VOL. 129 | NO. 231 | Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Framing a Business
By Andy Meek
Tom Clifton loves what he does for a living so much that he’ll sometimes happily bound into the office on Sundays to take care of a project.
His passion has helped keep his gallery T Clifton Art in business for three decades, a milestone the gallery celebrated at its Broad Avenue location Nov. 21 with a special art opening.
Of course, it takes more than passion to achieve that kind of longevity. Clifton, for example, constantly shifts between a variety of professional hats – artist, design consultant, expert custom framer, among them. But perhaps most important, along with the passion, is Clifton’s comfort with adaptability and rolling with the inevitable punches that come with owning and growing a small business.
“It’s about being persistent and not willing to give up,” Clifton said, about the gallery’s 30 years in business. “There were times I’d talk to (co-owner) Pat (Brown), because we’ve known each other since college. I’d tell her I have to make this work, because I don’t know what else I can do. I want to make this work, and to do that you have to adapt. Trying to keep doing the same thing is sometimes a mistake. And it’s paid off for us, to change as we needed to.”
That change, for example, included moving to the Broad neighborhood in late 2008. Brown said the business was at the vanguard of the retail wave that began moving into the area, and at the time the gallery was scouting for a convenient location that would be convenient for customers who were spread from Germantown all the way to Downtown.
The Broad neighborhood was just starting to bounce back, and its appeal was hard to ignore, Clifton recalls. And the ability to hop on Sam Cooper Boulevard made it convenient to get to even for his clients based on the eastern side of the county.
“I also especially love the architecture and feel of the building,” he said. “You know, I’d started the business way out east and slowly come further in. I knew I couldn’t go too far west, or I’d make it difficult to get to and I’d lose customers out east. But this is also a convenience for me, because I sometimes go out to homes or businesses and being able to get on Sam Cooper and go east or over to Poplar Avenue and go west is really easy for me and my clients. Plus, everybody knows Broad Avenue.”
Today, T Clifton Art represents 40 regional and national artists, with its original art gallery added after the move to Broad. The gallery’s core business, though, remains custom framing. The business offers more than 2,000 moulding choices, delivery and professional installation, specialized and oversized frame treatments and hand-built frames, among other amenities.
To celebrate the anniversary, the gallery planned an opening featuring artist Glenda Kronke from Austin who works with kiln-formed art glass.
“Tom has had the business since ’84, and he’s certainly adapted it over the years,” said Brown, who, in addition to promoting the gallery, helps arrange exhibits and oversee its business side. “Originally, he specialized in custom framing and limited edition art prints back in the 1980s. Art prints tended to transition and have ups and downs, and for a period of time he focused primarily on commercial designs and commercial installations, particularly custom framing for office buildings, hospitals and the service-type industry. After moving the gallery to Broad, the retail aspects were expanded in early 2009 to feature original art, as well. So Clifton’s been very adaptive to changing as the business has changed.
“Thirty years ago, for example, you stocked all the wood used for mouldings,” he said. “Now we work with our suppliers to be able to do on-demand types of ordering. We have over 2,000 moulding options to offer customers, and we can now get those in a matter of days and it doesn’t tie up capital like it used to.”
Today, the gallery has clients all over the country. Some of its clients started coming as children with their parents, who were clients at the time. Now some of those children are grown up and bring their own kids to the gallery.
“It’s been a ride, that’s for sure,” Clifton said. “It’s wonderful to be in a position to have a job that you love. That you can be focused on it 24 hours a day and not resent it. Or not wake up on a Monday morning and groan, ‘Now I have to go to work. Now I have to do something that pays the bills.’ I enjoy going to the gallery.”