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From the December 6, 2002 print edition

Serendipity framed success for Bennett

Katy Lieber  

Kirstie Bennett credits her retail career to serendipity; 25 years ago, she walked into a do-it-yourself frame shop with something to frame and liked the experience.

At the time, she was also looking for something to do with money saved from a small, home-based publishing company.

"I lived like a student, so when my business started slowing down, I had money saved," she said. "I could have done two things with the money. I could have bought a Berkeley brown shingle and rented it out to friends or I could start a business." Encouraged by her experience at the shop, and the fun people working there were having, she visited every custom framing shop in the Bay Area.

"I talked to owners who were amazingly open about their business. I thought it was great and ended up apprenticing myself to a couple of shops. I also went to framing school," she said.

Eventually she bought a "totally empty concrete barn" under the Sather Gate Garage in Berkeley. "I hired a friend to help and we put up our own walls, plumbing and heating. We built the store from scratch," she said.

She bought a book on how to run a business, which taught her everything from how to pay her employees to how to keep the books and opened The Framer's Workshop. She says the business has been in the black since day one.

Bennett and her husband and co-owner, Jeff Goldberg, whom she met while hiring him as one of her first employees, oversee nine employees. She focuses on expanding corporate outreach, and Goldberg handles more of the business side of things. Both, though, can be found in the shop up to five days a week.

Bennett harbors no expansion plans. She believes the best strategy for success is to constantly work on and be involved in improving the store's sole location.

"It takes owner involvement to really be successful," she said.

Business philosophy

The basics: "Personalized customer service. We bend over backward to make sure customers are happy. We work hard and stand by our product, which is really important in business. If something goes wrong, we do it over."

Best way to keep competitive edge: "Be unique and be the best at what you do. Focus on what you do best. Even if you are a cashier at McDonald's, be the best one. If you are the stock person, be the best one. That will lead you to promotion. What we do is focus on strengths so we can offer the best price, selection and service. It's about focus."

Guiding principle: "In 1977 we started with a motto: 'Satisfaction is a job well done.' "


First job: "Gift-wrap clerk at age 16 at Bullock's in Westwood."

Words that best describe you: "Energetic, creative, exacting, innovative and friendly. I have a talent for making people feel comfortable."

Like best about job: "Using my creative talent with a diverse group of customers and a variety of artwork."

Like least about job: "The fact that (my husband) Jeff and I have both worked weekends for 25 years while raising a family. It's just one of things we have to do."

Pet peeve: "Framers who use cheap, acidic material that damages art. We rescue a lot of work that was done years ago by unscrupulous framers. We only use conservation materials, nothing else."

Most important lesson learned: "That you've got to stick to goals even in the toughest times, but you have to have the flexibility to adjust them when necessary."

Person most interested in meeting: "Steve Jobs. He's a creative genius and a shrewd businessman with an amazing design sense. And, I'd like his framing account."

Most respected competitor: "We don't have a competitor in do-it-yourself. We may not have one in on-site. But in custom framing we respect Jim Storey at Storey Framing in Berkeley."

Three greatest passions: "My family, my work, my standard poodle, Pepper."

Judgment call

Best business decision: "Undoubtedly, hiring the man later to become my husband and business partner."

Toughest business decision: "Deciding not to relocate when the front doors of the business were blocked for 18 months due to seismic retrofitting."

Biggest missed opportunity: "I think it was our saving grace. When other shops were expanding, we decided to keep our eggs in one basket and focus on our one business."

Acquired tastes

Status symbol: "Our store. We're a Berkeley institution."

Favorite movie: " 'What Women Want.' "

Favorite book: " 'Guerilla P.R. Wired' by Michael Levine."

Favorite restaurant: "Fat Apples in El Cerrito. It's a neighborhood place. Great all-around American food."

Favorite vacation spot: "Gallery hopping in Santa Fe."

Set of wheels: "Lexus RX 300 SUV. It's a great car for framing deliveries and for the snow."

Reach Lieber at or 925-598-1434.

© 2002 American City Business Journals Inc.