Botched Jobs Give Auto Trimmers a Bad Name

Published by Fred Mattson on October 15th, 2013

Auto Upholstery - The Hog Ring - Vinyl Top Bubble

Customers come to me all the time inquiring about a repair to a project that some other shop worked on. Ultimately, the work that was done on these cars is just not acceptable or professional. They are unhappy with the poor installation of seat covers, wrinkles in tops or just looking for an answer on how to make their car look better after it was ruined by an unqualified installer.

So what advice do I give them? I really would like to tell them that it’s hopeless and needs to be completely redone, but I respond with questions like: What are you specifically looking to have corrected? What is your budget for this repair? What kind of timeframe are you expecting for the repair? Did you try and work out a solution with the shop that did this? And so on.

What I’m looking to achieve is a renewed faith in the auto upholstery industry. Some labor-only jobs I take on pro-bono. Others are a complete replacement of materials and a new installation.

Disgruntled car owners are turning to the internet for answers and are getting the wrong products and installation information. There is no place in our industry for the do-it-yourselfer. Just read the installation sheet on some of the mail-order products being sold. Is says, “For the best results this product should be installed by a professional.” I understand that a lot of auto trimmers have a basic knowledge of how to do many installations, but some have never really been taught proper techniques for the projects they take on.

Shockingly, what I’m finding underneath these projects is a lack of care and knowledge on how to do the job. Stuffing a broken spring with foam is not a proper repair. Installing a top on a bent or misaligned convertible-top frame will only lead to a new top that will develop holes and have wrinkles.

Take the time to do jobs correctly.

Newbies to the trade are eager to take on jobs for less money in order to gain experience or just because they feel that they are not worthy of charging enough for the work that’s being requested of them. If you cannot do a job right, please do not do it at all. Taking on every job that comes through the door is not a sound business practice and leads to disgruntled customer.

If you need help or guidance, seek out veteran trimmers that have the knowledge you seek and pay them to help you. They’re not your competition, but rather your mentor. If they think of you as a competitor, remember this, they’re probably no better at auto upholstery than you are.

Fred Mattson is owner and operator of Convertible Tops & Interiors by Fred in Coon Rapids, MN. He specializes in Corvettes and scratch-built restorations on vintage cars.

The Haartz Corporation

9 Responses

  1. paul murphy says:

    I have ben in the upholstery business since 1955 its all about saving a dollar . buying junk on the net. get someone to put it on cheep . then bitch when it turns out wrong . I could make more money in 1975 than now. its hard to quality work and compete with cheap labor

    • I totally agree with Paul! We are faced with this almost weekly. We have been in business since 1930, we are a third generation family business and my husband has been doing this for 35 years. Convertible tops are the worst and half of our convertible top business is fixing other shops crappy work. Also it is amazing to me how many people have a huge budget for almost everything but the interior work. It drives us crazy!

  2. seatmaker says:

    Got that right. I constantly get guys in that want cheap vinyl, don’t fix the foam, etc. I just send them away now rather than do a bad job.

  3. Geoff says:

    At least they can pin down the source of that mouse smell…

  4. Retired…A Lot Of Times Its Not The Installers Fault But The Price The Qwner Wants To Pay. Many Dealers You Know Those Used Car Dealers Just Want To Get The Thing Off There Lot And Into Some One Elses Hands. If Your Under A Contract Of Sorts With A Dealer You Basically Have To Do It There Way. Say If The Vinyl Top Has A Rust Spot Ubder The Old Top You Call The Dealer, He Dosent Want Any Body Work Done So You Clean The Spot As Best You Can With Out Running Up The Bill For The Job. But Like You Say If The Jobs Not Done Correctly Then The Rust Will Be Back And Sooner Than The Next Owner Wants It To Be Back.So Its Best To Watch Your Contracts And Those You Do Bussiness With. Some Peoples Budget Just Dosent Include Doing It Correctly, Unless You Want To Work For Free. Now Take The USA Government It Runs Fairly Smooth But They Just Cant Or Want Pay There Danged Bills.

  5. Retired… Its Not Always The Installers Fault. A Lot Of Time Its The Customers Fault. Such As A Used Car Dealer Who Just Wants To Move A Vehicle No Matter What And If The Shop Is Under Contract Of Sorts With The Dealership Then If The Dealer Wants To Pay Just So Much Then You Have To Trim The Cost From Somewhere. Its Like A Rust Spot Under An Old Vinyl Top But The Dealer Dosent Want To Spend Any Money On Body Repair So You The Trimmer Clean The Spot As Well As You Can Add A Little Paint And Glue Down A New Top.And You Say You Dont Do Dealer Work Well Dealers Have Ways Of Getting You To Do Work And You Dont Even Know It A Dealers Car. Now With The Vinyl Top You Just Repaired Shure The Next Owner Will Not Like The Spot Reapearing Sooner Than Later And You Would Think This Would Give A Dealer A Bad Name. Shure They Change There Name Like Every 15 Years Cause They Cant Sell Any More Vehicles . The Name Changes Yet The Same Practice Goes On. It Like Our USA Government Shure It Runs Smoothly But They Just Want Pay There Danged Bills.

  6. hello great info,i live in Kent Washington and i have been wondering how i could find a mentor,i been doing business for myself for the last year and a half and there are some things i run across that an old vet could school me on,like 80’s pillow top seats doing some now and loosing all my hair over this i em 34 years of age by the way.any info is appreciated

  7. Bryn says:

    I’m retired as well, and it’s been some years since I’ve done auto upholstery. However, one of the things that always gets forgotten about is the customer’s expectations.

    In any service industry, as professionals, it’s your job to manage your clients’ expectations. In other words, if they come to you wanting you to simply replace one panel in the driver’s seat because of budget, it’s your job to advise them what kind of end-result they’ll have. Do they want to spend the money for the OEM vinyl? Do they understand that over time, the material will stretch/shrink and possibly cause some wrinkles? If they don’t want to spend the money or the time to wait for the OEM fabric to arrive, are they okay with a different material in that panel?

    You, as the business owner have this responsibility to them and yourselves. If you don’t feel comfortable with the possible outcome of the job that the customer has insisted on, it’s up to you to make your position clear, and possibly not do the job. After all, the respect that you deserve is the respect you demand. If you end up doing a crap job because of the customer’s demands, it’s your name on the product. You can tell him he can go somewhere else for crap jobs, but you do professional work. Chances are, they’ll have you do it anyway, since people like to deal with Professionals.

    • jc says:

      Im. A career third generation upholsterer and the knowledge of our trade comes with our experience. My fathers father. In the 80’s would explain “you get what you paid for” but quality craftsmanship should be applied at all times. Our economy has often forced master upholsters. A-Z men and women to give up quality for quantity. It just comes natural….
      John Estep

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