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DeLight
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« : March 03, 2015, 01:27:15 AM »

Hi all, I'm just putting it out there. I started my upholstery business last year March and needless to say I didn't make much. I'm very discouraged. I figure this year I'll have to do better. I this typical of those just starting out. Can anyone give an encouraging word?
Thank you
SteveA
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« #1 : March 03, 2015, 06:28:06 AM »

If you like what you're doing - don't be discouraged.  The work is there - it's up to you to put in the extra effort - gain customers trust, be on time, live and work below your means. 
Everyone goes through something like what you're facing.
A little more info would help - e.g. - what state are you in - sole proprietor - rent, own, ?

SA
kodydog
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North Central Florida


« #2 : March 03, 2015, 09:03:39 AM »

My wife and I have been fortunate to be able to move around over the last 30 years. We have lived in some interesting places but each time we moved we had to restart our business. Each time it took about 3 years to really get rolling. Word of mouth will be your best advertising but it takes a while.

It's not easy being self employed. Like Steve said, you gotta make the extra effort, constantly. The first thing we would do when in a new location is get out there and sell ourselves. Call designers and set up an appointment to meet. Also furniture stores, carpet stores, and of course fabric stores. Never hesitate to give your card out. Give it to EVERYONE you meet.

Get your presences on the internet. Do you have a web site, a facebook business page and a page on Houzz has brought me several jobs in the last 3 months. http://www.houzz.com/pro/edwin-northuis/__public And keep them updated. Nothing worse than going on a facebook page and their last post was in 2012.

Make sure to be available 8 or more hours a day. So many jobs are lost by missing phone calls. Return voice mail calls and messages. Go out of your way to make an estimate. Making that initial contact is extremely important.

We started our first business when I was 30 years old. We had grand illusions of how wonderful life would be. The leisure time, all the nice things we would buy with all the money we would make. Fame and fortune. I've never worked harder at any other job then working for my self. Long hard hours.

If I had the chance would I do it different? Of course. With age comes wisdom. But after working for someone else several times I can honestly say there is nothing better than being your own boss.

If you are putting out a good product and have a good personalty the good times will come.
« : March 03, 2015, 09:26:28 PM kodydog »

There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.
http://northfloridachair.com/index.html
sofadoc
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All types of upholstery.....except cars and boats.


« #3 : March 03, 2015, 09:30:10 AM »

Like Steve says we need a little more info in order to give you the proper encouragement.

Did you already have prior experience before starting the business? Would you say that one of the reasons that you're not making much money is because you haven't gained enough speed yet? Or perhaps you don't charge enough because you're still learning as you go?

For me I had "tinkered" in the family upholstery business starting as a young teen. But it wasn't until my early 20's that I got serious, and decided to make it my career. From that point on, the first couple of years left me a little discouraged at times. Then somewhere in year 3 everything began to gel. 

Some people have worked at a shop for several years and then decide to open their own place. For them, it can be tough to get established and start building their own clientele. Others started doing it as a hobby out of their garage for friends and relatives. So they built up a client base before giving up their "day job".

Tell us more. More importantly, tell us why YOU think the first year hasn't gone too well.

"Perfection is the greatest enemy of profitability" - Mark Cuban
cajunpedaler
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« #4 : March 03, 2015, 10:14:48 AM »

I think sometimes upholsterers, especially females (I am female) are seen as domestiques..something that is seen as socially as a domestic service.  Kind of like a maid or a cook..
Couple that with the fact that most of us are self taught to a certain extent and have never taken a business course on how to run an upholstery shop.  Throw in the tidbit, that most of your customers squawk to high heaven if you quote a price that is fair to everyone (how many times has a customer told me "oh, this chair is easy" I think to myself, yeah, and why aren't you doing it yourself then.

I also think that a lot of us have a starving artist gene.  We really like what we do, but get so engrossed in the project that we don't see our kingdom (finances) crumbling around us.  

My husband was raised by a Jewish father and Baptist mother...the faith issue has never come up in our relationship, but the Jewish tendencies to be a spendthrift is always present.  He basically loves the fact that I can sew and make beautiful things, but he hates upholstery from a money standpoint.  (in my defense, he never thinks the glass is half full, it's always emptying with a hole in it)

If your prices are too low, go up 20%.  If you lose 20% of your customers, you are still making the same money for 80% of the work.
Decide what your definition of success is.  Is it artistic, is it financial?  Is it both?  (Ideally both)

It is horrible to go the shop every day, whether you are renting a space or working from home, and feel like you are getting bent over and some customer is going to break it off in your arse..
It is wonderful to be able to tell a customer a fair price, listen to them squawk about high it is, and if they go away, then good you've gotten rid of a nuisance and if they stay and you deliver a good end result, then good, you've trained a customer.  

When I was first in business, thirty years ago...a guy walked in my shop and I greeted him, asked what I could do for him and he said in a bold cowboy voice walking into a saloon that "he heard I was the cheapest around" And I felt awful...I wanted him to say I was the best, or  something to that effect.  That has always stuck with me.

Redefine your success, also redefine failure.  Really examine what you want to happen.
Good luck.  
Perry
« : March 03, 2015, 10:43:11 AM cajunpedaler »

If at first you don't succeed, redefine success. If at first you fail, redefine failure.
Darren Henry
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« #5 : March 03, 2015, 07:11:22 PM »

Quote
I also think that a lot of us have a starving artist gene.  We really like what we do, but get so engrossed in the project that we don't see our kingdom (finances) crumbling around us.

That is what tanked my business. I had five years experience in upholstery and experience managing shoe repair outlets ( where they set the price list) when I opened my shop. I made the decision because I felt that the owners where I was working were overcharging their customers and  they would lie to them about why the bill was so high or corners were cut---usually through one of us staff. I over compensated on my "customer service" at the expense of my bottom line. I also got so engrossed in the work that I never looked at the clock---so I'd go to quote a job and grossly under-remember (Is that a Word?) how long I spent on the last similar project. So I would swallow the extra few hours---and a free estimate is just that {WRONG *} and " oh I'll make it up on the next big job" ---where I put the customer ahead of me again.

* In 20/20 hind sight; the "free estimate" is part of the job if we proceed, as is the gas I burned coming over there. If we don't make medicine, it is part of my advertizing cost when I fill in "cost of doing business" on my tax return/year end. I wish I had felt this way back then. The other huge time saver I should have made was a time/material cost analysis chart based on actual measured data---never mind " oh but the phone rang a couple of times & the dog needed out ---" and don't forget the time to  make calls ,write the bill, order material.  My current diaper goes way over board on that and shipping IMHO , but it  needs to either be in your shop rate or applied to your quote.

Like the others I'll wait until we know more specifics before I start offering "opinions" that may help you expand. I just felt that Perry's point was very valid and needed to be expanded on.

NOW THE WARM FUZZY TRUTH[/color]

Year two has benefits. Your start up costs or seed money , if you would, should be alot less this year. You probably have the basic tools (we can never have enough---but you shouldn't need another air compressor or sewing machine this year.) , the guy/gal at the printing shop already had your business cards laid out so it's just a phone call to ask for more, you will have stock on hand, and you have had a chance to reorganize your workspace for the most efficient flow. 

I'm pullin' for "Ya"--- We're all in this together, as Red Green says.

Life is a short one way trip, don't blow it!Live hard,die young and leave no ill regrets!
Mojo
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« #6 : March 03, 2015, 11:19:58 PM »

I think what everyone is saying ( 3 years ) is correct. I nearly gave up several times because of low sales but I stuck to it. In the third year sale took off and we are now known nation wide as the go to company for rv awnings. We have experienced phenomenal growth in every single year we have been in business. And to think I nearly threw in the towel.

I still believe finding a niche in this business and then going after that sector is the way to go. If you look at many of us successful stitchers you will see all of us specialize. Furniture, marine, auto/marine, RV's, etc. We do have a few jack of all trades but most of us find our niche and then exploit the market.

It takes time to build a business and typically 3 years is the turning point. But with that in mind after the second year you should start showing growth throughout the year. if your sales are low and stay flat for 3 years then you have to be honest and answer some serious questions about yourself and your business. Hang in there and keep your chin up and learn from the masters on here. We have many successful stitchers on here.

Chris
SteveA
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« #7 : March 04, 2015, 07:09:13 AM »

Perry
Lots of good points except I don't think folks look at females in the work place as domestic service providers only.
 Every woman I meet in the work place has the right, ability, and wherewithal to be there. Times have changed - a woman will be running this country in a couple of years -
Except for physical strength - my opinion a woman can do everything a man can do. Put those thoughts out of your mind
SA
byhammerandhand
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« #8 : March 04, 2015, 08:48:34 AM »

As the father of 3 daughters whom I trained up this way, I totally agree.  On the converse, I'm the cook in the family.

Virginia, would you be a sweetie and get me a beer and sandwich?  ;-)

Perry
Lots of good points except I don't think folks look at females in the work place as domestic service providers only.
 Every woman I meet in the work place has the right, ability, and wherewithal to be there. Times have changed - a woman will be running this country in a couple of years -
Except for physical strength - my opinion a woman can do everything a man can do. Put those thoughts out of your mind
SA
« : March 04, 2015, 10:52:31 AM byhammerandhand »

Keith

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas A. Edison
byhammerandhand
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"By hammer and hand, all arts do stand."


« #9 : March 04, 2015, 08:59:12 AM »

Being talented is not enough.    To have a successful business you need 4 things:
* product or service people are willing to buy at the price you're willing to offer
* management, including enough financial management to know when you are making money and when not
* sales and marketing
* working capital

Lack of any of those will spell doom.

... most of us are self taught to a certain extent and have never taken a business course on how to run an upholstery shop.  


Well, I was raised by farmers raised by subsistence farmers, children of the great depression, and Scot heritage.   The Jews do not have a corner on the frugal gene.



My husband was raised by a Jewish father and Baptist mother...the faith issue has never come up in our relationship, but the Jewish tendencies to be a spendthrift is always present.  He basically loves the fact that I can sew and make beautiful things, but he hates upholstery from a money standpoint.  (in my defense, he never thinks the glass is half full, it's always emptying with a hole in it)


Actually, if you lose 20% of your customers, your prices need to rise 25% to get even.  (see financial mgmt.)
If your prices are too low, go up 20%.  If you lose 20% of your customers, you are still making the same money for 80% of the work.


"Why that is right.  I use quality materials and do the job right the first time.   So with a long life, the total cost of ownership is low and you won't have to pay to have it redone."

When I was first in business, thirty years ago...a guy walked in my shop and I greeted him, asked what I could do for him and he said in a bold cowboy voice walking into a saloon that "he heard I was the cheapest around" And I felt awful...I wanted him to say I was the best, or  something to that effect.  That has always stuck with me.


Good article here @ 10 Ways to make sure you don't have enough business
http://www.costcoconnection.com/connection/201503#pg16
« : March 04, 2015, 09:04:37 AM byhammerandhand »

Keith

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas A. Edison
sofadoc
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All types of upholstery.....except cars and boats.


« #10 : March 04, 2015, 12:07:47 PM »

Perry
Lots of good points except I don't think folks look at females in the work place as domestic service providers only.
 Every woman I meet in the work place has the right, ability, and wherewithal to be there. Times have changed - a woman will be running this country in a couple of years -
Except for physical strength - my opinion a woman can do everything a man can do. Put those thoughts out of your mind
Speaking strictly from a furniture standpoint, I think there is more of a bias toward women in the upholstery business. I think the general public perception is that women have more patience for tedious jobs, and they pay more attention to detail.

But on the negative side (from a female POV), I think the general consensus is that a woman is more likely to sacrifice profit in the interest of perfection than a man. So the public might expect a female upholsterer's work to be better and cheaper.

"Perfection is the greatest enemy of profitability" - Mark Cuban
Virgs Sew n Sew
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« #11 : March 04, 2015, 05:12:39 PM »

I guess that I was lucky in that I got a couple of breaks early on.  My first upholstery job was sizeable.  When I purchased my upholstery machine, the vendor gave my card to a restaurant needing booth seats recovered.  So after 2 weeks or less in the business, I had 2 very large jobs.  That summer, I also landed a huge restaurant/bar job and weeks later a restaurant, I had sent a letter of inquiry to hired me for booths, later counter stools and then chair recovering.  Intermixed with all of those jobs have been an assortment of odd jobs that have kept me scurrying around. 

My main issue now, is as Darren posted, pricing.  As a "newby" I still struggle with pricing issues.  That's been one of the benefits of this board for me as I've gotten an indication of how much I'd been undercutting myself.  I have made it a point to start raising my prices and I try to give myself a "bump up" at least quarterly but I know I'm still behind my peers pricewise.   When you have a brick and mortar establishment, it's a bit easier to price I think.  I know that my last job, we had a formula for overhead taking into consideration, rent, utilities, salaries, vehicle expenses, etc.

Virginia
Darren Henry
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« #12 : March 04, 2015, 07:09:00 PM »

Quote
When you have a brick and mortar establishment, it's a bit easier to price I think

I grant you it does help to establish your shop rate, sales projections, budget, etc... where there is a clearly defined separation between---Darren and Heritage leathercraft. The need to bill/quote fairly to both customer and proprietor  remains  the same, though. If I work 8 hours on a job (include clean up/order parts etc..)  and bill you the four that "I thought I could do it in" , I'm killing myself. If I tell the customer it took 6 hours, I'm killing myself slowly and ticking them off. It wasn't a big deal when I started Heritage, carving and tooling belts/ knife cases etc.. making cases and bags. No biggy if I spent the whole evening tinkering with some thing in front of the idiot box for peanuts. Make that mistake when you need the money for more than boat gas and a bigger steak, you're in hard. I wish I had figured that out sooner. That "I'll make it up on the next big job"---is bull!

There are  other inherent risks to under charging:
> People question your credibility if you are the lowest quote. Usually exponentially.
>Those that decide to do business with you anyway, will put your work under a microscope to try to find fault and either ask for an even lower price or an unrealistic warranty if --- 'your machine skipped one stitch " e.g
>They will then run home and tell all their friends how they [as Perry put it ] "broke it off in your arse" . I'm stealing that line BTW. Making it hard to bump your prices up to fair to both parties. " But you did Bubba's for $X.00"

Without any more feed back from you----I'm just sharing the mistakes I have made for the masses. Once we know something about your situation we may be able to do more.


 

Life is a short one way trip, don't blow it!Live hard,die young and leave no ill regrets!
Mike
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Marine canvas & upholstery SWFL


« #13 : March 04, 2015, 10:15:09 PM »

like the other have said 3 years is the norm for me it was   im in the marine field

cajunpedaler
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« #14 : March 05, 2015, 12:31:27 PM »

OP?  Are you still there?...I'm wondering what this discussion has answered or not for you...
It was a thought provoking, stimulating topic and I for one am curious if this thread has changed your outlook..
Thanks.

If at first you don't succeed, redefine success. If at first you fail, redefine failure.
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