Upholstery Estimating

Estimating Dental Chairs

What Would you Charge?

What would you estimate this dental chair?

dental chairsHere is a copy of my estimate.  I'll be giving this estimate to the client in the next day or two, and wondered what you thought. This estimate is for Each Chair. When I go out, I will also change the Quantities to give them the total estimate on all the chairs. (This estimate also shows 5 round stools, which are not in the picture)

The Situation

The client has 5 dental chairs, which were reupholstered some years ago using a standard grade of foam, which is now pretty soft. I notice that the foam was just a flat piece of foam. When the vinyl cover was put on, the sides were pulled down, leaving the center raised up a little. Currently the seat foam is only about 3" to 3 1/2" thick at the top and then tapers down to about 2" at the bottom of the footrest. The current foam on the backrest and the headrest is about 2" thick. They want all the foam replaced. The upholstered pieces are just are just velcroed to the metal frame. They fit down in recessed areas and just pop out. (Although I didn't actually check how the arms were attached.)

The Problem

The problem that they are having is that some of the clients, at certain positions, start to slide down out of the chairs. One thing that I noticed, which they didn't mention, is that when I sat all the way back in the chair seat, I sat on the hinge (that connected the seat to the back.) The chairs frames are solidly connected to the floor, so the frames can't be brought into my shop.

My Proposal

I suggested that, when replacing the foam, the seat area be contoured so that his clients will sit in the dip (contoured area), which will hold them better in the chair. In addition to that, the side edges of the leg-rest area, and the backrest and head rest, could be raised up a little to help keep the better centered in the chair. I also suggest that we do one first. We'd make a prototype (cut,shape, and glue the foam in place) and then take it out to the dental office to have them sit on it. (Since I'm making a new shape in the foam, I would prefer to have one of the chair frames in my shop so that I could test it out as I shape it, so I can get the right shape, but since the chair frames can't be moved, I'll have to figure out some other way to test the right shape.) When I go out to have them test the shape of the foam, I could take a scrap of vinyl to put over it while they try it out. Their office is located about 2 miles from my office.

The Cover Design

When we determine that the shape of the foam is correct, then I would glue the center part of the vinyl to the foam so the vinyl would be connected to the foam. (I've done this with other doctors exam tables and it has worked great.). I'm also thinking about whether I should eliminate most of the welts (except on the arms) so the vinyl would wrap around better. There would be some seams at the ends, which would be shaped to fit. Any Thoughts? Is My estimate easily understandable? Am I charging enough? Am I leaving anything out? I've thought about writing a cover letter to go with it, but I've put so much work into making this estimate that I'm kind of burned out with it. I'm thinking about making an appointment with the dentist and explaining the estimate to him and his staff.

Best Wishes, Stephen From a message I posted here: Estimating Dental Chairs

Estimating Methods

We can learn a lot about estimating from the construction business

Email Estimate

Thanks for your inquiry. It's a delite to here from someone in South Carolina.
I did not understand your message.
Do You want complete new RV cushions made, including foam and cover?
Do you want just to have new covers made for your existing RV cushions?

Sample Email Estimate:

This is not a normal email estimate. Because they were from across the country, I went into more detail. I suppose I could just as well have told her that I don't do mail order, because I doubt that I'll get the job anyway.
Thanks for your inquiry. It's a delight to hear from someone in South Carolina.
I did not understand your message.
Do You want complete new RV cushions made, including foam and cover?
Do you want just to have new covers made for your existing RV cushions?
Do you realize that you could probably have a local upholsterer make these?
The labor costs for making RV cushions is shown here: RV Cushion Labor. These RV style cushions are made very simply with no welts and very few seams.
What type of fabric would you want on them? You can see some of the available fabrics from one of our suppliers, shown here: Charlotte Fabrics. Look at the top menus to find fabrics sorted by
Other fabric choices are available, such as plain colored 8 to 10 oz ducks, twills and denims, at about $10 per yard.
I have went through your sizes below and put the estimated costs and yards below each of your cushion descriptions below
There would be an addition freight charge (yet to be determined) added to the below prices.
Althoughbecause of the high cost of foam, we mi
Ordering Info:
If we were to do your job, this is how it would go.
You would pick out your fabric (possibly from Charlotte Fabrics). We would make out a work order and email it to you for your inspection. The additional freight and shipping costs (not included here) would be figured and added to the work order.  If you should decide to proceed, we would need a 1/2 deposit.
Our  normal payment options are cash, check*, money order, cashiers check. We are not set up to take any credit cards.
We could also take PayPal.
Note: We are currently booked out about 1 1/2 to 2+ months before we could start your job. Once we received your order, we would put you on the "Jobs in Progress" list and complete you job when it was your turn.
When Job is Complete
When job is complete, choose one of the options below:
(if requested, we could email pictures of your completed job to you.)
Payment and Shipping Options:
1. You mail us a check* (see below), money order, or cashiers check. - OR -
2. You send payment via PayPal.
   In 1 and 2 above, we would ship your order promptly* (see below) as soon as we receive payment
    - OR -
3. We could ship job COD, payable by cash, money order, or cashier's check.
(*If payment is by check, the order would be held up until the check had cleared the bank before the fabric would be ordered. If paying by check when the job is finished, we would notify you of completion of job. Job would be shipped after we receive your check and it has cleared the bank.)
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us.
Best Wishes,
Stephen Winters
Winters Sewing
Salem, Oregon

Pricing Commercial Work

How should you price commerical work, wether it be for restaurants, doctor's offices, hospitals, colleges, etc.?


When I price for large jobs, I price each item individually. As  one man shop I am not a factory. I'm not set up as a factory. I do one piece at a time. If their are some parts of the job that you believe that you can do quicker by doing in quantity, you can certainly consider giving a discount for that part of the job, but you are under not obligation to do so. My thought is that in doing commercial work there is a lot more planning and paperwork involved that would offset any savings in time spent. So I rarely give discounts. I just try to figure a reasonable price for the job. Whether you bid for a home or a dental/doctor's office etc. the principle is the same. You bid a price that you can make a reasonable wage at. For commercial work I would bid higher,  partly because there is usually a little or a lot more red tape and paperwork that you have to do.

Get everything approved in writing BEFORE you do anything

The big thing is to NOT NOT NOT do any work for anybody and for any client until you have the details work out and approved by you and by the client. The surest way to get into big trouble is start to do work for a client before you get the details all written up, approved, and payment arrangements agreed to and signed by both parties. Of course, you can do it any way that you like. But my strong suggestion is to NEVER-NEVER-NEVER put out any money on any job until you receive a deposit which will more than cover all the supply costs (and other costs) of the job. If the job is too big to ask for a full deposit, then break the job up into smaller sections, get the full deposit to cover the costs of the small section of the job. Also, explain to the client that in breaking up the job that the fabrics or vinyls used for the job might at some time be discontinued or unavailable. In this case I'd recommend to them that they purchase all the materials (hopefully through you) for the entire job in advance. If they desire, they can keep the materials at their place, and you only take the materials needed for each section of the job at a time.

Scheduling Your Jobs

If you want to keep your main upholstery business alive, I would suggest that you carefully space any large jobs that might come in. If you, for example, take in a job for a large busines, motel, hospital, etc. that would take you some months to complete, think about the affect that it would have on your retail clients. A large job would be better planned for a slower time of year, such as during the first couple of months of the year. In contrast, if the large job manager wants the job done during your busy season, it might be better to pass on the job, unless they are willing to work with your schedule.

Payment Arrangements

As the owner of a business you have the right to ask or insist on any reasonable payment arrangements that work for you. You are under no responsibility to submit to the requests/demands/requirements of any client. My main rule of thumb is that I have to survive financially. I absolutely won't do work for anyone if they insist on paying me 30/60/90 days out. Each upholsterer has their own way of handling payments. I'm mostly 50% down and the balance on completion no matter who I'm doing the work for. That has been my policy for many years. However, that can vary a little if the client has a proven track record and we have a good relationship. For instance, right now I'm doing a job of 99 cushions for the local college. Because the supervisor really wanted us to do the job, so that she wouldn't have to submit the job to a required bid process (of jobs over a certain value) this job is stretching over 4 years (27 cushions per year, divided into 9 cushions per Invoice). AT the beginning I went to the college measured all the cushions, used their dining hall map to layout which cushions went where. Then I did a cutting layout of all 99 cushions. I also made a QuickBooks Estimate detailing all 99 cushions, which is what I use to bill from each time. On the first year they bought the vinyl for all 99 cushions through one of my suppliers, who gave me a commission for selling the vinyl for them. Also, at the beginning of each fiscal year they purchase the foam for the cushions for that year, which they pay for in advance. We are in the third year of the process. On the first year I made out Work Orders for each 9 cushions. They paid a 1/2 deposit on each invoice and paid the balance on completion, along with the deposit on the next set of 9. The second year and following years, by their request, we have changed the billing process. It works better for them to pay for each thing in full, not in a deposit then pay the balance. They still pay for the foam in full in advance (which as normal I sell at about twice my cost). On the labor/supplies part of the job I don't require a deposit but present them with an invoice/work order for the full amount at the completion of each 9 cushions. They send a payment within about 1 1/2 to 2 weeks, which is workable for me. They have proved themselves reliable in promptly paying the invoices so I was willing to change my billing format to what works better for them.

If a client, business, or organization has a proven track record, or if I have other reasons to trust them, I may change my billing process to accommodate what works for them. However, in no case will I put money out in advance to buy anything for their jobs until I have received a deposit to more than cover the cost of materials, etc.

The Pre-Estimate Inspection

If possible, before you give an estimate for furniture, it would be good if you could see it in person. If that is not possible, then you must ask the client about the condition of her furniture. But if you do ask the client, remember that many clients never really look at their furniture. They just assume that everything is OK. They may not pay any attention to such things as a wobbly frame or springs needing repair.

Assessing the Condition of the Furniture:

The Frame:

Try to wobble all parts of the frame. wiggle the arms side to side, grab ahold of the top of the middle backrest and try to pull it towards the front and then push it toward the back. Try to wiggle all parts of the frame. Listen for squeaks and watch for frame wobble and loose joints. If the frame is wobbly, it can be fixed, but it adds some extra work. To fix loose joints often requires that you take everyting off the frame (fabric, padding, springs, etc. so that the joints can be opened up reglued, make triangle fitted corner blocks and reglued. You will also need to have some woodworking clamps. If you or a helper can do wood joint repairs, then you might be OK. But, if neither you nor anyone else is comfortable with doing the frame repairs, you might want to pass up any sofas that have loose jointed frames.

The Springs

After the frame, the condition of the springs is especially important.

Upholstered furniture generally has one of these types of springs:

Hand-tied coil springs, which are among the best types to have. If tied propery, coils springs give superior support and comfort. Much of the time yoiu can determine is the sofa has hand tied springs by putting your hand under the sofa and pressing up. If you feel a firm spring support underneath at the bottom of the sofa, it may be hand tied springs. A sofa with hand tied spring generally has webbing across the very bottom of the sofa, with the springs pressing down  against the webbing. This gives the bottom of the sofa a firm "full" feeling. When this type of set needs retieing, the bottom often sags down because the webbing stretches as it gets older. Also, the top between the springs will feel loose.

Arc springs (commonly called zig zag springs). If, when you feel the bottom of the sofa, all you feel is

Rubber or elastic webbing .

The Padding

The Cushions


First, go to each corner and to themiddle sections and try firmly to wobble the furniture back and forth in every direction.

As we inspect the frame, springs, and support linings, one of the primary principles we keep in mind is, "will it last the life of the new cover?" This will be our guide as we try to determine what to fix and what to leave alone.Check the condition of the frameCheck the frame.

Determining the type and condition of the springs:


Writing Detailed Estimates


I give detailed estimates because It helps me justify the price to myself My estimates serve several functions :

  • It is my way of figuring out what I need to do on a job
  • It's a record of the Job Details
  • It's my Job Plan
  • If it's in the computer, I can find it later.
  • It helps me to make sure that I'm charging for everything
  • It tells the client exactly what I'm going to be doing...

My Estimates serve a lot of functions

I admire those who can give estimates off the top of their head, and not have to write everything down. I'm not that talented. If I don't write down what I'm going to be doing, I forget. I give detailed estimates because It helps me justify the price to myself I'm often inclined to price jobs to cheaply. As I think out the details and price out all the components ofs the job, it helps me to verify to myself that I should be charging the price I quoted.

My estimates serve several functions : It is my way of figuring out what I need to do on a job It helps me to think out each part of a job. I think slower than some people, and I need time to think out a job. So I write out all the details on the estimate as I think out the job.

It's a record of the Job Details: It's the main record of the details of any job. Anything that I will need to know about a job will be on the estimate record. I don't really keep any of the other paperwork for jobs.

It's my Job Plan: By looking at the estimate, I can plainly see what I need to do with a job.

If it's in the computer, I can find it later. I've lost estimates and work orders in the past. Since everything is on the estimate/work order, and the work order is in the computer, if I loose my estimate or work order, I can just print out another one, and everything I need to know will be on that.

Make Sure I'm charging enough: I detail each "$2 charge" because it helps me to remember to charge for that $2 item. When I don't charge for all those nitpicky little items, then I usually don't charge for them and I loose money. It helps me to make sure that I'm charging for everything ... that I'm using

My Estimate is my job-plan: When I do the job, I have a detailed work order (my estimate) that tells me just what to do. As I write out the estimate, I'm examining what I need to do, and why. I'm validating my charges to ME. As I write out the estimate, I'm also planning out the job, and what I need to do the job. When I'm estimating something I haven't done before, or am unfamiliar with, I'll write a more detailed estimate to plan out just what all is needed. Yes, I know some people may use a separate details sheet, or may just work it out in their heads, but I put it on my work order.

It tells the client exactly what I'm going to be doing... .....so there will be no misunderstanding. The client won't be coming back and say, "you said it included everything, but you didn't give me....." Everthing is detailed on the work order. If it's not on there, they are not getting it.

My Estimates serve a lot of functions: I put a lot of detail into my estimates because my estimates/work orders serve a lot of functions. Yes, it takes me extra work up front, but it saves the potential of so much misunderstanding down the road. This article was inspired by the responses I received to my question here: Estimating Dental Chairs