You’ve been framed: How Banksy, Norwich City and a Euro2016 champion added up to success for a Norfolk firm
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
A determination to think outside the box – and inside the frame – has fuelled growth at a city art firm, which aims to break the million-pound turnover mark for the first time this year.
Norwich Framing Centre has branched out to become a specialist in street art and sports memorabilia in response to a slowdown in demand for traditional portrait photography framing over the past decade.
As well as its Premier Shirt Framing business, which frames shirts and other mementoes for fans and clubs including Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur, the Pitt Street company also completes high-end framing commissions for London galleries and private clients keen to frame artworks and prints by the likes of Damien Hirst and Banksy.
Business owner Gary Townsend said the specialisms had given the 20-strong company national reach, with each now making up around 20% of turnover.
'If we were ever going to grow the business, we had to look outside of Norfolk and beyond the shops, and in particular to London,' he said.
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The company's Misterframeman brand caught the moment as urban and street art grew in popularity.
'The timing was perfect, with artists such as Banksy, Faile, Antony Micallef, Damien Hirst and a host of other street and urban artists becoming more popular and collectable,' he said of its founding in 2007.
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'We now cater for high-end galleries and a client base of over 1,000 in and around London, including sports stars and celebrities.'
But it is the sports framing business – through premiershirtframing.co.uk – which has seen the fastest growth, since it was founded three years ago, having seen a 66% rise in sales over Christmas.
The company uses computer-controlled cutting tools to design personalised mounts for memorabilia, which has included Mike Tyson's boxing glove and Norwich City goalkeeper John Ruddy's first England cap, and has experimented with fitting frames with LEDs.
Last week, the company completed a commission for Southampton defender Jose Fonte to frame his shirt and medal from Portugal's victorious Euro2016 campaign.
One of the ideas the company is developing is building video screens into the frames, so that a fan or player can see the highlights of the game in which the shirt was worn.
'It's almost like artwork in itself, and what we are adding to it is turning it into a piece of wall art – something you can display and be proud of,' said Mr Townsend.
'I still think we can double what we do over the next three years, but we need to stay innovative and ahead of the competition.'
Matt Johns, head of production at Premier Shirt Framing, sees 30 shirts a week come through the workshop.
He said: 'I think it seems more real to fans because they've had it framed. You can have a shirt in your house but it doesn't really mean anything until you've got it presented.
'It's also a social thing – there's a story behind it and it's something to talk about.'
Norwich Framing Centre's decision to branch out might never have happened, if it hadn't been for an overheard conversation in a Shoreditch gallery in May 2007.
Gary Townsend was attending an exhibition by French street artist Blek Le Rat when he heard the gallery manager complaining about the quality of a batch of frames.
'I introduced myself and explained that we may be able to help, should they wish to try a different framer, without really expecting to hear back,' said Mr Townsend.
A month later, he was asked to quote for a framing job.
The month after that, the company was starting work on an £8,000 contract for an exhibition in London.
That was the encouragement Mr Townsend needed to found Misterframeman, which offers conservation framing for galleries and art collectors, and runs twice-weekly deliveries and collections in London.
In 2017, the business is looking to expand further, with talks ongoing with a potential partner in the north of England.