First of all, I don't want to throw cold water on you , but let me warn you that it doesn't matter who you know in this business, it's who you show. In other words, you need to produce a volume of work, over a significant period of time, to prove to people that they can depend on you to do the highest quality of work on their car. Customers also want to know that you have a stable business that can withstand a recession. It takes a long time for people to trust you with their "baby".
There is no magic formula to quote a large project like a custom car interior. I give people a ballpark price and always tell them that the price depends on everything going exactly like I expect it to. This almost never happens. They have to be able to trust you to charge them fairly, and the more experience you have, the more they will trust you.
As far as suppliers go , you need to cultivate suppliers as close to you as possible. This means that even though prices for supplies are relatively equal, the less you have to pay for shipping, the more profit you'll make, and the less time you have to wait to receive it. My main suppliers can ship me what I want on Tuesday and I will get what I need on Wednesday. This is not a big deal unless waiting for something costs you a day's work. I can work around a delay like that , but you may not be able to do that until your business is more established.
I do not envy you starting out right now in a bad economy with no real reputation to count on. My advice to you is not to do this full time at first. Do work on the side until you build up a reputation, and then try to go full time.
Remember, people that have custom cars want it done right. You'd better be able to speak fluent vintage or custom car or they will know you are a beginner. I just got the business of a local Corvette restorer because I could not only speak fluent upholstery, and back it up with my work, I could speak fluent Corvette with suppliers all lined up to provide new old stock parts.
You are from Arkansas. Are you near major metropolitan areas? If not, get closer to them to broaden your customer base at least until you get established.
One other thing.......if you don't know the computer really, really well, learn it. If you have no business training, get some. It's a dog eat dog world out there, and some days you are wearing Milk Bone underwear. I don't mean to discourage you, but you need to be really, really prepared before you try to go full time in this business.
Here's my last bit of advice: Treat all your customers the same, you never know when one of them is going to go from a little customer to a big customer. Give everyone their money's worth. You don't have to be the cheapest if you give people more than they think they'll get. I always try to give my customers something they don't expect. You'd be surprised how a few dollars of extra work pays off in repeat business. Be scrupulously honest. The first few years I was in business, I gave all my customers back every cent I found in what they brought me. You wouldn't believe the reputation I got, or the unbelieving looks I got from giving back $.80 that fell out of a couch. If you have a customer that is unhappy, bend over backward to make them happy.
And last, but not least, remember that life isn't all about money. If you sew something for someone that takes you 20 seconds to do, don't charge them anything. Invariably, when I do a little job like that and tell them there's no charge, they give me more money than what I would have asked for, or bring me more and bigger jobs to do, or both. I hope you find some good advice here, and good luck to you.
No one lives forever, the trick is creating something that will.
Last edited by DanTwoLakes; 10-30-2009 at 08:40 PM.