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Old 10-30-2009, 08:01 PM
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Going into the upholstery business.

So for those of you already in the trade I have a few questions.
I will be starting up my own place after I leave schooling for it. I have the local restoration/hotrod shop in my pocket so to speak.I have a shop at my disposal so that is one less thing to worry about. IF any of you guy may suggest a handful of good start out machines, ranging from the lower to the higher prices range,and some supplier's of the materials used that would be great.Another thing I am wondering about is how you guys quote jobs ?
I don't know how many upholster's are on here but I have seen the work of DanTwolakes and feel that if I can do half the quality he does AT ANY POINT IN MY CAREER I will have done top notch work.
Any and all help/advise from anybody would be greatly appreciated.

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Old 10-30-2009, 09:09 PM
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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.
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Old 10-30-2009, 09:47 PM
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Thank you for the advice Dan,that is exactly the honesty i had hoped for.
My plan was as you said to work a normal day to day job and do the upholstery on the side.I have always liked the thought of doing interior,and decided to pursue it on my local hotrod builders suggestion.I have done some headliner/speaker grill work for him in the past and helped him install all the interior on a customers 57' 210 SHOW WORTHY chevy.He said that he was impressed with my attention to detail,and my ambition to learn. He also tells the owners of all the cars he restores/builds that they are on there own for an interior.However when he first mentioned the thought of my going to school for upholstery he said that when I got back he wanted to do at least 3 of his family's personal car's,and that if I proved myself to him he would suggest to all his customers I do there work and let them see what I did for him.
Upon arriving home I plan on doing the interior on a few of my own vehicles that will see shows on a regular basis to get my name out there.
My wife's grandfather used to be the "go to guy" here in my town but retired some years ago.He is confident that I can pay the bills if I produce what people want and also brought it to my attention that I am not trying to appeal to the locals as much as the car world in general.
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Old 10-30-2009, 10:04 PM
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I am sandwiched between Ft. Smith Ar,and Mena AR. Each is less than an hours drive from me. Then there are other bigger area's like Little Rock,and Fayetteville within 2 hours of me.Should I consider moving closer or do you think I could work with that ?
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Old 10-31-2009, 08:09 AM
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That sounds like a terrific plan. That builder is a smart guy who has given you a great chance and great advice. You're close enough to the bigger cities. Good luck, let us know how it goes.
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Old 10-31-2009, 07:37 PM
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Thanks Dan,I really appreciate you honesty,and kind words.
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Old 11-02-2009, 03:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanTwoLakes
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.

This is a great advice. However, some of this sounds so technical.


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Old 11-12-2009, 09:12 AM
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Dan, that is some great advice.

I'm also starting my own upholstery biz as well. The shop I worked at got sold and we moved everything to the owners house. 6 months later everything is at my house now, as I did more work at his house on the machines than he did.

I'm doing most of what you suggested. I always give the customer a little extra, the cheese on top if you will. Hopefully as I do more jobs I will build a good rep.

I agree about starting in these slow times on custom car interiors, but I'm hoping it will be negated with the large amount of marine(boat jetski etc) work that is down here...
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Old 11-16-2009, 09:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanTwoLakes
Treat all your customers the same




Ditto...

I try and treat all of my customers the same. I treat the guy that calls up and orders a $15 dome light the exact same that I would treat the guy that is spending $10,000+ on a complete interior.

And think about being in business like this...

Who are you opening/running a business for? Yourself...to make money? Well yes, but the answer is NO. You will not make a single cent until you stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about your customers.
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Old 11-16-2009, 12:53 PM
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Well,I will not be going to wyotech for the upholstery class anymore.Seems they like to lead you on them dump a load of "and also's" on you.So now I am going to have to figure out a new way to learn the trade.I would like to find a place to take me as an apprentice.
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Old 11-16-2009, 08:44 PM
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Make sure you find someone who's word you can trust. Worked at 2 shops when I was younger to learn the trade from the owners. Payed my dues doing tear downs and carpet installs then seat cover installs etc. But never let me near the machines, one would not even let me watch when he was sewing. Finally, one of the employees there explain the situation to me. Unless you are a great friend or a close relative, they are not going to train you to be their competition, especially if they see talent in you. Most have gone down that path already and don't want to get burned again, and I don't blame them. Same in most business sadly. Auto upholstery unfortunatly, is one field that has few if any schools. I just bought a used machine and made alot of mistakes. I learned pretty quick how to untangle bobbins =D

Good luck and keep us posted,
Robert
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Old 11-16-2009, 10:44 PM
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I agree,and have found the part about not revealing there "secrets" to be 100 % right ! I guess I will just be me a machine and do my cars to learn on.
71' baja bug
72' karmann ghia
50' ford sports coupe
87' ex. cab s10
91' suzuki samurai
Mybe by the time I finish all those I will be "ok" at it.
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Old 11-17-2009, 08:49 PM
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Quick question for the Upholsterers making a living at this. How did you guys get training? Curious how many of you are self-taught.

Looking for some middle-age motivation to take the leap of faith.

Thanks
Robert
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Old 11-23-2009, 11:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by itsmecord
Well,I will not be going to wyotech for the upholstery class anymore.Seems they like to lead you on them dump a load of "and also's" on you.So now I am going to have to figure out a new way to learn the trade.I would like to find a place to take me as an apprentice.

Good decision, one of the biggest mistakes of my life was deciding to go to that school.


On a side note you can just take the Upholstery class but you have to pay cash and they put you on a wait list, for when they happen to have a opening. i found this out after i was about 15k into the school for classes that i didn't want to take.
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Old 11-23-2009, 07:01 PM
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I originally tried to just take the uph. class for cash up front,but they "don't allow that anymore". Yes,6 months of an auto course was not what I was looking forward to before I could take the course I wanted.
Me deciding factor was that my housing (off campus wife/baby)
was "taken care of" I was supposed to leave this month and they call and said " so have you secured housing yet ? " Housing was going to be first/last months rent plus $ 800 deposit = $2800 !! I was told they had covered it then the girl I had appointed to me denied ever saying they had it covered not to mention the months of problems I have had out of them. VERY unprofessional !
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