How Much Do You Charge Per Hour?

Published by Naseem Muaddi on February 29th, 2012

Hotrod & Restoration magazine recently published its annual automotive industry statistics. The nationwide survey, which gathers data from all sectors of the custom and restoration industry, highlights valuable information that our shops can use to better understand the market – such as average shop sales revenues and busiest months of the year.

What stands out the most, however, is the report’s findings on the average hourly labor rate that our auto upholstery shops charge in comparison to other sectors of the industry.

Hotrod & Restoration interviewed a sample of shops in each of the following sectors of the automotive industry, uncovering their average hourly labor rates:

  • Builders/Restorers/Fabricators: $61 per hour
  • Engine builders: $72 per hour
  • Machine Shops: $70 per hour
  • Paint/Body Shops: $64 per hour
  • Upholstery/Trim/Interior Shops: $55 per hour

Trim shops charging an average of $55 per hour is no surprise, but when compared to other sectors in our industry it raises an important question:

Why do we charge less per hour than other sectors when our skills are just as specialized as theirs? You can even make the case that we’re more highly specialized, as there are fewer trim shops than mechanic and body shops, and only a handful of auto upholstery trade schools in the entire country.

The answer is clear. Someone is undervaluing our services – and it’s either us or the market.

Tell us what you think: How does your shop’s hourly rate compare to the industry average? And who do you think is undervaluing the services that our auto trim shops provide?

The Haartz Corporation

16 Responses

  1. stitcher_guy says:

    At least I’m at the average. Yes, I charge $55/hr labor, plus materials. Our local dealership mechanics are $72+ per hour. But what gets my goat even beyond the difference in price is the attitude towards the customer. Case in point: I had an airbag code show up in a truck. Ran it to my local Ford dealership. It took 10 minutes for them to tell me “you forgot to hook up the positioning sensor.” They didn’t even hook up the sensor; I did that when I got home. BUT, I was still charged $72 for that little diagnostic, and had to pay before I could take the truck back to my shop. Now, this very same dealership (right up until this incident) would run little things out to me (a quick seam sew here, a few hogrings there) and I wouldn’t charge them. It was on the house because they were also good for a few larger jobs. AND, when they would bring a larger job, I provided an invoice and they took a week to pay. So it’s the attitude plus the actual hard cash difference that is annoying.

    And why??? My theory: When your alternator goes out, or the water pump blows, or your transmission breaks, you are stuck in the water. The car will not move, and if you force it to go, you are doing more, extensive damage. However, if your headliner begins to fall, a couple straight pins will hold it up and the car continues to run just fine. If you get a hole in your seat, the car will still start and operate just fine and get you to work.

    Mechanical work is a necessity, and the shops realize this and gouge accordingly. Upholstery repair is a choice which does not affect the overall operation of the vehicle.

    When it comes to “project” work and pricing, I don’t even try to charge an hourly rate. There is no way I would be paid what I really put into a full interior. Instead, I will assess the job, and pretty much decide what I want to make from the job, and what the customer is willing to pay. This is also what I have gathered from restoration shops in my area as well. They cannot bill straight hours or their customers stop the job and take their project home with tail tucked between their legs.

    Despite working this way, and giving project customers huge breaks in material and labor, I still have potentials walk in with the statement “I’ve heard you’re really expensive, but do good work.” You just cannot win.

  2. Rich says:

    As a general rule, no less than $100.00/Hr.
    Who is undervaluing the work? Collectively, the trim shop owners. Why? One word, fear.

  3. We charge $75 per hour but we are in the booming province of Alberta.

    • papasage says:

      dealer in my aera charges $75.00. so icharge $75.00 . guess that is why i don`t git dealer work . it is sent 30 miles away . they eve remove the seats . gues some one is a lot cheaper . i am just a one man shop and don`t owe them or anyone else a dime . i drive a ols 1994 truck my wife has a 1994 nissan i bought an d repaired for her .my truck i bought from a indivigal . will not trade with a dealer for that reason .yes i did in the past but when they went cheep i did . if they o bring something i will charge the at their rate.
      my time is worth just as much or more than their shae tree mechanic they have working on a car .

  4. Nadeem says:

    Great points raised by everyone. Thanks for chiming in!

    Below are some of the many comments about this article that our readers left on The Hog Ring‘s Facebook page, as well as another upholstery forum:

    kodydog: They needed a survey to figure that out? Auto mechanics have a standardized price list that most shops use. Plumbers and electricians are protected by licensing. Have you ever seen what it takes to become a certified electrician. Not an easy task and they protect each other.

    It seems like with upholstery, furniture anyway, everyone is trying to undercut each other. Any yahoo with a staple puller can open a shop. I’m at a point where I stick to my price and if someone under bids me so be it. I can survive a slow week or two. But I feel sorry for someone just starting out.

    mike802: If your car wont start you cant get to work, if your seat is ripped you can still make it.

    sofadoc: Does this survey factor in all the “Mom & Pop” trim shops? If it does, the numbers would be difficult to verify. What they actually charge, and what they say they charge on a survey are probably 2 different things.

    I put absolutely no faith in any of those “national average” surveys. All I know about those surveys is “They didn’t ask ME”.

    Alabama Auto Top: We’ve been at $65/hour for over 10 years now. I know of a shop down the street from us that does high end engine work that charges around $90/hour.

    John Lochnicht: as a small auto body shop owner , BUFFALO BODY WORKS , LONGWOOD FL , 407 331 8482 . in regards to labor rates for auto body shops please note that insurance companys dont allow body shops to make there posted labor rates . major companys limit the body shops rates to $40 hr . this is a joke and an insult to auto body shops . and ins co. limits material costs too ! hey hog ring please help out local body shops but incouraging shops to stand up to ins co. thank you

    The Hog Ring: Right on John! We’re all in this industry together – and should stand together for fair pay. It’s an injustice that insurance companies cap labor rates and material costs. Who are they to say how much our labor is worth?

    John Lochnicht: thank you what you guys need to really find out is what other industrys are making like the local lawn mower man , i know for a fact lawn mower shops make more than $40 hr to work on a mower. as a body and paint man , i have to be an artist, a sculpter, ,a welder and a business man to make sure my clients get the right job . did you know that insurance companys take 10% off dealer parts so now the shop makes even less ?? so much for buying AMERICAN . US car owners are screwed over , yet if you own forgien the ins co allows shops the full mark up . materials is another big joke $22 hr for materials . lets just say a bumper labor to paint is 3 hrs thats $66 for materials . where am i buying mat. for that ? am i melting down crayons ? average pint of base coat costs $60 . thats with out a mark up . what about the other mat. i need for the job ?

    John Lochnicht: im so fed up with ins co. telling what i need to charge for repairs just because they made a deal with a larger shop so they could get volume jobs . i have seen so many BAD repairs do to SHORT CUTS these shops have taking so they can make there money . and the client is the one that gets SCREWED OVER , shotty repairs due to cost cutting . one item i wont bend one for my clients is getting quality repairs for FAIR AND REASONABLE PRICING . ins co raise there rates each year and based on how good of a credit you have . and jack your rates to match . the ins co. havnt raised there labor rates for over 5 YEARS. i bet you they have raised our rates ! HOG RING help us get the word out to shops to stand up for FAIR AND REASONABLE LABOR RATES. INS CO have BILLIONS in reserves ! just ask a local shop how much money in reserves it has ! i bet you local body shops are just like the people that run them and only have a small amount of reserves .

    John Lochnicht: the united states RICCO ACT , applies to companies on PRICE FIXING . and its AMAZING that most INS CO. are in the $40 hr range , JUST HOW DID THEY ALL GET TO THAT PRICES TO BE SO CLOSE , and if local auto body shops try to get together and talk pricing thats a violation of the RICCO ACT . somethign sounds fishing there dont you think ? just what the hell would happen if all the shops in a county or two raised there rates . the ins co. couldnt do anything about it BECAUSE IT IS THE PREVAILING LABOR RATE . auto body shops get your heads on straight and stand up for your business’ labor rates . thank you jon proud owner of LOCAL AUTO BODY SHOP – BUFFALO BODY WORKS , LONGWOOD FL . 407 331 8482 .

    Stichs’ Upholstery: I don’t do insurance jobs anymore. The customer pays me then he can submit the bill into insurance company, if they don’t reimburse him the full amount……atleast I got paid what the job was worth.

    The Hog Ring: I do the same thing as you Stitchs’. I wouldn’t do it any other way.

    John Lochnicht: i would like to to that too but … insurance tends to the main business of most common body shops

    The Hog Ring: John, I agree $40 per hour for your work is insulting and unfair. I completely understand your frustration. However, I don’t believe the body shop in my area (Philadelphia) are having the same troubles from the insurance companies. I’ve talked with many successful shop owners who are getting paid their full labor rates. I’ve been told State Farm is the easiest to deal with.

    In our sector of the industry we don’t do much insurance work accept for the occasional damaged convertible top and airbags in car seats.

    John Lochnicht: well thats the rate in florida aand it sucks . check around your area and ask the local shops what ins pays them id be cuorius tohear your report thank you jon

    The Hog Ring: Will do Jon

    John Lochnicht: thanks again

    stitcher_guy: I don’t know if it’s because of my area (lack of upholstery shops for comparison) or just which companies I’ve dealt with in the past. I’ve only done a few insurance jobs, but I always make my estimate based on my markup for materials and my labor rate. I have had the customer submit the estimate and had it approved, and I have also submitted directly to the company and been approved. I would never agree to a lesser labor rate to please the insurance company. If they want me to do the work, they will pay my price.

    Daniel Mcpherson: Anyone tell us that you guys are charging for 04 to 07 vw passat headliners? We charge 350.

    Revo Reeves: Over the years we have always been a shop with a $75.00 per hour labor rate… That being said, most of our clients are either friends or wholesale accounts & of course get a discounted rate… But we’re in Cali & some other shops in the area are getting up to $95.00 per hour – Go Figure?!!!

    Luis Cardenas: The shop I used to work at was $90/hr. The boss miss managed the money and closed shop. I opened up 2 years ago and my labor rate till this day is at $80/hr.

    Dave West: I do the same as well, Stichs’ Upholstery

    Brad Wurzbacher: I honestly charge per job like x job costs x dollars…y job costs y dollars and so on i only really charge an actual rate when I have absolutely no idea how long something is going to take or what is going to be involoved up front….i hate leaving figures open for the customer until the job is completed..and at that point I work it exactly the same way I would doing collision work a dent that pays 2 hours usually takes one or I charge not double persay but in a very similar fashion if I have to charge hourly…and in my area upholstery insurance work is gravy there’s very few set figures…say a car needs a top cause it got vandalized..I write something outrageous like a 3500 estimate and the customer says its coming to me….ins company cuts a check they never nickle and dime me on upholstery the collision stuff is a whole different animal lol

    The Hog Ring: You raise an interesting point Brad Wurzbacher I recently raised my labor rate to $65 per hour. However, I never do the job and in the end tell the customer it took x amount of yours so this is what you owe me. Instead, I do my best to estimate how many hours I think the job will take me before I do it and then I add in my material costs and give an upfront price to the customer before any work is done. Unfortunately, more often than not I tend to underestimate how long the job will take and I end up taking a beating on my labor rate anyway.

    • I handle my estimate process the same way, and also tend to short sale myself. Being that our jobs are never identical its hard to have set prices….. Im still trying to figure a different solution….. Even when I feel im shooting too high on my estimate some how I still have a short fall on time estimation…..

  5. CDIDIT says:

    We recently raised our Labor Rate to $75.00 per hour and are located in the Dallas.fort Worth, TX area. The majority of our work is complete interior design, fabrication & installation in fresh built resto-mods & customs. Business is booming & we just expanded from a 1.00 sq ft 2-bay facility into a 4,240 sq ft facility that can accommodate 6 projects. It hasn’t been easy, our biggest issue of the lack of qualified help which is the only limiting factor in our growth. Bottom line as we see it, don’t short change yourselves by selling on price & don’t be afraid to demand a premium for what you do. Our trade is valuable & not many can do what we do.

  6. George says:

    I Have Been An Auto Upholsterer For 36 Years. In The Same Town & Along The Same Street. This June (2012). My Business On February 28th Just Had Our 20th Anniversary. We Are In Sarasota, Florida. Before The Recession Hit Us, Our Labor Rate Was Up To $75.00 An Hour, Retail. No Problems There! After A Year Or So, I Tried To Raise It To $85.00 An Hour. Our Sales Started To Drop Off. I Then Lowered It Back To $75.00 Hour. It’s Been There For Roughly 6 Years Now. I Do Set Up Businesses & Insurance Companies To Get A Small Discount On Labor. Our Industry Is Very Specialized! We Are Worth 75.00 – 100.00 An Hour In My Opinion.

    • Florence says:

      Where are you located in sarasota? Can you send me a phone #….I need some work done.


  7. I will do a market survey with local pholstery shops and take an average to get to a competitive hourly rate. you cannot use shops that work out of home because they dont have the same overhead and expences as a shop in a comercial space. the further your shop is located from a major metroplitan area will need to reduce rates.I used to charge $95.00 an hour but loverd it to $85.00 when the economy went downhill. i do charge a higher $95.00 per hour for convertible tops.

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      Where are you located Steve?

      • sewlow says:

        What my overhead & monthly expenses are, is of no concern to my customers. It’s none of their business what it costs me to keep the doors open. Around here, the shops in commercial space charge $65.00/hr.
        I work out of my home shop. I also charge 65.00/hr. Sometimes I make more, sometimes less. For instance. Boat moorage/tonneau covers. Average shop price here is $500.00 for a 19-23′ boat. Material costs are about $100.00 & I can punch out one of those in 4 hours. Pretty good coin, but it’s market value.
        Mostly though, the com. space shops don’t/won’t do what I do. They survive on quick-turnover jobs & can’t afford to have a project vehicle taking up that expensive floor space for a month or more.
        When (IF!) I do do insurance claim repairs, the Ins. Co calls me to inquire as to costs of the repair! They’ve never questioned my prices!
        I’m a one-man shop that specializes in restorations, complete custom & one-off designed interiors. No more than 2 projects at a time. I bill my customers 2x a month, no matter if I’ve worked on their project for just for 1 hour or 100 hours in that period. Work does not progress until that 2 week cost has been covered. This helps to keep the customer from being whammed with a rather large one time bill upon completion, & it keeps the $$$ rolling into the shop.
        I charge shop rate for R&D, too. It’s possible to spend hours researching the smallest details on low production/rare vehicles in order to produce a perfect recreation of the original.
        I don’t advertise. Strictly word-of-mouth. Yet, because of the quality I strive to produce, my customers do not quibble over the final cost. They would rather pay for a job done right, the first time. But then, most of my customers are well versed in the costs of a properly stitched & installed interior as many of them have multi-vehicle collections & they’ve gone through the ‘not-quite-right’ scenario before! They’ve realized that paying to get it right the first time is cheaper in the long run than re-doing a budget-priced job that’s either just wrong or not up to the level of the rest of the vehicle.
        Every interior I produce is done with the intention that it is for my own vehicle. Whomever owns the vehicle doesn’t matter, the interior will always be one of ‘mine’! So, if I wouldn’t be happy with the project in my own vehicle, then why should my customer?
        If I do 100 projects, & 99 are perfect, that one that isn’t is the one that’ll come back to haunt me. It’s that perfection obsession that my customers pay for. Do it once, do it right. The quality of the job is remembered long after the price is forgotten. I make no excuses for my prices. There will always be someone, somewhere that’ll do the job for cheaper. I don’t care. I’m not in competition with them. I’m in competition with myself.
        So, for all that, $65.00/hr. is still too cheap!

  8. I have been in business for over 30 years my shop averages 100-300 hour depends on materials hey I did not suffer by low balling or low ballers i personally make sure the work is done right with no excuses

  9. anton says:

    Just for interest sake wat is the monthly salary for a master trimmer in USA just a average figure because a normal going salary in S.A. isn’t that bad depends who you work forehand in wat part of the country and to tell the truth S.A. is very limited with materials tools and accessories compared to wat I’ve seen and red about America and Germany

  10. Just to put in my two cents in, I recently started up an Auto upholstery shop, the only of its kind in my country Belize, Central America and even though I am up to International standard because of my training in the US, people still expect to pay far below the industry edge is that I have no competition at this point but still not charging the full rate in the effort of building up a customer base.

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