Is Auto Upholstery Under-Appreciated?

Published by Nadeem Muaddi on May 1st, 2012

How often does this happen to you? A customer brings his project car to your auto upholstery shop wanting a full interior restoration, but has blown most of his budget on the body, paint and mechanics. Now, he wants to spend as little as possible for a showroom-quality interior.

Sadly, it often seems that professional auto upholsterers are under-appreciated and under-valued. Ironically, though, car owners spend more time sitting inside the cabins than staring at their vehicles parked in the streets.

Case in point: Joe Jordan, a resident of the U.S. island of Guam, has been winning awards left and right for his overhauled 2004 Nissan 350Z. He attributes the car’s success in part to its beautiful interior, but can’t remember the full name of the shop or upholsterer responsible for the work. Of course he has no problem recalling the names of the shops that did the body and tuning.

The Guam Pacific Daily News reports:

The three people he gives credit to the most for the repairs include Ryan Sulla, from RJ’s Auto; Chris Delfino, from Car Audio Image; and a man he knows only as Ryan, from an upholstery repair shop behind Kmart.

“All credit goes to them,” Jordan says. “I never expected to win a car show. It was beyond a dream but I never planned for that. It was really how good their job was and the people who told me how good of a job they do is how I won the car show. It was a combined effort for them.”

On the inside, the Z’s tan, worn upholstery got an overhaul by Ryan, a low-key upholstery guy who doesn’t even have a credit card machine — or even a last name that Jordan could recall. [more]

I don’t know whether to laugh or smash the computer screen. An award-winning car has the power to dramatically boost an upholstery shop’s business – but not if the car’s owner can’t remember the name of the shop where he got the work done.

I’m not saying that the owners of award-winning cars have a duty to promote the shops where they had their work done. But when they can’t recall the name, it feels like a cold, hard smack in the face.

What do you think? Is auto upholstery an under-appreciated craft?




21 Responses

  1. Tip tip says:

    Laugh while you smash the computer screen sounds a bit crazy but im thinking it will get the best of both angles…
    Usually when people come into my shop It is always because of word of mouth. I don’t do any advertising nor do I even have a sign out front. Most of my customers will ask for a few of my buisness cards before they leave and are almost always repeat customers. For somebody to not remember who did the work on their car especially when it is top notch work is beyond me. Maby it is because we as upholsters are over looked. Possibly its because the customer is ungrateful or possibly they had to much to drink the night after he picked up the car and cant remember. Whatever it was im going to slip byiusness cards in the glove box from now on.

  2. Kyle Caswell says:

    It amazes me how well a vehicle is thought out. The drivetrain, the suspension, the stance, the colors, body work. Usually the interior is never given a thought. The customer just shows up and gives the standard; “let’s just do some tuck and roll”. I’ve dealt with many who consider a $1000.00 or $1500.00 total bill should be getting an outstanding one off unique interior. They act like they’re in shock when I say I can’t evenbuy supplies for that. Time frame is another problem too. Most times a guy has gone over budget and time in the body shop so the car shows up under tight deadlines, so they can make this certain show or cruise. Again quite a shock when it’s learned I can’t knock out an interior in less than a week plus it will need to be scheduled becouse there’s others waiting. I’ve educated many on future builds to include me earlier in the process and to plan for plenty of money and time for the process. You wouldn’t rush a top notch painter laying down a custom Kandy paint, the same goes for the one stitching some high dollar materials in your car!

  3. Kyle Caswell says:

    Family memebers are the worst too! My dad alaways says to charge him just like anybody else (Now don’t start saying how mean I am, No, I don’t charge my dad! He’s the one I credit for getting me set up in business). I did recover a seat for an old Wheel Horse that he restored and he again wanted me to charge him like anyone else as he gave me $20 to cover my time and expenses! My reply was; “Gee thanks dad, I can probably retire comfortably now”! Of course it was a joke and he knew it, but oh boy, how my mom ripped him a new one when he went home and told her about it!

  4. Tip tip says:

    Same here! My dad Is the one That got me into cars in the first place. After college he gave me space in his shop to practice auto upholstery While I did the upholstery on the medical equipment he manufactures. Just like yours though insists that I charge him for the work I do on his vehicles. Good parents are so damn stubborn!

  5. Ferbs Ferbs says:

    I have had great customers who fully appreciate a quality job and are willing to pay for the quality work. Recently I had a guy come in thinking that recovering his seats shouldn’t be more than a few hundred, arguing that he saw a box of slip-on seat covers at a Walmart for $50, so adding in the customizations and labour, he thought $300 sounded reasonable. HA! Enjoy your Walmart covers!

  6. Rick Fisher says:

    I have been in the business for over 30 years, and this is often a problem. I will point out that if you watch people at a car show, the first thing most will do is look INSIDE and now is not the time to cut corners,plus you want to be comfortable when you are driving, right?

  7. Sueann says:

    I love this site– I no longer feel alone in my perils of automotive upholstery- Very often we get customers who have spent thousands on paint and $4,000 rims& tires but have a $1000 to spend on the interior– on top of that a complete color change. That the customer has a $10,000 taste but a $2,000 budget So, yes I feel unappreciated at times. When we go to car shows it is upsetting that when we look into the interior they have towels or cheap slip covers on there seats- and floors. The interiors are always the one to suffer with patch work and limited customizing to match the exterior.

  8. Nacho says:

    I guess it all depends on the type of automotive market that you are in? I’ve been lowriding since 2001 and everytime we would take our cars to a carshow we will have a “sign” that says who did the hydraulics, sound system, paint, upholstery, etc… We always appreciate the upholstery shop as in lowriding, the upholstery is part of the car, not just an item in the car as with import (hondas, nissans, show cars etc…) cars for example.

    Overall, yes, they are under-appreciated within many enthusiast and don’t get the recognition they deserve.

  9. stitcher_guy stitcher_guy says:

    I totally agree that novice builders forget to budget interior money. When I do get someone in asking about interior at the early part of the build, I break it down as 1/3 paint and body, 1/3 mechanical, and to expect the other 1/3 for interior and soft work. They’re shocked that “jus’ sewin a coupla pieces o material togither” can cost so much. I also point out to them that they may have done their own paint and body, and maybe their own mechanical, but they are coming to a professional shop and paying professional shop rates to have done what they cannot accomplish.

    As to “Ryan” and his being underappreciated. I personally am a Volkswagen nut. I own several air-cooled cars, subscribe to the publications, and have a lot of VW t-shirts, work shirts and paraphernalia.

    Yet, the T-shirts that I actually wear say “Sew What? PRO Stitch.” My truck and van say “PRO Stitch.” My hoodies are “PRO Stitch.” My only winter coat that I ever wear says “PRO Stitch.”

    While I’m into bugs, Volkswagen does not pay me to promote their product. I don’t gain anything from telling people about their product, and I don’t get any residuals for wearing their moniker on my apparel. That’s why they have ad agencies responsible for getting their name out there and promoting their own product.

    Ryan, rather than being awwwed over for being negelected, should have taken that car to a nice picturesque park, or, better yet, in front of his shop’s sign and taken pictures out the wazoo of his interior and the nice car surrounding it. Then Ryan, being the upholsterer responsible for getting his product out there, should have plastered those pictures all over his Facebook business account, on his Facebook personal account, on his business’ web page and lastly, pictures in his brag books and on the walls of his shop. Heck, if he has a small-town newspaper and they are hungry for anything business/news oriented (most small community newspapers are always looking to fill inches around the advertising), then he could submit pics and a writeup about the newest and hottest thing to come out of his shop and it’s expected it will garner awards and accolades all over creation.

    The customer paid for an interior. They got the product they were after. They did not sign on to invest in the shop or sign a contract to remember who did the work. Unless the owner got a discount from Ryan for “sponsorship” of the car, then there is no obiligation and should be no expectation that the customer gives a flying you-know-what whether Ryan even exists after he gets his car back.

    I love it when a customer is so taken with their end product that they ask for some business cards as they are leaving so they can spread the good news about PRO Stitch. But I don’t rely on that. I also make sure any full interior or big job has a couple PRO Stitch T-shirts sitting on the seat at pickup. They may wear them, or they may wipe down the car with them.

    Regardless of what interest level a customer expresses at time of pickup, I still usually run into them at shows as I’m passing out flyers and offering up giveaway goodies to the show promoters. I make sure to show off their interior in my brag book so other prospects can see how nice their job was. It’s not up to the customer to push our value. It’s up to us.

  10. I agree with Nadeem when he said, “I’m not saying that the owners of award-winning cars have a duty to promote the shops where they had their work done. But when they can’t recall the name, it feels like a cold, hard smack in the face.”

    It’s a perfect example of how we ARE under appreciated.

    Just the other day a guy came to my shop for leather interior in his show car. I told him $1200 for new leather upholstery on the seats but he opted for seat covers instead saying he just dropped a ton of money on the wheels and stereo.

  11. roddin1 roddin1 says:

    I agree with all comments above. Cars are judged on body, interior, and motor. They spend most of the time on the inside well those that are driven,nothing against ones that aren’t, but if they were thats the most scene. So why not realize you should set aside same amount budget for a nice interior. I had a customer on a street rod seem to cringe everytime something was added by him as to the increase in price yet he tells me the stories of his dog(dont get me wrong love the pets) and the 5-10k he has spent on the dog over its lifetime!! I dont think I will ever own a bulldog btw!! Nice to have a site like this were we can discuss amongst others in our proffession to know that we are not alone, or undervalued!! Hog ring is a great site!!

  12. Richard says:

    There are several thing I think play into this.
    The first being that people are uneducated about what it is that we do and the amount of work required!

    Look under the hood you see an engine and you know there are a bunch of moving parts that most know nothing about!

    Look at the body work and paint, The biggest part of the car usually made out of metal, for most they think of a hard object that’s really hard to manipulate and then the primer, color and clear along with all the fillers and 20 different grits of sand paper. Completely confusing and time consuming to most.

    Now move to the interior, theres a couple of seats with some padding and a little material sewn together and a few hog rings holding them together. A little carpet that just lays on the floor and door panels that just snap on. It all appears simple thats why they feel it should be done so cheaply!

    They don’t see the hours it takes to make some of these aftermarket parts fit and look good! They don’t see all of the substructure of the seats. They don’t see how awful some molded carpet sets really fit!

    I think another thing a lot of people are uneducated about is the difference between an interior that looks ok to most and an interior that is done correctly!

    I can’t stand going to a car show on a cruise night and seeing a really nice car with a really decent job done on the seats and then looking up and seeing the headliner all jacked up! Then there’s the cars that are flawless in every aspect and the seat covers look like a roller coster where the pulls are improperly fastened.

    Another thing that hinders a great interior is people that think all aftermarket parts are equal! Seat foam is one of those areas! Some of the crap on the market should never be sold!

    • RETIRED… LET ME GIVE YOU JUST A COUPLE OF TRAITS THAT HAPPEN TO PEOPLE AND MECHANICS AND OR BODY WORK. THE THING ABOUT UPHOLSTERY YOU SEE EVERY ASPECT OF THE PRODUCT . YOU SEE THE STITCHING THE COLOR MANIPULATION . YOU FEEL THE PADDING AND YOU KNOW PRETTY MUCH ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW JUST BY SIGHT. I HAD A NEIGHBOR YOU HAD A SMALL ISUZU TRUCK WHO WORKED A TOYS R WELL YOUK NOW THE REST. A WOMAN WHO WORKED THERE CLAIMED HER HUSBAND REBUILT MOTORS AT THERE HOME SO MY NEIGBOR ALLOWED HE HUSBAND TO REBUILD THE MOTOR.A FEW WEEKS LATER HE HAD HIS TRUCK BACK THE ENGINE WAS SPOTLESS BUT DID NOT RUN ANY BETTER. THE ENGINE HAD NOT BEEN REBUILT HE GOES INTO WORK TO CONFRONT THE WOMAN , WHO CLAIMS HER HUSBAND HAD LEFT HER AND TOOK THE BANK ACCOUNT WITH HIM. MONEY WANT BE RECOVERED HERE. ANOTHER FRIEND HAS A CAR PAINTED WHICH SHOWN NO NEED OF BODY WORK OR RUST, THEY ARE SUPPOSE TO DELIVER THE JOB WITHIN TWO WEEKS, AFTER 3 WEEKS THE FRIEND CALLS THE BODY SHOP AND THE BODY SHOP CLAIMS THEY RAN INTO BONDO WHICH NEEDED TO BE REMOVED AND WAS WAITEING FOR MY FRIEND TO CALL BECAUSE THEY HAD LOST HIS PHONE NUMBER. THE BODY SHOP CLAIMS THEY CANT OFFER A PRIME PAINT JOB WITHOUT REMOVEING THE BONDO, THE FRIEND SAYS HOW MUCH MORE TO REMOVE THE BONDO 500 DOLLARS THIS TIME THE NEXT TWO CALL TO THE BODY SHOP WAS ABOUT BONDO OR RUST THAT WASNT SEEN. A 2500 DOLLAR PAINT JOB TURNS INTO 4 GRAND EASY AND ALL WITH OUT SIGHT OF SAID PRODUCT BEING DONE. another reson trimmers have work, mother nature…
      http://www.aol.com/video/bear-sneaks-into-car-in-alaska/517404751/?icid=maing-grid10%7Chtmlws-sb-bb%7Cdl14%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D180207

  13. papasage papasage says:

    most around here that restor or build street rods use factory seats from other cars and order original seat covers . last i put on was a mustang frunt and back seat cost the customer $150.00 for the set off the internet . . can`t buy the material for that .there is a few around here that does a compleat interior for $1500.00 and some less . i am 66 years old and have ben in buisness for 48 years . there is alwayes some one that will do it cheaper if you don`t care if they cut conors .

  14. Interesting article. I was at a local car show a few weeks ago. I asked the owner of a hot rod with a first class looking interior. He gave almost the same answer. He said it was done by “Joe” who has his shop in Langley, I can’t remember the name.

    I like the idea of putting business cards in the clients car when the job is finished.

  15. tom says:

    You hit the nail on the head with this article. Last in line and the bank is busted. They come in thinking your waiting for them to show up so you have something to do. Yep wave the magic wand and its done for 100 bucks and they can make the car show on time. Enjoyed reading all the comments. Love the guy showing up with his boat the day before he wants to go to the lake, pulling it wioth a 50,000 dollar truck wanting it done for under a thousand. What can we do but laugh later, to keep our sanity. I vented.

  16. Jim says:

    Just like any cause we believe in, it’s important to participate. The Hog Ring fills a void left by the disappearance of the National Association of Auto Trim Shops (NAATS). Nat Danas tried for years to bring auto upholstery up to the same level of respect as mechanical and body/paint. Rather than ask why we are under-appreciated, maybe we should ask why auto upholsterers are so poor at representing the industry. My hunch is because we are a more artistic bunch, and artists are generally flaky. It’s amazing that some of us stay in business for 30+ years. What do you all think?

  17. chopperbilly chopperbilly says:

    I am new to this business but have already heard from friends that have things they want done and they all say “it will be easy”. Maybe so in most cases but they have no idea how many steps are involved to finish the “easy project”! I respond with “why are you having me do it if its easy”?

  18. ed wolford says:

    In my thirty years in the business I have met more cheap people than I care to remember
    Now with the cutthroat internet selling repos the customer thinks that since the covers cost 150 they can be installed for much less

  19. Eric's Auto Upholstery says:

    This article is right on the money. It is so frustrating when a customer brings in their show car they just got out of the body shop or mechanic shop. Explaining they are on a limited budget due to the costs of the body and engine work. Too many times they tell me to cut them a deal because they are really in a spot trying to get the restoration completed before a show or cruise. They promise to promote my work at the shows and to their friends. I don’t depend on it. I would appreciate a referral from time to time but never depend on it. At this point a customer on a busted budget will tell you just about anything to get you to do a award winning interior at the price they can afford. Yep! It’s good to know I’m not the only upholsterer that has these encounters with uneducated customers. Great Article! Thanks Eric


Leave a Reply

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