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?