Published: November 26, 2019

‘Treat every piece like it’s irreplaceable’



In an era of email, online ordering and digital transactions, the Frame of Mind Framing and Art Gallery at 119 N. Second St. in Coeur d'Alene has kept alive the tried-and-true tactic of conducting business in person.

And it’s working. The shop’s dedication to face-to-face interaction has kept generations of happy customers coming back since the store opened 35 years ago.

"It's not something you can do over the internet," said Lynee Richards, who runs the store with her father, Merlin Berger. "To me, it's a 'touch it, feel it, taste it, smell it' sort of business."

The commitment to the interpersonal is a legacy of Richards' mother, the late Sharon "Shane" Berger, who made it a priority to engage with customers and build trusting relationships.

"Shane would say, 'I want to see the whites of your eyes and the smile on your face,'" Merlin said of his wife, who died unexpectedly in 2014.

“My bride started the business by just herself," Merlin said. “Everybody in town knew Shane. It got to the point where business kept getting better and better."

Frame of Mind provides a space for local artists to hang their works. With coffee and cookies offered daily and a well-mannered canine companion on duty to greet guests, it's a friendly environment for clients to envision the ideal way to frame and display art and photographs.

A geometry of frame samples cover the walls. Woods range from elegantly plain to opulently ornate. The universe of choices can be overwhelming, but with Richards' guidance and Merlin's mechanical abilities, just about any framing dream can become a reality.

"We can do the improbable, but the impossible just takes longer,” Merlin said, quoting Shane. "We’ve prided ourselves on the fact that we’ll try and do anything."

Through the years, the Frame of Mind family has learned some key lessons about what matters to customers.

"When somebody brings something in, it might be a crinkled-up piece of paper, but they brought that in for a reason, and somebody else brings in a piece that has a price tag of it of $20,000, which one is worth more?" Merlin said. "How do you put a value on it? You can’t.

“Don’t try to put a value on things," he said. "Treat every piece like it's irreplaceable."

Another lesson: Satisfaction varies with each person. Merlin said when he worked in service, sales and management for Sears many years ago, the motto was always "satisfaction guaranteed."

"Well, who determines what satisfaction is?" he asked. "What may satisfy one person may not satisfy another. Consequently, when you carry it over into a business like this, you want to do what you do and you want the people to be happy and satisfied and glad they came in the door, and know when they leave that you’ve done a good job."

Treating every customer as an individual is cornerstone to the Frame of Mind approach.

"This is not a type of retail business where you adjust by season, you have special sales, that type of thing," Merlin said. "That’s not what makes it run; we have no idea what people are going to choose when they come in here.”

That doesn't mean every single project has gone precisely as planned. Although the gallery strives to satisfy every customer, it's equally important to know when a client’s requests are unreasonable. One customer took advantage of the shop’s good intentions and made them jump through hoops for several months until they finally had to put their foot down.

“Every time she came in, something had to be changed," Merlin said. "There’s only so much you can do, and to try to anticipate what people’s expectations are and know beforehand, sometimes you get surprised."

Frame of Mind isn't active online. It has a Facebook page, but no website or other social media. Richards said she gets at least three calls a day from a company representing Google that wants to increase Frame of Mind's web presence. She tells them, "No, I don't want to."

“I’m fine going through my local people," she said. "I prefer to do local advertising. I want to stay local."

Local artists, guests they know by name, a robust and positive word-of-mouth advertising around town.

If Frame of Mind has learned anything in the more than three decades it’s been in the Lake City, it’s the little things like eye contact and a handshake, the value of the priceless and the importance of building relationships that last — along with the lovingly rendered frames — for generations.