Framer of Honors is Honored
The Daily Oklahoman, March 15, 2007
By Chris Brawley Morgan
Entrepreneur Lucie Voves washed cars and sold lemonade, as well as shoveled, swept and baked, for extra cash when she was growing up in Oklahoma City.
Her original ambition was to be a doctor, a goal that fell flat when she fainted at the sight of blood during a high-school stint as an Alexander Fleming Scholar at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Voves, now 42, has picked herself up and is founder and president of Church Hill Classics, which offers proud graduates or loyal members a variety of ways to frame diplomas or recognition certificates, for an average price of $129.
Located in Danbury, Conn., Voves' company "partners” with more than 650 professional associations, military and Greek organizations and institutions of higher education, including Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma.
Jerry Hatter, who owns Balfour of Norman — which sells OU spirit merchandise — said his store sells the Church Hill Classics frames, some with an OU seal, and others with a university photo or a spirit medallion. Half of the buyers are relatives at graduation time; the other half is former graduates who want to frame their diploma, probably to enhance an office wall.
Hatter said his store once sold frames from several companies.
"We are exclusively Church Hill Classics now. The quality is just too good,” Hatter said. "Even their packaging is such that it prevents breakage.”
It's a conscientious attention to detail that partly prompted Church Hill Classics to be given the 2006 International Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics Better Business Bureau award.
Voves said she implements a familiar, but perhaps rarely used, philosophy in an era of corporate greed.
"The customer is always right. My philosophy might cost you a little money, but there is so much value in positive word-of-mouth. It's totally worth it,” Voves said.
Even while attending Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Voves launched several business ventures, including selling imported African jewelry to Oklahoma City shops. Aware of the thriving party-picture industry on Oklahoma college campuses, she and her then-future husband, Joe Voves, founded Picture This! at Dartmouth.
After graduation, both Voves went to work at Procter & Gamble Co. Eventually becoming a brand manager, Lucie Voves worked in both Ohio and Connecticut.
"I've always been interested in marketing. The psychology of why people buy. I like to shop,” she said.
Voves said she also enjoyed working with other well-educated, motivated people. But there were drawbacks.
"Virtually, it was said to me, you can have a family or you can move up in the company,” Voves said.
The origins of Church Hill Classics came in 1990 when Voves and her husband decided they wanted a picture of their alma mater — and couldn't find one.
So Voves flew to Oklahoma City, where her mother, psychotherapist Martha Beveridge, and father, attorney Andy Haswell, still live.
She hired Oklahoma City artist Greg Burns to create a portrait of Dartmouth Hall, while Burns' wife, Patricia, showed her how to take care of the final product.
"I came here for a week and she taught me how to frame and hooked me up with the suppliers,” Voves said.
Back at Dartmouth, Voves and her husband decided to sell 500 limited-edition prints of Burns' artwork. The artwork sold fast, but what Voves picked up on was the number of people asking, "Can you frame my diploma to match?”
In 1992, Voves left corporate life and two years later bought the Internet domain name diplomaframe.com. The name provided a huge branding opportunity for the young company, she said. Voves now employs 49 people at a 30,000-square-foot facility.