From the elegant photography and art adorning the walls of her house in Portland’s Mt. Tabor neighborhood to the beautiful and charming aesthetic of her lush, green backyard it’s evident that style and design inform each aspect of Chris Pero’s life. At 44, Chris is one of the youngest Encore Entrepreneurs profiled for this series. She’s also unique among many in the field of Encore Entrepreneurs in that her commercial framing and design business, Pero Design, is a natural extension of the work she had already been doing for years.
Although Chris has a background in photography and was working in the field of commercial framing for years before starting Pero Design, starting a venture of her own was not something she thought about. It wasn’t until after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), left her job and Portland to move back to Ohio with her family, and lost a dear friend to alcoholism that she realized she needed to take care of herself and to strike out on her own. During this time she had initially been thinking about leaving the commercial framing industry and transitioning into the non-profit world. However, a conversation with one of her clients made her rethink that plan. “She said, ‘Chris, you know the industry. You’re really good at what you do. You’ve been doing it a long time. You should be a consultant…and that year Pero Designs was born,” recalled Chris.
In 2008 Chris started Pero Design. Like many first-time entrepreneurs, she started out under pricing her work, struggled with invoicing, and the other tedious administrative tasks that took time away from the work she most enjoyed doing. She wasn’t sure that Pero Designs would be financially viable until she met with Jackie Babicky Peterson and became involved with the Small Business Development Center at PCC.
Since then, with Jackie’s assistance (and surprisingly with insistence from some of her clients) Chris has raised her prices. Her MS is in remission, and word of mouth has spread like wildfire about her work. Great relationships with some clients have led to big projects, such as Chris’ most recent project with multinational automotive corporation, Daimler, which has its headquarters in Portland. Speaking about when she got the call asking if she would take on a project with Daimler, Chris said, “It was really scary because I’d never done anything like that. I came in more expensive than my competition, but they knew that they could trust me. And now I’m called Daimler’s framer.” Although Chris didn’t take the photos, she did come up with
When asked about the importance of aesthetics in company culture and employee morale, Chris explained, “One thing I’ve definitely learned over the last ten years–learned it right away–art is the first thing somebody sees when they walk in the door, but it’s the last thing in the budget. And it’s the first thing to get kicked off the budget.” In Daimler’s case, Chris didn’t take the photos, but she did come up with idea to print them on sheet metal in a nod to the trucks Daimler is known for. The look and feel of the building is strikingly different from the other older buildings, she said. People think it’s cool and they feel inspired, energized, and want to work in that building because of it.
“Daimler’s Framer” is currently working on coordinating art for the CEO’s suit. She suggested she may have opportunities to work with other major clients on the horizon, and that she’d like to do so once a quarter. Beyond that though, she’s resisting the urge to grow her business into something bigger because she values precision and is very particular about her work. Although she finds herself pulled into projects that are moneymakers but not what she really wants to do, her goal is to stay focused on allowing Pero Design to work with business to help them get art on their walls, and to show off what they do best.