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Micro businesses and the pandemic

At this Detroit framing shop, demand is outstripping supply

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Mar 25, 2021
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"Since we've been back open, it's been pretty busy," said Eric Vaughn. "We've had to kind of change the way we do business, simply because we have people on top of each other." Courtesy Eric Vaughn
Micro businesses and the pandemic

At this Detroit framing shop, demand is outstripping supply

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Mar 25, 2021
Heard on:
"Since we've been back open, it's been pretty busy," said Eric Vaughn. "We've had to kind of change the way we do business, simply because we have people on top of each other." Courtesy Eric Vaughn
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Entrepreneurship runs in Eric Vaughn’s family: his father, siblings, even his son have all started their own businesses. For Vaughn, that’s Eric’s I’ve Been Framed, the picture framing store he opened in Detroit more than 20 years ago. Although staying afloat in a pandemic hasn’t been easy, Vaughn saw business quickly pick up as Michigan loosened COVID-19 restrictions. The state of the supply chain that stocks his store, however, is another story.

“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Vaughn about how business is going. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Kai Ryssdal: First of all, how’s business a year into this pandemic?

Eric Vaughn: Well, you know, it started off pretty slow. We got shut down and things came to a halt. Since we’ve been back open, it’s been pretty busy getting a lot of people coming in, and we’ve had to kind of change the way we do business, simply because we have people on top of each other. And I decided to do appointments.

Ryssdal: I wonder if people have been spending the year digging through boxes and mementos, and they just decided they wanted stuff to get framed and hang on the walls?

Vaughn: Absolutely. You know, when they do the Zoom calls, they want their backgrounds to look nice, so they frame up their credentials, kids’ pictures, and also we’ve been framing up quite a bit of memorials, pictures of loved ones in the past, that kind of thing.

Ryssdal: That makes a lot of sense. Not to make a very awkward turn from a very serious moment, but when this many people come in to get this many things framed, I imagine you only have a certain amount of inventory, right? So how is your supply chain running?

Vaughn: Well, that’s another problem. I mean, the whole food chain is kind of backed up. The distributors, at one point, they were out of a lot of black molding for us to make the picture frames. My deliveries have changed. In the past, we were able to turn things around in a week or 10 days. Now, it’s taking us between three and four weeks to get things done because we don’t know when pieces are back ordered or what have you.

Ryssdal: This store’s your life’s work, basically, right?

Vaughn: Absolutely. You know, I’m a second-generation business owner. My father was was in business. He had a [Black-owned] bookstore. And all of my siblings, my brother and two sisters, they have businesses. We were able to share information, in terms of the PPP and the grant information. We were able to secure a few [of those supports] and, you know, it was a challenge but we’ve been able to make it through and survive.

Ryssdal: I guess the reason I asked the question, Mr. Vaughn, is to find out what’s going to happen when you’re not doing this anymore. Are your kids going to take this job? Are they going to be entrepreneurs, too, do you think?

Vaughn: Well, my son was actually scheduled to get a degree in chemical engineering and he came to me and said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to do this anymore. I think I want to go into business.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, Lord, another business owner.’ He didn’t take a liking to the picture framing business. But the main thing that I did, that my father also did, was purchase property. I own my own building. And it was easy for me to to start this business because I didn’t have to go and try to locate a building. You know, my father sold me the building. He should have given it to me, but I understand why he did. That’s what I plan to have for my children — something for them to walk into.

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