Giving fair price estimates is one of the most important skills that an independent auto trimmer needs in order to succeed. While over charging isn’t good for customers, under charging isn’t good for shops. In effect, estimates can either make or break an auto upholstery business.
Knowing what is needed to complete a project is important. Accurately measuring for materials is a valuable skill, as is being able to convert raw dimensions into yardage and board feet. Underestimating leads to additional costs for you and the customer, and we all know what happens when you hand a final bill to a customer that’s more than what he was expecting to pay.
To avoid the embarrassment of under estimating a project, you should know what it requires for materials and time.
Start by breaking down the project into elements: seats, door panels, headliner, carpet, etc. Address each one separately. Your basic bucket seat, for example, requires about three yards of cover material. There are also support materials the customer never considers – including foam buns, sew foam, cotton batting, burlap, welt cord, thread and of course… hog rings.
Other supplies that are required to finish the seat are rubber bumpers, trim screws, buttons and maybe spray dye for the plastic parts. Once you’ve compiled a list of what’s needed, consider other issues that might arise. For instance, bolster springs are usually broken and need to be replaced, a cracked frame needs to be welded and seat tracks also need to be reconditioned.
Next, take your materials list and assign each item a price – not the price you paid, but the retail or resale price of the item being sold to the customer plus shipping costs. This is your profit margin. It’s how you make a living, so don’t give away the store.
Now factor in your labor charge for the time it takes you to complete the project. Some shops charge by the hour, others by the piece. Whatever works for you is the correct way to charge. How you determine your labor rate is based on the economy in your area and what customers are willing to pay.
Repeat the process for each element a customer asks you to trim. Add everything up and you have your estimate.
Before handing it to a customer, take the time to review your estimate to ensure you didn’t forget anything. It’s good to be as precise as possible.
Try not to give “ballpark” estimates, as they tend to stick in the minds of customers. If you do give one, make it high. This way when your final bill arrives, it will be lower than what your customer expected and he’ll be happier.
Developing a reputation for delivering projects over budget will cost you future jobs. It tells customers that you don’t know what you’re doing, and may even put you in the position where you feel obliged to eat your losses. That can be detrimental to the survival of your business.
All in all, when it comes to estimates, experience is the best teacher.
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. To read more articles by Fred, click here.