Steve Albin grew up in the Santa Clara Valley prune orchards in northern California and has lived in nearby Los Altos his entire life. He has always appreciated the little things of his everyday life, and even more so now.
Towards the end of his successful 42-year career as the owner of a custom picture frame shop, his health started to deteriorate, and he mysteriously started losing his muscle strength.
“I’d been going downhill for three years,” says Albin, 73. “I was getting weaker and weaker…I couldn’t walk from the garage to the mailbox. We were going to doctors, and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. My cardiologist told me I might have a disease called amyloidosis. The only testing that’s done is a biopsy of the heart, and most insurances don’t pay for it, but I was diagnosed and was told I needed to get a heart transplant.”
So, a year and a half ago, Albin went on a waiting list for a new heart. Fortunately, he had to wait only about six months for a heart transplant, and he’s now seven months out of recovery.
“I feel fantastic now,” says Albin. “I’m right back on my program – inventing.”
The grandfather of seven spends much of his time now as an inventor – an occupation which stemmed from his past experiences.
Albin is proud of the myriad jobs he has had since graduating high school – from working in a lumber yard to asphalt work, to bakeries and a paint store.
“It’s good to have all sorts of jobs, because then you know what you don’t want to do in life,” explains Albin. “The paint store had custom picture framing, and I fell in love. It was an occupational instant love. I looked at it like I had at least 25 jobs, and this is one I really enjoy…When you find what you love, you’re very fortunate. Sometimes they don’t pay as well, but you love it.”
The owner of the paint store sent the young Albin to an old framing master who taught him all the various techniques for picture framing. For one year, he’d split his time between working at the paint shop and as a student. Six years later, in 1970, Albin was able to open his own shop, Steve Albin Picture Framing, in a local shopping center.
What he enjoyed most about his profession, he says, was the fine art of mounting on different types of papers so the artwork lasts a lifetime, as well as showing affection towards his customers.
“It’s just a wonderful thing to give wonderful service and make someone happy and comfortable. It’s a good feeling,” says Albin. “It’s so wonderful having an occupation where you can give of your heart and of yourself…When you have a one man shop, customers tend to tell you all sorts of things. You just listen to their opinion. That’s the sign of a true professional – make your customer feel comfortable. Give your best service, that’s your job.”
According to Albin, anybody can put a frame together, and anyone can cut a mat, but the most important aspect of his craft is the design – putting it all together and the mounting.
“You have to know what you’re doing,” he says. “No matter what, it’s priceless to the customer.”
Albin took his craft so seriously that he was one of the founding members of the Professional Picture Framers Association.
“I was appointed the first convention chairman,” says Albin. “It exists today, and I traveled around the U.S. teaching framing, matting, and various different classes.”
During his time traveling to different trade shows with the Association, Albin says he would see different products in the framing business, and he would tell people how to improve their product, and they did.
“As my kids started to go to college, and I needed extra money, I started thinking of my own products such as, Easle Mate and Frame Connector,” says Albin. “In total, I had about eight products that I had patented and manufactured.”
Albin says he started Albin Products 15 to 20 years ago while he had the frame shop. One company ended up buy all eight of his inventions – which are now sold in Michael’s stores across the U.S., and stores worldwide.
Earlier this month, Albin was one of about 450 to pitch his latest invention – the Handy Clamp – to the ABC television series, “Shark Tank.”
“You can use the Handy Clamp when you want to glue something with your finger and thumb…you tighten the clamp so you don’t have to hold the object. You can clamp it to the table,” explains Albin. “The audition was absolutely wonderful…It was very exciting!”
He explains further that everyone gets one to three minutes at a time to pitch their idea to the judges.
“One of them said they’d seen everything, and when I showed him the clamp, he said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this!,” recalls Albin excitedly. “We have to wait two weeks to see if I made it for the next round.”
He says what makes an invention successful is that you have to make something that is not out there.
“You don’t want to compete with a better looking screwdriver,” says Albin.” You have to have a new kind of clamp where if someone sees it, they say, ‘I need that clamp.’ When something is new and hot, you get people from all over the world wanting orders.”
What’s the most important life advice that he would like to leave us with?
“Make sure you marry someone who is better than you are,” says Albin who just celebrated his 52nd wedding anniversary this month. “The key to everything is finding the right wife for you – success for business, family…
Your wife is the most important thing you can have. She’s your partner in everything – in advice, in business, in sickness and health – everything…We got married when she was 18, and I was 20…Happy marriage is staying true to your wife. You cannot drift off. You have to stay true to your vows no matter what it takes…I feel very blessed.”