Picture frames: a natural extension
Soon, Ron changed the inventory at his hardware store to paint and wallpaper, with a garden center.
“The trade journals said that if you have a wallpaper department, you should have a display of picture frames,” Mickel said. “I got to be very good at picture framing and color coordination. Little by little, our picture framing capabilities grew and I got rid of paint and wallpaper. The store became Ron Mickel Fine Custom Framing, then the Ron Mickel Gallery, northwest Ohio’s first modern art gallery.”
The ad that changed everything.
Dana Dunbar: What really propelled his business forward was the American Artist ad.
“In 1973, I took a page ad in the classified section of American Artist magazine,” said Mickel. The ad offered 13 frame samples along with a wholesale price list, for $2. He called his company ASF Sales, as in “aluminum section frame.”
“For a couple weeks, I’d forgotten all about it,” Mickel said. ”Then, I went to check the P.O. box. There was a stack of envelopes. The first actual frame order came soon after, from Chico State University in California. It included a check for $400."
Via mail and phone.
The business grew thanks to brisk sales through mail order and over the phone. “We were one of the first companies to have an 800 number,” said Ron. “That really opened up more sales. We even did a commercial for AT&T that ran throughout Ohio.”
“That’s when I changed the company name. ‘ASF’ was a tongue twister, hard to understand over the phone. So we became American Frame Corporation.”
Early memories of the business.
Dana Dunbar: 1988 was my official start. I worked for Dad in high school. I’d drive to work in my school uniform.
Laura Jajko: My earliest memory of the business was when I was about 13. I came home from school, walked in the garage and there’s Dad, with a saw. “What’s up with this?” I asked. “I’m cutting picture frames.” I thought it was the weirdest thing. My first job was to file the ends of picture frames so they were smooth.
Later, dad gave Laura and Dana real jobs.
Dana Dunbar: After college, I’d moved to Tennessee, but I had no family or friends there. So I called Dad and said, “I’m ready to come back. Do you have anything for me?” “Yeah,” he said, “you can do the books.” I was always good with money. So I learned how to balance the books, write checks, answer phones, and work the showroom.
Laura Jajko: After going to college out west, I was living in San Francisco. I’d just had my first child and was working for Sprint, in technical support for national accounts. I wrote a business plan for Dad. My idea was to take the company from just making do-it-yourselfer picture framing kits to doing custom picture frames for companies. One of my first clients was Sprint Communications, the company I’d just left.
Dana Dunbar: Before the internet, dad had product sheets, flyers, that he’d send out upon request. Back then, he loved the J. Peterman catalog. He loved how small it was. It had simple drawings of products. One of the barriers to people purchasing from us was, “Oh, gosh, I can’t put together a frame myself.” We decided to send out something that was more of a learning tool for putting frames together versus something you just throw away. So Dad and I collaborated on what I named “The Handbook.” I wrote the copy for it. We were always refreshing it.