Framebridge for Business: Sugarlift
Sugar lift (def): a printmaking process that showcases an artist's brushwork. And! A company connecting budding art collectors with their first (or next) piece of original art. Founded by Wright Harvey and Bart Piela, this New York City based startup is making it easy to break into an often cold, exclusive art world. Faced with growing demand for framing the pieces they sell, they sought to partner with a like-minded company that could provide their customers with an easy, affordable framing solution. Here's how we've worked to show that, in fact, together is always better.
First things first, where did the idea for Sugarlift come from?
Bart and I worked together in corporate strategy for JPMorgan in New York. We spent our time being entrepreneurs within a bigger organization, but we always dreamed about starting our own company focusing on something that we were really passionate about that solved a problem.
In Chelsea galleries there seemed to be really high end art that was priced in the neighborhood of $50,000 and up, and then online a lot of low quality options that were closer to posters than art. There didn’t seem to be a solution for people like us who wanted quality, a real artist behind the work, technically interesting work.
At the same time, we have friends who are artists, Brooklyn has an untold number of young artists. It’s very difficult for them to connect with an audience, and get into galleries. They aren’t naturally talented at building their own business or promoting themselves. We saw a great opportunity at the intersection of those two ideas. How could we find the best young artists out there, support them with our efforts, introduce them in an intuitive way to an audience who is looking for their kind of artwork?
We started Sugarlift to be both pro-artist – meaning we want the best for the artists we represent – we want them to get paid for their work, we want to take the logistics off their plate, while at the same time being very pro-collector. Saying it’s ok not to have the vocabulary – we’ll hold your hand. Also keeping in mind that you know what you love, so if we can introduce you to something that you love at the right price and get it on your wall we consider that successful.
"We realized the problem most collectors have is not access. The problem is that they have too much choice."
Was the concept for Sugarlift always the same, or did it evolve as it came to fruition?
The broader vision of connecting artists with collectors has always been the same. How we do that as, any entrepreneur knows, evolves all the time. We’re always taking in inspiration and making adjustments and improvements. So I think that the biggest improvement we’ve made to our business so far is moving away from being an online gallery to much more of an art advisory service where we work with our collectors. We realized the problem most collectors have is not access. The problem is that they have too much choice.
Is there any particular lesson that stands out since you started Sugarlift?
Going back to when we were framing in-house (pre-Framebridge) we got to a point where we were selling enough that it was taking up probably half the team’s energy to frame and fulfill and ship. As a small business, when there are only three of us, there’s plenty to do among the three of us without doing any of the logistical work at all.
We did one art fair where there was an even higher surge in sales. I think we spent the next two weeks just frantically producing, framing, and shipping all the orders. At the end of the two weeks we all high-fived each other, but then realized we hadn’t really focused on the business because we were so busy getting out sales. That was the moment where we knew we needed to look for a great partner. That’s when I reached out to Katie on the Framebridge team for the first time. We did a couple prototypes and the relationship grew from there.
You guys have done such a great job of helping us with fulfillment – production, framing, shipping – which allows us to focus on our brand and introducing it to a larger audience.
"Framebridge was our favorite in terms of quality, customer experience, and the team we’re building a relationship with."
How did you guys find out about Framebridge?
I think that you guys do a great job in casting your brand to a wide audience through the blog and social media. So I know I was familiar with the brand. I think when I first became close to Framebridge was when we were going through some of those growing pains. When we were looking for a framing partner we made a short list of potential partners. I think our first connection point to Framebridge was Katie and then Elise shortly after. Framebridge was our favorite in terms of quality, customer experience, and the team we’re building a relationship with.
"Starting a business is hard, life can be hard. Challenges can be good if you have a positive mindset."
What’s the best business advice you’ve gotten since starting Sugarlift?
The advice that sticks with me the most I brought with me when I started Sugarlift. When I first got a job out of school the CEO of the company at the time was a great leader. He had this expression, “Stay positive and optimistic at all times.” Starting a business is hard, life can be hard. Challenges can be good if you have a positive mindset.
If you were to frame something to represent your biggest Sugarlift success what would it be?
I think it would be getting our tax id number. *Laughs* No, we’re gonna take a team composite picture and update it as the team grows. Just like at Framebridge we’re all about our team and we’re always evolving.
How can we work with you to grow your business?