Name: Ames Cyrway

Age: 40

Title: Co-owner with husband Brian Vigue

Company: The Framemakers, Waterville

About: Providing custom framing since 1977, and offering gallery space to artists since 2014

Website: www.theframemakers.com

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Hiring and recruitment and retaining employees. We do have an aging workforce. I would love to give an opportunity (to someone) like the former owner Bill Taylor gave to me when I was 24. And here I am, 16 years later.

Our field is very arts-related. It attracts a lot of the artistically inclined. What I have also noticed is that it attracts a lot of people who were told not to bother to go to a liberal arts college and that they would never make a living out of art. I feel like that has been squashed in the last 10 years of education. We don’t have arts and the humanities like we used to.

On top of that, we have a phenomenal employee with a great skill set, but technical writing is not one of them, and she needs to do that; it’s part of her job. You have to work with them, but one of the challenges is where you’re the owner-operator, you’re expected to do the training as well as the daily operations. It’s extremely difficult, especially for me.

We have worked with Jobs for Maine Grads, and we had a phenomenal candidate. When she left, she was on the top of our list, but she hasn’t been able to come back, which is sad because she’s awesome.

The biggest thing is that creativity is so quickly squashed and not cultured along with maths and science. There is math involved and also in the fitting department (where the final product is assembled), a very little chemistry involved — very basic, like mixing methyl cellulose with water to make glue. It’s basic stuff, but the moment you bring that up to someone’s who’s artistic, they’re like, “No, no, no!” And when you bring (the artistic component) up to someone who’s good at math, they go, “No, no, no, no, no, I can’t be creative.” So finding that balance is tough for us.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Bill’s (Taylor) advice to me was always be yourself, do not compromise yourself. That was something I took to heart because — one of the stories that I like to tell is creativity does need to have a role in our field. You can put a black frame and a white mat on something, but is that always the best option? Color theory comes into play, but also a little flair. There’s all kinds of different ways to make a product shine.

One of the things I have been known for is my interesting T-shirts. One day, I was listening to my dad about this, I don’t know why. He said you have to dress more appropriately for work. So one day, I come into work, and I am wearing a button-down shirt with one of those V-neck white T-shirts underneath, but Bill said, “It looks like you are wearing underwear.” He didn’t mind my interesting T-shirts, and to this day, I have the interesting T-shirts and it becomes part of what people recognize me for. Here I am at (a Chamber of Commerce) Business After Hours and everyone is in a suit and tie, and I am rocking a Transformers T-shirt.

How do you foster creativity in yourself or your staff?

I really do encourage them to have their own flair, as long as it meets our requirements that make (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) happy. Even though we’re boutique retail, but we’re also light manufacturing. I know you want to wear your sandals, but because you are working with glass and other heavy objects, please wear either some sort of shoe that isn’t sandals — closed toe or has some thickness to it.

Sometimes I am prone to over-thinking things. And that comes from both being an artist and loving science. I love science, I love math and I know just enough about IT (information technology) to be dangerous. Brian does some software and web development.

A lot of times, I’ll say I have an idea, and they will come back to me, and say, “Do we really need that?” And I’m thinking, wouldn’t this make it easier? And they say no, it wouldn’t.

We try to be collaborative, and we definitely bounce ideas off each other. We tend to get together to collaborate on ideas on how to run more efficiently.

What’s your biggest fear?

I feel like right now we can’t take a vacation or really leave the shop. I had surgery and I was supposed to take two weeks off, and I took five days, if that. I’ve got too much to do. Fortunately, the surgery went without a hitch, and everything was going perfectly, and I’m going: As long as I don’t do this, don’t do this and don’t do this, I think I’ll be all set — tuckered out a lot faster. I think I was lucky in the fact that I didn’t do anything damaging. Bill did the same thing. He was going though cancer treatment, and he was still coming into work. That’s always the big fear — not being able to have health insurance. I want to be able to give that to (my staff) but as it is, we’re trying to focus on keeping the business going and getting a good product out.

What role does technology play in your business?

Quite a bit, a lot more than what I think a lot of contemporaries that have come and gone in Maine have. I think it’s a rural Maine thing, or a Maine thing in general, that technology is feared. We did not have a website until about 2004, and before my husband starting working for us it was pretty much done in house and it still is. Fortunately, Brian’s background is in search engine optimization and keeping up with the W3C standards (international standards for the World Wide Web).

Since we took over (the business), we implemented a computerized cost estimator. That does two things: Cuts down in human error in math, which is phenomenal. Even though you physically have to measure, it does the math for you for the margins and the frame size. We also have it set up so that it will give certain warnings. It will read the width for the frame and if it’s too thin for a certain size, it will flash a warning. We took the problems I encountered previously and made dialog boxes that pop up. That helps.

Also, going with a tablet-style retail rather than the cash register. That will not only collect your customer information, it will also retain it so you can pull data for analytics, you can reach out with email lists.

As much as Facebook is the bane of existence, it’s a necessary tool. We do a lot of connections through there. We just started getting our Twitter account and Instagram account active. It’s daunting if you don’t do it a lot.

I find myself at the computer four to six hours a day doing the ordering, researching on new products. There’s just so much more.

I feel technology is extremely important. That’s where I get a lot of my information.

We have a Professional Picture Framers Association, and going to the meetings, in Portsmouth (New Hampshire). Usually, I am the one from the furthest north. Of those, just recently the ones in York County and Cumberland county tend to be more with the times. Talking to (more rural framers) they say they don’t want to bother with email lists or it’s not feasible or they don’t have as much time. I feel in our industry, it’s utilized more in the urban areas, but up here that’s the reason why we went from having so many frame shops in the area to having only three shops in the greater Augusta and Waterville area that are independents.

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