A framework for success

How Stephen Ball, owner of The Great Frame Up, is creating an ideal work-life balance

By Sophie Blair

As someone who looks at art all day, Stephen Ball knows value when he sees it – just as he did when he bought The Great Frame Up in Bluffton. 

Before he decided to purchase the 17-year-old custom frame store in 2018, Ball received his MBA and had careers in management, marketing and corporate training. It was Ball’s understanding of effective salesmanship and customer relations that made The Great Frame Up what it is today: a “bright, clean and pleasant” store that makes framing feel less like an errand and more like a treat. 

“When customers come into the store, we’ll ask them a few questions about the art and their home decor,” Ball said. “We might ask where the art will hang, wall colors there and furniture style. All of this gives us a good idea of [the customer’s] taste and preferences so we can make sure the art looks its best in their home.”

While the business’s name speaks to its specialty, it offers every service needed to take something from a project to a piece of artwork, including photo restoration and professional printing.

In addition to The Great Frame Up’s gallery collection that’s displayed in-store, the framing business also does custom prints from many local artists – everything from Lowcountry-inspired art to abstract designs. The business specializes in giclee prints, or high-resolution, high-quality prints that can last up to 100 years. They are one of only 27 locations in the country that is authorized as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) map provider. 

Ball has seen a steep uptick in the frame store’s traffic since he purchased it, and he credits his success to considering his business both “a hobby and a passion.” But as a self-proclaimed workaholic, Ball has spent the last three years working six days a week – until now. Like many business owners, Ball struggled to find employees during the national staffing shortage brought on by the pandemic, but he now feels like he has a team he can trust.  

“I am in the process of training our employees to give the same quality customer service when I am not there,” Ball said. “I have started taking a day off every other week to get things done outside of the store and just do something enjoyable.” 

When he’s not working, Ball enjoys going to the pool, playing euchre on Saturday nights, attending church activities, playing with his dog, Sophie, and his newest hobby, pickleball. His greatest passion is ballroom dancing, and he won the Fred Astaire national championship after he turned 62. Ball also won two national golf championships between the ages of 62 and 65. 

As enthusiasts of art in multiple forms, Ball and his wife, Karen, support many of the local art leagues and associations, the Hilton Head Symphony, the Hilton Head Piano Competition and Hospice Care of the Lowcountry. 

While the couple is hoping to make more time to visit their grandchildren in Indiana, they are committed to setting the work aside weekly and having a day to themselves. 

“On Sundays Karen and I go to church, have lunch together, go home and take the dog for a golf-cart ride and then do something together that evening,” Ball said. “That is our personal time together. We are careful to not let anything interfere with our Sunday time together very often.”

Three takeaways

1. When a customer walks into a store, they need to enjoy and get excited about the purchasing process. Most importantly, when they leave, they should believe they had a great experience.

2. I teach my employees that the customer is not always right but the customer is always the customer. That means even when they are wrong or we cannot give them what they want, we always treat them with respect.

3. No job is too big or more importantly, too small. We cater to aspiring and famous artists. Our customers come from all economic and cultural backgrounds. Everyone who walks in our door gets the same respect.

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