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Lucie Voves

For Lucie Voves, the trigger for starting a company wasn’t a single “eureka” moment but a growing realization over time: I can turn my personal venture into a viable business.

Today, her Connecticut-based frame-making company Church Hill Classics–known online as DiplomaFrame.com–sells more than 100,000 custom frames a year, generating more than $9 million in 2013 revenue. She now has 85 employees who this year helped land Church Hill Classics on the Inc. 5000, an annual list of the fastest-growing, private companies in America. It’s not just this once; 2014 marks the seventh time her company has nabbed that top honor in the past eight years.

And though the company hasn’t made it into the elite Inc. 500 since 2003, in many ways, Church Hill Classics is the ultimate success story–that is, of course, if you think bootstrapping and growing organically are business strategies worth emulating.

Going Back to College

It all started in 1991, when Voves commissioned a painting of her favorite building at Dartmouth College, where she had graduated two years prior with a degree in art history and English. The artist’s wife taught Voves how to frame the painting, and Voves saw an opportunity to augment the paycheck from her day job as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble. “I kind of stood on the street corner at Dartmouth that first year at graduation and peddled art,” she says. “Finally [I] got into the bookstore, and did well with the art–but I had a lot of customer requests saying, ‘Hey, I love your frame, can you frame my diploma to match?'”

Dartmouth frames were in particular demand–the school’s diplomas are written entirely in Latin, making it difficult to tell what school they’re from. Voves knew that if she wanted to expand the business, located at the time in her Newtown, Connecticut basement, the most logical starting point would be other Ivy League schools with Latin diplomas. Over the next three years, she made connections with school bookstores, eventually widening her services to schools like Syracuse University and the University of Connecticut. By 1996, Church Hill Classics was an incorporated business–now headquartered in a larger home basement 20 miles away in Ridgefield.

Self-funding a bare-bones business limits growth. “We would take a new school and it would take a couple years to make that profitable,” Voves laments. “So I only took on a few every year, as some of the older ones started to roll over and become profitable accounts for us. In hindsight, I think I missed a really big opportunity.”

Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

Voves, who has never taken a single business class, may not have been thinking like an entrepreneur back then. But it’s no stretch to say that her entrepreneurial spirit has carried Church Hill Classics in the face of significant challenges over the past decade. READ THE FULL STORY ON INC.COM: http://www.inc.com/cameron-albert-deitch/how-church-hill-classics-keeps-landing-on-the-inc-5000.html

 

Cameron Albert-Deitch // Inc. magazine