexpected success.