Making the Leap to Custom Interiors

Published by Nadeem Muaddi on March 5th, 2012

Making the leap from doing ordinary auto upholstery repairs and installations to focusing solely on custom interiors can be scary. There’s no one right way to do it and there are bound to be obstacle any way you choose. We can, however, learn from each others’ experiences.

Take, for example, Ace Eckleberry of ACE Custom Upholstery & Rod Shop in Fairfield, Illinois. He recently reduced his staff and downsized from a 73,000 sq. ft shop to a 6,000 sq. ft shop – not because his business is suffering, but so that he can focus on doing what he loves most: custom interiors.

Ace, who writes a regular column for Hotrod & Restoration, explains:

The biggest adjustment this move has required is space reduction. It’s been overwhelming trying to reduce inventory and manage the new construction while staying on top of our already heavy schedule. The move is intended to help us continue specializing in higher-end interiors and move away from a lot of the time-consuming jobs that don’t carry the same profit margins. The key has been creating efficiencies in our space and employees. […]

I’ve seen a couple of negatives to our specialization and downsizing. I’m not sure exactly why, but some of the local and walk-in customers perceive our downsizing as a failure in business though it’s exactly the opposite. Local revenue is less than 10 percent of our gross. Our market for higher-end and specialized jobs is growing by leaps and bounds.

We’re receiving exactly the types of jobs I want in here. … The negative is our shop is seeing fewer local repairs, but this is resulting in more time to progress on the specialized jobs.

Fewer employees and specialized offerings are turning into higher-quality and more-efficient work. As a shop owner, I can also attest to the tremendously lower stress levels that have accompanied downsizing.

Easier management, lower overhead, better shop morale, and employees who value the job and want to hone their abilities have been a pleasant by-product to these changes. I can also now step back into the heart of my shop a little more to concentrate on innovations and the little details. [more]

Of course, less local customers means that Ace has to put a lot of time and effort into networking and fostering strong relationships within the industry and custom hotrod community. He explains much of that in the article from which this snippet came, “Evaluating the Results of Major Business Changes“.

Based on my experience, though, most auto trim shops tend to do a little bit of both – taking advantage of ordinary repair jobs to stay profitable and, whenever possible, welcoming custom work to break up the monotony and show their customers a little bit of what they can do.

We want to know: Have you made the leap from ordinary repairs to focusing solely on custom interiors? Why or why not, and what obstacles do you face?




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