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Framing Out A Growing Tech Business

By Jenny Callison, posted Dec 1, 2017
Jeannette King and her husband formed Specialty Soft to design and sell software systems for frame shops. The couple also owns the Double Eagle Building downtown, housing offices for other entrepreneurs. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
When a picture framer is able to show you your piece of artwork virtually matted and framed on a computer screen for your approval, you probably have Jeannette King’s Wilmington company to thank.
 
King and her husband, Jeff, founded SpecialtySoft, which designs and sells software systems that help frame shops manage their business and enhance their customer service.
 
“Picture framing is such an old industry; it dates back to about the 16th century,” Jeannette King said. “The basics of framing have not changed, but the technology – like computerized mat cutters – has.”  
 
SpecialtySoft has brought a suite of tech products to wholesale frame manufacturers, retail frame shops, multi-site frame businesses and national chains. The company’s products address a wide range of needs from frame, mat and glass cutting to the in-store customer experience.
 
There, SpecialtySoft’s View program enables the customer to see what the print or painting will look like with different frame and mat options before making a final decision. The software measures automatically, captures the condition of the artwork and integrates with SpecialtySoft’s point-of-sale product to price what the customer chooses.
 
For picture framing businesses of all sizes, there are also SpecialtySoft products that manage record-keeping, order tracking, inventory control and changes in supplier SKUs and pricing. Other products enable the company’s clients to use social media to keep in touch with existing customers and market to prospects.
 
“My husband approaches our business from the technology perspective, and I approach it from the business perspective. It’s a good balance,” Jeannette King said.
 
Her business experience began in her first career in the social services and health care industry.
 
After earning a master’s degree, she went into administration in a home health care company, and, after serving in a series of branch-level positions and weathering several company mergers, she ended up as a regional senior vice president.
 
“I had a successful career,” she said. “When Jeff and I married, I was traveling extensively. He came from a computer science and accounting background and had purchased a custom picture framing business in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He had this idea to do software for the custom picture framing industry because he saw the need for it.”
 
Jeannette King began working with her husband’s project in late 1993 and early 1994 while she was still with the health care company. The couple took their first product to market in 1996.
 
The frame shop in Pinehurst, which the Kings still own and manage remotely with their SpecialtySoft software, became not only the seedbed for new product ideas, but also the alpha tester, she said.
 
While Jeff King oversees the creation of new software products, Jeannette King is also part of the big picture.
 
“I am involved in any new feature going into the software and [deciding] if new products should be added; how useful they would be,” she said. “I know framing, and I know the business side. So many [picture framers] are not businesspeople. They are craftsmen, so we want features that help them manage the business side of their company.”
 
The Kings moved SpecialtySoft to Wilmington in 1999 when they realized they needed a larger employee pool to draw from if they were to expand their company.
 
SpecialtySoft has done well in Wilmington, Jeannette King said, retaining a core workforce and bringing in contract specialists for specific orders or tasks. From serving independent frame retailers, the company has expanded to serve wholesalers, big-chain framers, businesses with multiple locations feeding into a central facility and customers such as hospitals, offices and hotels.
 
“We have done really well in the marketplace especially with frame shops that wanted a real business approach,” she said. “We now have customers nationwide and some outside the U.S. in the Caribbean.
 
“The framing industry itself is in an interesting cycle. It hit a peak in 2001 but then was affected by several factors such as online framing services and preframed art that’s available at places like Pier 1. Framing also declined with the housing downturn. In 2001 there were 18,000 frame shops in this country; now there are 8,000.”
 
Jeannette King said SpecialtySoft has maintained many of its customers through those bumpy economic times and beyond, largely because their customers tend to be more business- minded themselves, willing to get into technology and process improvement. In addition, SpecialtySoft maintains a database for its customers that updates SKU information on a weekly basis.
 
The Kings consider themselves serial entrepreneurs. When they were still in Pinehurst, their experience dealing with specialty glass for custom framing projects made them realize there was a demand for high-end glass shower doors and for custom mirrors. They built a business around those products and then sold it to finance their SpecialtySoft startup.
 
That entrepreneurial spirit continued as the Kings settled into the Wilmington community. Shopping for a permanent company headquarters, the couple found a building at 404 N. Third St., popularly known as the Double Eagle Building because of the twin eagle images on the façade.
 
The building had more space than SpecialtySoft needed.
 
“Because of our background we thought maybe we could be helpful to others: independent professionals and startups that rely on us to provide infrastructure,” Jeannette King said. “That helps feed that entrepreneurial desire we have for interaction with other entrepreneurs.”
 
Currently the building has 15 tenants that share a conference room and other office amenities.
 
Jeannette King cites the couple’s relationships with other entrepreneurs as essential to SpecialtySoft’s growth and creative spark.
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