Owner gets the big picture by adapting to technology

1/8/2013
BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Kevin Wiley of Perrysburg stores a frame after assembling it at American Frame in Maumee.
Kevin Wiley of Perrysburg stores a frame after assembling it at American Frame in Maumee.

Ron Mickel's willingness to change and incorporate technology into American Frame Corp. has helped the business grow into a framing and printing powerhouse.

The Maumee company, which turns 40 this year, was housed in Mr. Mickel's garage when it started. Today, American Frame occupies a 40,000-square-foot Tomahawk Drive facility that bustles with activity.

American Frame sells custom frames and prints high-quality photos and artwork. It offers about 400 frame choices and does most of its business in the United States and Canada.

Some of the company's 50 workers were busy cutting and assembling frames or printing artwork Monday afternoon, a vision that Mr. Mickel said he didn't foresee when he began selling frames at a paint and gardening store he owned in the late 1960s.

"I just kept adding to it and eventually got rid of the paint and wallpaper," the 79-year-old said.

Those initial frame sales paved the way for an entirely new business.

When Mr. Mickel added low-cost metal frames to the company's catalog and sold them through the mail, it helped catapult the business onto the national scene. That decision, coupled with the advent of credit cards and telephone sales, put Mr. Mickel at the head of an ever-expanding empire.

In addition to embracing over-the-phone orders, Mr. Mickel pioneered the sale of metal frames with rounded edges, something he says helped set his company apart from others.

From left: Dana Dunbar, Ron Mickel and Laura Jajko poses inside the showroom at American Frame in Maumee, Ohio. Mickel is the father of the two sisters, two-line cutline in three columns.
From left: Dana Dunbar, Ron Mickel and Laura Jajko poses inside the showroom at American Frame in Maumee, Ohio. Mickel is the father of the two sisters, two-line cutline in three columns.

"There was only one profile available and we thought it would be neat to round the edge," he said.

American Frame is getting ready to launch an overhaul of its Web site (americanframe.com) in early March. The business receives most of its orders via the Internet, something Mr. Mickel also predicted would happen as more people came online.

The upgraded Web site will feature a 360-degree view of frames and photos that will illustrate a frame's size. Customers also can upload their own images to see what they'd look like in a particular frame. Staying relevant is essential to building a successful business, Mr. Mickel said.

That success has allowed three of his children to come and use their own talents to expand the company. Laura Jajko serves as vice president of sales and marketing at American Frame and relishes in the creative control she's afforded by her father's business.

Ms. Jajko, 52, helped incorporate commercial sales into American Frame's business plan. The company now fills orders en masse for universities and other large-scale institutions.

"I have creative freedom and I work with my family," she said. "The employees are like family because we have a very steady work force."

Ms. Jajko's sister, Dana Dunbar, and brother, Matthew Mickel, also help innovate how the company should advance. Ms. Dunbar serves as the chief financial officer and Matthew Mickel is the company's photographer.

Ron Mickel's children laughed as they recalled their father coming into their childhood home with metal shavings in his beard. Each member of the Mickel family hopes they can continue the success it's achieved so far.

"All I know is I just followed what was happening," Ron Mickel said. "I had no ambition to have a place like this. ... I did not fight the growth."

Contact Kris Turner at:kturner@theblade.comor 419-724-6103.