Shop Profile: Mike’s Seat Cover Center

Published by Nadeem Muaddi on July 9th, 2014

The Hog Ring - Shop Profile Mike’s Seat Cover Center

The Columbus CEO recently interviewed 46-year industry veteran Tim McKaye for a profile of his auto upholstery shop, Mike’s Seat Cover Center in Martins Ferry, Ohio. In the profile, McKaye discusses how he learned the craft and the types of projects he takes on. He also shares his thoughts on the state of our industry. His story is one most of us can relate to — and definitely worth a read.

Below is a short excerpt from the piece:

Founded by Mike McKaye, Mike’s Seat Cover Center has been the go-to place in the area for quite some time when it comes to replacing and repairing automotive upholstery. In fact, several local collision repair centers do not even bother with the upholstery; they just send it to Mike’s.

“I would say 1950 is when he started to do this,” Tim McKaye – the business’s current owner – said about his father, Mike. “He started with an old Singer sewing machine, which I still use today sometimes, and an old Model-A car.” Tim explained that his father got the idea for the business from a discussion with his neighbor. “He started this from nothing.” […]

“(I started out) just helping to tear stuff apart, and one day I sat down behind the machine and started sewing stuff,” Tim said. “The first thing I did was a peace sign. That gives you an idea of how long ago it was. (Mike) showed me how to thread the machine, and I was on my own from there – hands-on learning. He’d show me little tricks here and there, but for the most part I was on my own.

“(Mike) is the one who started doing this, and since then, it has grown into what it is now,” Tim said. “I’m a second generation, and I might be the last.” Tim explained that his field is sort of a dying art, and that everyone he has tried to teach the skill to has not taken to it. “You have to know how to do it all. You have to do convertibles, headliners, sewing. You’ve got to be able to do it all if you’re going to run a business, and that’s what I do now.” […]

“This is an interesting business because it’s a fading business. It’s fading away. There are not too many people who do this anymore. Mike’s Seat Cover is still around. We’re still in business, and I’m probably going to do it for another ten years or so. It’s been a profitable business. I really enjoy what I do. I start with nothing and make something of it. It’s an art form, more or less.” [read more]

I too used to think that auto upholstery was a “dying art” — mostly because, growing up in the craft, I never met any other auto trimmers or even heard or saw another auto trim shop outside of the ones my family owned. It wasn’t until Naseem and I founded The Hog Ring (check out our very first blog post!) did I realize how big and strong this industry is, as well as the large number of young people working hard to learn the ins and outs of the craft.

Granted, the auto upholstery industry is nowhere near as large as other auto trades — like mechanics or body work. However, I don’t think we’re dead or dying. This community is proof that we’re alive, kicking and hell bent on growing.

What do you think? Is our craft a “dying art” or has being able to connect with other trimmers, whether on The Hog Ring or elsewhere, renewed your faith in the longevity of our industry?

The Haartz Corporation

3 Responses

  1. Retired.. Since My Dad Passed 9/11/1998 It Has Been A Dying Art Bussiness For Me I Retired A Few Years Prior To His Death. My Dad Never Looked At This As An Art Form, And He Figured As Long As He Could Do It So Could Everyone Else. But Thats Not the Case. Not Only Do You Need And Require Good Health You Have To Be A Bussiness Man And You Have To Have Good Mechanicle Skills. Seemed That Everyone We Tried To Train Tryed Starting There Own Bussiness At Home Which Not Only Cut Into Our Bussiness But The Work Was Downgraded Too. Thats What Happens When You Have To Hire People That Cant Even Read A Ruler. Which Puts A Bad Name On The Bussiness.If You dont Have A Little College Training In How to Manage And Run A Bussiness I Say Dont Try It Today. Things Were Different 30 Or 20 Years Ago.You Not Only Have American Cars To Deal With But Foreign Unless You Pick A Certain Group To Just Work On You Need To Sometimes Be Able Just Incase To Find A Whole New Seat Foam And Clips Not To Mention Airbags The Trimmers Worst Enemy. Unless You Can Specialize Its Not Worth Opening A Shop With All The City County Ordinances Plus Just Having Glue Shipped To You Is A Nightmare Anymore.

  2. Bryn Taylor says:

    A retired upholsterer here.

    Auto trimming will never die out as long as vehicles use upholstered seats and interiors.

    If someone is having difficulty getting business, perhaps take a look at some of the fleets in your area. Utilities such as telephone and hydro all have fleets of vehicles that get badly worn upholstery, needing perhaps just a single panel sewn into a seat. Other fleets such as trucking or courier companies also need this service.

    Certainly, the jobs aren’t that big, and you have to compete to get them, but once you get a contract, it’s constant business, and can keep the doors open.

    You may want to also get to know your local moving companies. The long-distance rigs are usually owner-operated, but they like to have them customized to their tastes. Just call on the dispatchers, and make sure they have your cards.

    As long as your calling on companies, make sure the local car lots have your cards too. You’d be amazed how many goofs are made by the lot staff.

    Emphasis has been placed on our youth getting college degrees in recent years, rather than getting trades. The result of this is we have a plethora of young people with degrees in Philosophy expecting big paychecks, but not finding work because they never explored the need for that specialty before they started.

    The boomerang result is that skilled tradesmen are becoming highly sought-after, and can command very good pay.

    Auto trimmers are hard to find, and once you find good ones, you need to keep them. There will always be work.

    • I completely agree Bryn, and would add that to ensure our craft’s longevity, we have to embrace rookies and serve as mentors to those who are serious about learning.

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