Auto Trimmers Sharing Lessons

Published by Naseem Muaddi on August 14th, 2011

Wisdom often comes from experience, and a lot of the times those experiences are bad. That’s why when a person, who I consider wise, says “take it from me,” I pay attention.

You see, learning the hard way is sometimes the best lesson. Call it a blessing in disguise, but screwing up leaves us with a valuable lesson learned that we won’t soon forget or repeat.

In fact, the only thing better than learning from your own mistakes, is learning from someone else’s. That’s why I’m urging all trimmers to share stories of things they’ve learned the hard way.

I’ll start.

My father has been an auto trimmer for several decades. Once, early in his career, his boss asked him to install a leather seat cover that he had just finished sewing. My father had only installed vinyl seat covers up to that point. So, understandably, he approached the leather job the same way he had done the vinyl, by steaming the hell out of it.

Unfortunately, my father had no idea that leather shrivels and crumbles when it’s steamed – leaving him with a mangled leather seat cover and one pissed-off boss. Thus, my father learned the hard way never to steam leather.

Many years later, while apprenticing at my father’s shop, he caught me preparing to steam a leather seat cover myself. Fortunately, before I could start, he stopped me and said, “Take it from me, you don’t want to do that…”

Thanks to him sharing the story of his past mistake, I didn’t have to go through the experience myself.

So what lessons have you learned the hard way? To always cover customers’ cars to prevent scratches? To take deposits large enough to cover your materials? To disconnect batteries before unplugging seats with airbags?

We’ve all been in sticky situations. Share yours and help other auto trimmers learn from your mistakes.




46 Responses

  1. Christopher says:

    I see this blog, but why can you not read any of the lessons learned or the tip’s and tricks? Are there none yet?

  2. Nadeem says:

    Hi Christopher,

    Indeed, you are the first to post on this blog. However, other followers of our site have posted on other forums that we’re active on – namely Facebook and Twitter.

    For instance, on Twitter, @Jsupholstery says “measure 4 times cut once.” And adds, “always order a yard more than you actually need.”

    In another upholstery forum, Mojo wrote:

    “Carefully consider each job before agreeing to do the work.”

    “Sacrifice and buy the tools that will make your job easier and quicker. The Engle hot knife rocks and cut my time down on cutting acrylics by 50 %.”

    “Measure twice – Cut once.”

    “When your level of frustration reaches its peak it is a great time to lay down your work and head off to Hooters for rest and relaxation.”

    We hope that upholsterers will keep adding to the list – especially on The Hog Ring.

    It would be great if you could share some advice from your personal experience as well :)

  3. Clazzio says:

    great article/blog. keep it up guys! i love the hog ring!

  4. levi says:

    I am just getting in to the Auto Trim and Upholstery and am looking forward to learning as much as I can. I will continue to follow The Hog Ring! Keep it up!

    Does anyone have any advise for me who is still learning the trade?

  5. Nadeem says:

    Check out The Hog Ring’s article on how to market your auto trim business via Facebook. It’s a must read for web-savy entrepreneurs: http://tinyurl.com/4xz9oln

  6. Naseem Muaddi says:

    Here are a few more lessons I’ve learned the hard way
    • Always cover cars with blankets
    • Always take a deposit big enough to cover you materials
    • Make sure your customers pick up their vehicles in a timely manner

  7. Erik D says:

    “One should never discount their labor. If you are going to negotiate price, knock down the costs of materials, supplies, parts etc. You should never show a customer that you are willing to be “Worth Less” just to do his/her job. If you build a rep for cheap prices it is hard to raise them in the future.”

    • Erik D says:

      Of course I do have a separate wholesale labor rate that I use for doing work for other shops, car-lots and people in the industry. This is the only time to have reduced rates in my opinion. ED

      • Nadeem says:

        Erik D,

        That’s one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve heard in a long time.

        Offering a discount here or there is okay – especially when it promises to bring in more jobs in the future. However, accepting a labor rate lower than what you’re worth because a customer refuses to pay is a bad precedent to set.

        If a customer wants savings, then he/she should opt for a lower grade material or a slightly different product/service. The craftsmanship, however, is priced the way it is for a reason – because the auto trimmer who did the job stands behind the quality.

        Bravo.

        • Erik D says:

          Thank you, I fell in that trap for awhile but as my skills and confidence grew as well as the realization no one else in my area can do it like I do, I started standing my ground. Of course I win some and lose some which is fine. My mentor told me once that “you can’t do everyone’s interior” so I try to remember that always when giving out prices. ED

  8. i never cut the price . if they want it cheaper go to a nother shop that does cheap work . i have sujested other shops that does cheep work . don`t go home tired and hungry .lol

  9. Naseem Muaddi says:

    Sage, I’ve had customer’s tell me they got a cheaper estimate somewhere else. Like you I told them to go there and in the end they came back to me.

  10. Ron Anders says:

    Heres one for ya 04 chev Equinox rear carpet in cargo area it takes alot of time to get carpet off of the plastic center it’s melted on so make sure to charge for a extra hour . It’s not going to just peel off.learning the hard way

  11. Mark Limanen says:

    If it doesnt look good,always take it apart and fix it,it pays in the end. I charge everyone the same incl shops.If they want to mark it up to the customer that is thier choice.

  12. when a customer tells me that he has a cheaper estimate from a competitor, I always aske to see a copy of it so i can compare it to mine, i can then tell them where it differs from mine and inform them as to the difference and it will also call their bluff if they dont have one.

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      That’s a great idea Steve, I’ll have to try that.

    • ghostrider ghostrider says:

      Yea like comparing apples to oranges a lot of guys cut corners ya know..quick and dirty I just tell them if you are selling your car thats a great price….I dont do that kind of work….Have a nice day….

    • I’ve heard the cheaper estimate thing a bunch of times also. I may be unique in this but I will not give written estimates. All of my work comes by word of mouth. No advertising other than some pictures on Facebook. If the customer wants to haggle on the price, or get a written estimate. I always tell them, (in the nicest way possible) that someone they know and trust told them to come see me for the work they want done! They can take me at my word or go to another shop. They will always be notified of extra charges for approval before the work is performed. Most customers agree and I get the jobs. The ones that go down the road were most likely customers I wouldn’t want anyway.
      This may not work for everyone, I am a 1 man shop, and have a lot of flexibility as such.

      • papasage papasage says:

        no writen estimate from me that takes time . some times i will write the total of the job on a buisness card so they will know how much it is and can`t say i told them something else especiley when i give several estimates from using diferen`t materials or diferent designs ..

  13. ghostrider ghostrider says:

    Don Taylor has a good book.He forgot a few things that are important and could invite the screw up fairy.He is smart enough to cover his a.. With a disclaimer on the first page…Hey nobodys perfect right…page 157 after you clip a notch in the front and back,Take a straightedge and draw a centerline with a grease pencil on the side with the listing..Why? because the notches will be on the windshield and its hard to see the absolute center.. Sand the bows if they are rusty,so they will slide into the listing easier.pg 158 Draw centerline on ceiling of car,say 6″ up at ft and back.. Some cars had 1 or 2 wires to hold rear bow in place..Pull from BACK TO FRONT…Commets?

    • RETIRED… A LITLLE EIACON SPRAY ON THE BOWS HELPS AND KEEPS THE RUST AWAY. WE ALWAYS STARTED IN THE MIDDLE AND WORK OUR WAY BACK WITH THE BOWS THEN RETURNING TO THE CENTER AND GOING TO THE FRONT, BUT AS LONG AS YOU GET IT IN WITHOUT WRINKLES IS WHAT MATTERS.

  14. ghostrider ghostrider says:

    Meant to say hook the wires in the back bow and put the rest of the bows in work from back to front. then pull headliner forward till the bows snap into place and the headliner is tight.Then fasten to front!This is sure hard to explain!!!! Sorry DON

  15. ghostrider ghostrider says:

    Just remembered, draw the centerline all the way down the ceilng of the car.Sorry, I guess contact cement took its toll!

  16. darrel says:

    I’ve made most of these mistakes atleast once, from being in a hurry to meet deadlines, always set the date of completion a little later then you expect. That way your always early an never late.

  17. EDWARD says:

    JUST LIKE WHEN BUILDING A DECK, MEASURE TWICE CUT ONCE.

  18. EDWARD says:

    ‘ASSOCIATE WITH MEN OF GOOD QUALITY IF YOU ESTEEM YOUR OWN REPUTATION, FOR IT IS BETTER TO BE ALONE THAN IN BAD COMPANY” QUOTE FROM PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINTON

  19. EDWARD says:

    A LITTLE INFORMATION ON THE TREAD USED AND WHY YOU HAVE A BUSSINESS. NYLON THREAD AND UV LIGHT.
    http://www.thethreadexchange.com/miva/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=TTE&Category_Code=nylon-thread-information

  20. EDWARD says:

    LINK TO FIBERGLASS THAT INTERIOR, WERE IN THE BODYSHOP CATIGORY NOW , HA . JUST KIDDING THIS GUY DOES A SUPER JOB WITH GLASS.
    http://jordan28.hubpages.com/hub/howtofibergalss

  21. New School VS Old school
    Here is what I’ve learned over the past 13 years in the business. Always absorb as much as you can from the old timers. They have a wealth of info and you can learn a lot! BUT!!!! NEVER think there is only one way to do things. You’ll hear this a lot. “I’ve been doing this for xx years, I know what I’m talking about and this is the only way to do it” That way of thinking will get you nowhere!
    Quick example, I use .090 ABS plastic for all of my door panels. It’s water proof, heat moldable and clips wont break out of the panel after repeated removals from the car. I cant tell you how many times my first boss, said no to using ABS vs that junk not-so-water-proof black cardboard, or Masonite (also junk). That said, if something better comes along I’m more than willing to give it a try.
    Try new things, new ideas, not all of them will work. But when it does you’ll have something to offer that the old timers don’t and never will, as long as they think they can’t learn anything from the new guy.

    For those who are new and want to learn the business working on cars. Do not work for a furniture shop, or a shop that started in furniture upholstery and now does cars. I’m sure there are a few of them that know what they are doing with a car, but they are few and far between. Auto & Furniture are worlds apart!!!! Do yourself a favour and learn some metal fabrication, welding, wood working, fibreglass/body work, and electrical/wiring. If all you can do is sew seats, and make door panels you have extremely limited your market, and/or your worth to your boss if you have one.

  22. edward says:

    RETIRED, TIP FOR THOSE WHO COVER VW SEATS THEY HAVE UNSEEN PINS IN THE HEADREST RODS THAT HAVE TO BE KNOCKED OUT WITH A PUNCH TO GET THEM OFF.ANOTHER TIP FOR THHOSE WHO LIKE THE DIAMOND INTERIORS. IVE SEEN SOME WHO WILL JUST SEW SQUARES AND TURN THE MATERIAL TO MAKE A DIAMOND. DONT DO THIS MARK YOU FABEIC OR LEATHER FOR A 3X5 DIAMOND THIS WAY. UP THE SIDE MARK IN 5 INCH MARKS AT THE BOTTOM MARK IN 3 INCH MARKS. CRISCHOS FROM SIDE TO SIDE STARTING WITH THE FIRST SIDE MARK AND THE FIRST BOTTOM MARK DO THE SAME AT THE TOP AND OTHER SIDE YOU WILL HAVE PERFECT 3X5 DIAMONDS FOR INSERTS. I HAVE SEEN WHOLE SEATS DONE WITH THE SQUARE TECHNIQUE WHICH LOOKS AWFUL BUT A GOOD DIAMOND CAN MAKE A GOOD INSERT. NOW HERES A GUY WHO CAN RESTORE ANYTHING INCLUDEING AUTOS. STEVES RESTORATIONS ON THE HISTORY CHANNEL
    http://www.history.com/shows/american-restoration/videos/playlists/full-episodes?mkwid=sMnHmEP2x_pcrid_7908322638_pkw_restoration%20the%20history%20channel_pmt_b&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=restoration%20the%20history%20channel&utm_campaign=G_American+Restoration#american-restoration-pump-and-gun

  23. JoeJoe JoeJoe says:

    Just started working at an Upholstery Shop in July,One of the very first lessons I learned not do again was to steam around on on Perforated leather.Wasnt good decision but i was able to replace the panel fairly easily.Also when installing aftermarket seat covers,make sure you double/triple check and cut the holes in the right spots,I cut holes in the wrong spot for the headrests,luckily we had the same material in stock so i was able to replace the panel but damn.I couldve really F’d myself.Sewing pleats,go in the same direction each time or it will pull your material every which way.Of course i was sewing a mexican wool blanket into a seat,i doubt it will matter much on vinyl but the blanket had a particular pattern in it that needed to be incorporated into the seat so i had to resew it.Analyze and get a good before you start anything,some stuff can be very costly to fix and other stuff can be very costly to replace.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *