Meet a creative entrepreneur who’s stumbled into two successful businesses. Find out how a salesman’s pitch and a fun vacation started it all.
If the old adage is true that a painting is worth a thousand words, then the frame that surrounds the art must have value as well.
That’s Jim Roden’s belief, anyway. In 1970 he opened The Framery, 8404 Railroad St., Crystal Lake’s first exclusive frame shop. “A framing job complements the artwork – it doesn’t overpower it,” he says. “Frames are what make the piece special.”
Today, his James Frame Co. makes every piece unique. While his retail business includes assembling and restoring frames, his wholesale business manufactures some of the more than 250 custom and ready-made frames found in his store.
When he was younger, Roden never pictured frame making in his future. After a stint in the military, he went to work at his father’s paint store, which he eventually took over. He also started selling picture frames, after a salesman successfully pitched his product. “He told me that it was a great sideline business, that a lot of paint stores were starting to sell picture frames,” Roden says. “He was right. It kept getting better and better. It became very lucrative.”
And he developed a knack for it. “You either have a color sense or you don’t,” he says. “You either have a sense of balance or you don’t. I just get it. You have to have a good business sense and an artistic ability in this business. I kept working hard at it and eventually figured it out.”
Life was good. Then, in 1980, Roden received an urgent phone call in the middle of the night, telling him that his building had burned down. Starting from scratch, he opened a new shop a few months later, in his current location. Roden spent a year overhauling the entire building, refinishing the original wooden floors and tin ceilings, and replacing windows.
Today, The Framery is a staff of three: Roden and his longtime assistants Barb Deuchler and Mike Orre. The team can frame family photos, signed sports memorabilia and priceless masterpieces. “If they can get it in here, we can frame it,” Roden says. His business also repairs, cleans and restores paintings and frames. The shop cranks out about 200 frames a day.
Over the years, Roden has framed just about everything, from a violin to pairs of shoes. For one customer, he framed a revolver and a badge that belonged to the customer’s grandfather, who was a Kane County sheriff. He’s mounted canvas and added lighting around framed paintings. Two years ago, Roden constructed a massive frame that was 8 feet by 10 feet, to accommodate a rather large piece of artwork. “To me, it’s fun to come up with ideas that are original,” he says. “We’re inventive. I’m not sure that there’s anyone else in the country that does what we do.”
Roden and company work with large-quantity distributors and catalog companies, and can handle quick-turnaround jobs or oversized projects.
Framing, however, isn’t cheap. An average framed project costs $150, and takes one to two weeks to complete. “We get big orders,” Roden says. “We’re working on an order right now for 2,000 frames for a craft business. The wholesale and retail business has been a good match for us.”
The Framery stocks more than 250 styles of moldings, and buys 10,000 feet of it at a time, directly from a mill. The molding goes through an inline spray machine, which applies a coat of paint, dries and cuts the pieces.
The best-quality frames are made of either metal or wood. Wooden frames usually have a warmer, more inviting and traditional look, and are ideal for certain pieces of artwork such as a painting, a rich color photograph or an heirloom piece. In contrast, metal frames, with their straight edges and sharp corners, tend to show a bolder and more contemporary – even industrial – look. Metal frames are commonly used for black-and-white photography and other modern media. The Framery uses a computerized mat cutting system to make most jobs easier.
Customers are mostly local, traveling from as close as Barrington and as far as Downers Grove and Chicago. Like most small businesses, The Framery has experienced some slow times, thanks to a sluggish economy. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” Roden says of being a small business owner. He credits name recognition and loyal customers as keys to his business success.
“Things are always changing in this business,” he says. “You never know what’s going to come through the door. These art pieces become part of a customer’s personality.”
Tom Sullivan of Crystal Lake has been a regular customer for 10 years, after moving here from California. He stops in often to have art pieces framed and others reframed. Three years ago, he hired Roden to craft a potting bench for his wife, an avid gardener. “Jim is really innovative,” Sullivan says. “He has great taste, and he does first-rate work. He’s a heck of a nice guy and has a terrific personality for what he does. He gets all my business.”
Now Roden has ventured into making wooden tables. Using mahogany, hickory, walnut and cherry, he started exploring furniture building by making a handful of tables for himself and family. Then, three months ago, a customer walked into the store and asked if Roden could make a table like one she found in a magazine. “I’m willing to try anything,” Roden says.
Always on the lookout for new opportunities, Roden recently launched Becky’s Bikes, a new way to occupy the framing business’ summer slowdown.
The bike store came about last October, when Roden took a weekend trip to Quebec City, Canada, and stumbled upon a shop that rented electric bikes. Roden, who’s had knee replacement surgery, took one for a test ride. He spent all day on it, and the next day as well. It felt good on his knee, and it was fun. “We had a ball,” he says.
Roden woke up one morning a few months later with electric bikes on his mind, wondering if anyone sold them locally. He called the Canadian company and a week later had a visit from a salesman. Roden bought a stock of bikes and opened his new business in June. The hardest part, he says, was coming up with a catchy name. He decided on Becky’s Bikes, named after his daughter.
“Interest has been amazing,” he says. “Most people around here had never heard of an electric bike. You come back from a ride with the biggest grin on your face. They’re so much fun.”
The electric bikes are especially popular in California and in the south, where the climate is warm year-round. They sell for $1,900 to $2,700, get between 15 and 40 miles on a charge, and travel 20 miles per hour.
“With the price of gasoline continuing to rise, people are riding bikes more than ever,” Roden says. “And, it’s good for you. This could be the future, and it’s fun. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it.”