By Eric Nakano and Julie Salazar
Just like the mementos he frames, Steve Lindemann’s picture-framing business Linco might stand the test of time.
“When I came to San Dimas, we had five picture framers. We had Fast Frame, Aaron Brothers, Richards in Glendora, and one in downtown. Today we are the only framing company within Glendora, San Dimas and La Verne,” said Lindemann, a stout bearded man in his 70s with the energy of a teenager that just got his first car.
In an era when more and more consumers are buying everything online, including picture frames, Linco has managed to buck the trend by developing a base of loyal customers who come from as far away as Yorba Linda and Murrieta to frame their pictures.
Ryan and Andrea Stalder, a young couple from Old Town San Dimas, are some of Lindemann’s newest customers. They wanted to replace the frame of a photo project with an ornate mirror frame they owned. Their picture was a large map of the United States filled with photos documenting the 19 states they have visited.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” exclaimed Andrea as Lindemann brought out their newly framed picture.
Nodding towards Lindemann, Ryan said, “This man is the best! … We’re first time customers, and we had a custom project and asked him to take that mirror out and put this map in — and you know, he can do anything!”
“We have 78 five-star reviews on Yelp, which I am very proud of because we will go to the nth degree to make our customers happy,” Lindemann said after the Stalders left. “We are not happy until they are happy. And we’ve never had an unhappy customer.”
Lindemann credits his success (and staying power) to his ability to adapt, something he has done throughout his career. He started working in the newspaper industry in 1966 — first at the Oakland Tribune, then later at the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, and the Daily Breeze before leaving the industry in 1999.
While at the Oakland Tribune, Lindemann was approached by the Oakland Raiders in 1976 to do their team picture framing, which was only a hobby at that time. Raiders owner Al Davis liked his work so much that soon Lindemann was handling all framing for the team.
“I worked directly with Al Davis, and there were different team pictures every year. And pretty soon we were framing about 200 pictures a week for the Oakland Raiders,” said Lindemann.
When the Raiders moved to Southern California in 1982, Lindemann followed and continued working for local papers like the Los Angeles Times while framing for the Raiders on the side. He also took on additional work framing articles for area newspapers and national ones such as USA Today.
After the Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995, Lindemann stayed in Southern California, retired from the newspaper business and opened up his own framing store in an industrial park on Allen Avenue in San Dimas in 1999.
“I wasn’t in a retail location although my location did face the street. In those days, we had dark rooms and that kind of stuff, and I needed a location to produce photos from negatives the newspapers would send me,” said Lindemann.
Once newspapers began going digital in 2002, Lindemann sold his dark room equipment, cashed out his retirement and purchased Linco’s current location on Arrow Highway.
Business boomed. Not only was Lindemann framing photos for local businesses such as Casa Del Rey, the Hat and Roady’s along with national chains such as the Yard House, but he also began producing acrylic display cases for model cars and eventually sports memorabilia.
As COVID-19 swept through Southern California and shut down businesses, Lindemann again adapted, this time transitioning from making acrylic boxes for cars to making clear acrylic shields for front-line staff at fast food restaurants, income tax offices, real estate agent offices, and banks.
“The reason we are still here is that we’ve pivoted,” said Lindemann. “Whenever we’ve run into an obstacle or problem, we’ve done something different. When the newspapers were having a hard time, we went to magazines. When we wanted to get more business, we asked ourselves, ‘Why don’t we get into needlepoint? Why don’t we make acrylic [display] boxes for cars? Why don’t we get involved with sports memorabilia?’ — which has become a huge area for us. When our business went down [during COVID-19], we started making shields.”
Adapting to the times might explain part of Linco’s success, but another factor is undoubtedly Lindemann’s unwavering passion for making his customers happy. In fact, Lindemann is known for never saying no to a customer, no matter what they ask for — which is how he got into shields.
“The Hat was the one that pushed me into making shields. We frame all of their t-shirts and use acrylic boxes to display their t-shirts. One day, the owner called and ordered 44 shields. I told him, ‘We don’t make shields.’ He said, ‘Well, you use acrylic, and you make boxes, don’t you? Why can’t you make shields?’” said Lindemann. “So that was the push that got me into it.”
Lindemann’s unwillingness to turn customers down has had the unintended effect of setting high expectations, with some customers asking projects to be turned around within days or hours, even during busy periods.
“One of our problems is that we work really fast,” said Lindemann. “When someone brings something in, we do it in two or three days. We usually tell everybody a week, but we’ll call them in two or three days. … Last Christmas Eve, I had someone come in here at 5:30 p.m. and say, ‘I need this framed for Christmas!’ And I said, ‘Which Christmas?’ And he said ‘Tonight!’” Lindemann said chuckling. “And we got it done. We’re fortunate we don’t have to depend on anyone outside our company, and we do everything here.”
This dedication can sometimes exasperate his daughter Laura Lindemann-Delk, who serves as Linco’s general manager and plans to take over the business when he retires. If he retires.
“Working for my dad is for the most part good … We do butt heads sometimes over time off, and he calls me after hours with questions. But we really vibe well,” said Lindemann-Delk.
Lindemann’s staff also noted that working for Lindemann is a unique experience. Brian Liberty, a production manager at Linco, was hired by Lindemann from Aaron Brothers when it closed.
When asked what working for Linco is like compared to Aaron Brothers, Liberty said, “There are a bunch of crazy jobs that we do that we wouldn’t do at Aaron Brothers. Steve, the owner, doesn’t like to say no to anyone, so we’ll take in anything that comes in the door.”
Once, for example, a customer came into Linco a few years ago and asked Lindemann to fix the driver side mirror of his RV.
“The driver,” Lindemann explained, “had his mirror knocked off of his RV on the freeway.” Even though Linco does not fix car mirrors, the driver convinced Lindemann a car mirror was no different from the mirrors he sells. “So, we drew a pattern and stuck the mirror on,” said Lindemann.
Lindemann acknowledged that he probably should say no to some jobs but insisted that it is part of who he is and he does not plan to change.
“You know, I don’t turn anything down. A lot of my people have a problem with that. In fact, sometimes they like it when I’m not at the shop when a difficult customer comes in because I won’t turn it down, and I’m going to make it happen,” says Lindemann with a grin.
As more businesses open up and life moves past COVID-19, Lindemann is ready for the next phase of Linco and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
“I want the business to remain successful. I think we’ve got a great start, and I think there’s a lot of great opportunities. I love getting out, meeting people, making sales calls, and coming up with creative ideas. So my plan is, if I can leave Laura here with the shop and with the people, they can continue to maintain our business, and I can go out in the field and make new business and new contacts. Everytime I sell a frame, I know I’ve made a new customer for life,” said Lindemann.
With Lindemann’s knack for adapting to the times and his passion for going the extra mile for each of his customers — whether they buy a picture frame or not — it is likely that Linco will remain a San Dimas institution for decades to come.