Pricing Jobs

   The question was asked, by a workroom who really needed to get some experience and some work, if she could lower her prices more than she already had. Here was my response to her:

    Having been in that situation myself (desperately needing to get some work, and nothing's working) I can certainly sympasize with you. Also, in having been through it myself, I know from experience, trying to get jobs from a feeling of desparation didn't work for me.
A Word of Caution
    I have a word of caution. Don't price your jobs real low out of desperation! It will come back to bite you! Here's my experience: In the years past whenever I would really need the work, I would keep lowering the price (in my head) before I even told the client the price. I just had to have the job, so I would price it real cheap. Then the client usually said something like, "I'll think about it and let you know." And I wouldn't hear from them for at least a few weeks. Then, when I had lots of other work in the shop, they would come back and want me to do it. But then I wouldn't want to do it because I coudn't afford to do it as cheap as I had priced it. What could I do, I was stuck!

Believe me, I know what that feels like. But I have a suggestion (which may be very difficult). Step out of your "Got to get that job" mentality (which is a "desparation mentality") and step into the mentality of "What do I need to do that job correctly?" Then I might suggestion that you price the job three different ways:

  • Way 1: made very simply, no skirts, no welts, and no separate cushion covers.
  • Way 2: made very simply, no skirts, no welts, but cushions are covered separately
  • Way 3: made with separately covered boxed cushions, skirts and welts, etc.

There can be other variations of this as well.

What should you do Now?
But then you might say, You've already given her a low price (and want to lower the price even more). What do you do from where you are right now? I would recommend that you NOT lower your price any more, but that figure out whatever cost saving methods you can (such as when you elimated the serging), or not making separate cushion covers. Figure out how you can make it as simple as possible. (no welts, no skirts, as few seams as possible)

I find that when the customer doesn't want to pay my price, while keeping my regular service at full price, I often offer them realistic cheaper alternatives. Giving them the cheaper alternatives emotionally helps me to feel better about charging full price for my regular service.

Sample Comparison Estimates
As an example, here is a comparison estimate that I created for a client. This sample estimate is available here as a pdf document, or here as an Excel spreadsheet document. This will give you an idea of how I sometimes handle giving comparison estimate (so I can be my own competition). In this estimate, the client wanted an estimate in covering all their furniture in wool fabric with wool padding, and also, how much would they be in leather. I knew that the price would be so expensive that there would be no way that they would do it. It took me a week (of struggling with myself: I didn't want to put all that work into making 8 estimates, since I "knew" that they wouldn't want to do it. I also had to figure out how to give the estimate. After the week, I finally decided to do a spreadsheet estimate. Also, although they didn't ask what my "regular" price would be (covered in standard materials and using standard padding), I added the "standard" price for my sake. Since I gave them the alternative of the lower regular price, it gave me the confidence to create the estimates for both the wool fabric and the leather. And they have told me that they want to go ahead with covering it in the wool fabric.

Take Heart!
I said all of this to encourage her to take heart. Don't be afraid to charge your full regular price. And also to give them some cheaper alternatives (which I've listed above).
You might also consider making out a spreadsheet with prices for doing it several different ways. This way, they will be deciding whether they want it done the simpler way, or to pay for the more fitted look.

Using Downtime
    During times in the past when I was out of work I would fret a lot. Usually my downtimes don't last more than a few days at most. But, when I don't have anything to do, it's very easy to get all worried and think "I'm going broke", "How am I going to pay rent" etc. Eventually my smart wife (wives are wonderful!) began to encourage me to use my downtime productively. Keeping busy helps me keep my mind out of the gutter. Also, there are usually MANY things that I never have time to do when I'm busy. Having some faith (realizing that, "No, I'm not going broke, customers will be coming again.") helped me to begin to use the downtimes better. In fact, during the last few years, I've began to look forward to down times, which give me some time to organize my business better. Here are some of the things that I do when I run out of work for a few days:

  • Examine my business: When I'm really busy, it's sometimes difficult to keep perspective. Am I doing what I want to be doing? Where can I improve what I'm doing?
  • Clean and organize the shop/workroom. When I'm busy, there are areas in my shop that develop clutter, that I don't clean very well. Having some down time allows me  time to do a better job of cleaning, or to organized my supplies better, etc.
  • Work on developing better paperwork. I use this time to see what I'm lacking in paperwork, and to such as improving my work orders, creating better price lists, etc.
  • Bookkeeping: There always seems to be bookkeeping that needs to be caught up. Never seems to be enough time to do it all. So, I sometimes use my downtime to catch up on bookwork.
  • Do Jobs for own house: Some of us don't seem to take time to do our own furniture. When I have no work, I sometimes take that opportunity to work on some upholstery/slipcover project for the house.

When I use down time to improve some aspect of my business, then those rare times of "no work" become a blessing rather than a curse to endure. During the last couple of years I've only had perhaps a couple days when I didn't have client's work to do, so I didn't have much time to work on this stuff.

    One of the most important aspects of developing any business is advertising. I also use downtime to examine my advertising. What types of advertising am I doing? What types of advertising is available in my area? What can I do better?
    We spend about $250 to $300 per month year round. We advertise when we are very busy as well as when we are slow. This is part of what keeps work coming in year round. This is how we advertise:

  • Newspaper: West Salem, where we live, has its own montly newspaper, which serves about 10,00 families. We put  display ad (about 2" high by about 5" wide) and this costs us about $60-80 per month. We keep it running all the time. We've had people tell us that they had cut out our ad and had it on the refrigerator for a year. They knew that someday they call us, and the did.
  • Telephone Directories: We have the smallest size of display ad (1/16th of a page) that we could get. We run this ad in two telephone directories.
  • Word of Mouth: Yes, I've heard from many people that word of mouth is the best type of advertising. I agree. However, clients die off, or move away. I've never found that word of mouth alone would give me enough work. Also, word of mouth, as an advertising source, takes years to develop.
        To me, the realization the power of word of mouth helps me to realize that every client should be treated honestly, forthrightly, and to do the best job that I can. Every job can come back to bless me or to haunt me.

More Advertising Thoughts
Focused Advertising = Focused Results. Assuming there is a large enough customer base in the area, we can advertise for the part of the upholstery that we like to do, to the exclusion of other areas. For example. I don't like to do automobile upholstery (yes, I know, some of you love to do autos). What I like to do best is household furniture and RV cushions. This is what I advertise for and these are the types of clients that I mostly get.
Able to choose specific jobs: Advertising brings us in enough potential clients that we can be more picky about the jobs that we do. We can take the jobs that we like better, or that we do best. We can turn away jobs that we just don't want to do. Before we started advertising I often felt that I had to try to get every job (and thus beat myself down on the price). Now, since we constantly get some many calls (mostly from the ads), we can charge a better price (more that we used to charge) and we can refer jobs that we don't want to other shops.
Consistency of Advertising: We find that having our ad in the newspaper builds customer trust. Many of the clients have seen our ads for years. They know that someday they will use us, and they do. By seeing our ad in the newspaper every month, they see us as consistant, dependable. even before they actually ever come to us
You Get The Type of Customer That You Go After.

For example, if you advertise that you are the cheapest shop in town, then the type of customers you will get will be the ones looking for the cheapest price. (and often will try to get the price even lower)
However, if you specialize in quality, such as advertising that you do quality work (and then making sure that you indeed do quality work) then those are the type of clients that you will get. These type of clients are willing to pay more to get the quality workmanship.

Think Through The Job In Advance

Many potential problems of many jobs can be greatly minimized by thinking through the details of the job before you take the job in.

Keeping Records

As you work through the process described by this document be sure to keep records and take pictures as you go. Keep a notebook that you use (put the date and the client name on top of your notes). As I'm inspecting the job I try to keep notes about everything that needs to remember.  After the client leaves I will enter my notes and every other useful thing that i remember of what the client said or that i noticed into my Business Journal

Taking Pictures

As I'm gathering information for the estimate I also take a lot of pictures.(Read that accompanying article).

Thinking It Through

Here are some things to think about while you are figure prices and talking with the client:

  • Should you match the pattern of the fabric? Think about how the fabric will look on the furniture. If you have a piece of the fabric available, lay it on the furniture to get a feel for how it will look on the furniture.
  • Will there be enough fabric? I almost always add at least 10% to 15% more than I think that the job will take. You never know what you might have forgotten to include, or you might make a mistake.
  • Should the seams be bound? Examine the weave and he backing of the fabric. Will it hold together or do the yarns at the edge of the sample  come loose  easily?
  • Is the chosen fabric really a good choice for the furniture
    • Is the fabric too thin?
    • Should a muslin be put on the chair before the fabric?
    • Is the pattern a good match for the chair? Is it a square design, will it be going a round chair? How will that look?
  • Ask the client if there is anything that they would like changed about the chair?
    • Does the furniture have any squeaks or noises?

Talking With The Client

After you have taken in a job and are ready to start on it you should never have to ask yourself or the client things like, "Should I match the pattern". This should have all been talked about with the client before the job was taken in. Taking the time to talk through the details of the job both shows the client that you care about them and their furniture and it lets them know your thinking about the job. It gives them kind of an advance "mind picture" of what their job might look like and the quality of the work you might put into it.

About the Furniture

Ask the client if they like the furniture as it is, or if they's like anything changed.

Ask the client if there are any design elements about the furniture that she would like to keep. For example, if the furniture as tassells around the bottom, or buttons, or seams between the buttons, or attached pillows, make sure that you talk with the client in advance about anything that you are planning on changing BEFORE you do the job. Be sure that the client is  OK with the changes before you make the changes.

Don't make changes to the way the furniture feels or looks without first checking with the client. For example, if the chair needs a new cushion, have her sit on a foam sample of the new foam while you are discussing details with her. I keep foam samples in my shop for this purpose.

If the cushion or panels on the furniture have seams on them, point them out to the client. Then, depending on which way you run the fabric you can either tell them that the new cover will also have those seams, or that it won't.

For any special design elements, draw a sketch of the furniture with the special design element on it.

About the Fabric

Always discuss with the client in advance the details how they want the fabric applied. If needed, have the client come back out once you have the fabric and are ready to start the job

  • Focal Point: If the fabric has a pattern, check the client has a particular focal point she wants centered. Some patterns have obvious center points, while other patterns may have multiple points that could be used as the center.  Yet, even more, sometimes the client may want (or be OK with) have a different focal pont on each panel.
  • Plaid/check patterns: If there are different color lines or stripes in the pattern, which color does the client prefer as the center line?
  • Cutting Direction of Fabric
    • Top of Pattern: Also, check with the client which direction of the fabric that she sees as the top of the pattern. After all, she is the one who will have to live with the pattern for many years.
    • Top of Plain Fabric: Sometimes a seemingly plain fabric will have a stripe that didn't show up on the swatch in the sample book. Sometimes the fabric will look different or have a different sheen one direction or another.
  • Seams in Fabric: If the fabric has a pattern or characteristic (such as velvet) that will cause you put seams in places that did not previously have seams, talk with the client about it. Tell them what needs to be done (i.e. put seams on the cushion or backrest, etc.) and why. This can save both you and the client lots of grief.
  • Anything Else in Same Fabric: Ask the client if anything else in the room will be made from the same fabric. Will another workroom be making something out of the same fabric? If so, check with the client or the workroom to make sure everyone is applying the fabric in the same direction and using the same focal points, etc.
  • Seaming Outside Back: If the outside needs to be seamed, ask client their preference of one center seam or a seam on each side. Do they want cording in the same or just a plain seam.

If The Client Provides the Fabric

Face Side of Fabric: Verify with the client which is the front side of the fabric. I've had to redo two jobs because I didn't first check with the client which side she wanted on the top. Some fabrics can be used either side out. Sometimes the fabric stores will roll the fabric so that the face side is on the back of the roll. (They do this so that they can hang the fabric so that back side of the roll shows as the front.)

Is There Enough Fabric: If the client provides the fabric make sure that there is plenty of fabric. Also, ask how long she has had the fabric, and if she can get more, if needed. Is the fabric orderable, or was it a closeout?

Enter The Information into the Business Journal

When the client leaves and before I do anything else, I enter the pictures and everything that I can remember into my Business Journal. I never know when the next client will show up (sometimes another client shows up quickly following the previous client. So it is important that I make a written record of all the details before I get interrupted by the next client or other important event.

Giving The Client An Estimate

When giving the client an estimate it is really helpful to have specially designed estimate sheet that covers all the common areas that need to be considered in the estimate. (A substitute for this could be a list of those same specifics that you go over as you write the estimate.) It is very difficult, if not impossible, for even a very experienced professional to remember everything that should be inspected during the estimate, so have the printed guide is a great help.

As I prepare the estimate I use my Business Journal to great advantage.

Also, read the accompanying section on Giving Estimates. This is highly recommended.

Giving The Client Price Options

Another advantage of thinking through a job is that you can then give a client options. Learn to really "see" the furniture. Closely examine how it is made. What things are necessary and what things are optional.You never know how much the client wants to spend on the project. There have been times when I thought that a client wanted .... upholstery. In these cases I didn't bother to give lesser cost options. However, many of these potential clients decided not to do the job. I think that I might had been able to do many of these jobs if I had of given them more choices. Nowadays I almost always give several price options, from, what is the lowest cost I can do a job (wherever possible: eliminating skirts, attached pillows, buttons, banding, etc.

For more information about giving multiple options on estimates see: Giving Estimates

Writing Up The Order

Firstly, You should have a Work Order that covers all the particulars, it can either be preprinted that you fill in by hand or something where you enter the information on the computer. As an example, I use Quickbooks invoices as the Work Order. You can see samples of both preprinted and computer of Work Orders here.

When you write up the order be sure to write out all the details of the job. Don't trust anything to memory (your memory or the client's memory). Sometimes a client may have previously told you to details in person or in an email. They might remember those details because it is their furniture, but you have other things on your mind and don't remember. Let the client read the contract and ask the client if there is anything else that needs to be included. Ask if there is anything that you have left off the Contract.

It is to your advantage to write all the details on the Contract, both as a reminder to you of what the job includes, and as a protection if the client ever complains that you did not do something, or did something that you weren't supposed to do.

Special Thanks To

For suggesting some great ideas for this article, special thanks to fellow upholsterers: Danielle MacKenzie Miller, Nancy Baldwin Letts, Dennis Locke, Edwin Ladd Northuis, Christopher Berry, Glynis Manningm, Debra Fabian.



Extra Charge Items

Extra Charge Items

Generally when reupholstering a piece we charge for any item that takes more time or more materials. Here are a few examples.

Working in Velvet

Velvet (especially very plain cotton or cotton blend pile velvet bruised very easily. This means that if you use tack strips to fasten the sides of the outside arms and the outside back it is pretty likely to bruise the velvet. Consequently, you will probably have to handsew those pieces, which takes more time. In addition, you have to be gentler and take extra care with velvet to keep it from wrinkling or have crease.

Using contrast cording.

When you use contrast cording the odd color cording stands out much more that self cording, and thus it shows any uneveness of the cording much more plainly this gives a much higher probability of the client complaining and wantingyou to redo something. Consequently, this means that you need to take extra pains to have the cording as straight as possible.

Decorative Tacks:

To figure the cost of the tacks, measure how many tacks it takes for a given measurement (i.e. 1 foot). Let's say that with head to head tacks it takes 17 tacks for 1 foot fo head to head tacks. Assuming that you buy your tacks in boxes of 1000, and it the box costs you $20 (plus $5 shipping (when included with other items)), you'd figure the retail price at figure your retail cost. Lets' assume you decide your retail cost

Head to Head: To to figure price, get a stop watch and time yourself putting in a section of tacks (i.e.) 1 foot of tacks. Divide by your hourly rate. Here is a Hyperthetical example: if puttin in 1 foot of tacks takes 15 minutes (1/4 hour), and if your hourly rate was $50 per hour, then your labor would be 1/4 X $50 = $12.50 per foot, plus the cost of the tacks.


How Much To Charge?

(This message is a response to another upholsterer who was feeling grumbly because some of her clients were asking her to lower her price. )

Can you give me a break on the price?

A couple months ago a client brought a sectional into my shop to replace the soft foam in the seat with a high quality foam. When I gave him the price the price he tried to get me to lower the price. I told him something like "I don't make a lot of money at this, I have to feed my family." He said that his wages have been cut back also, and could I give another poor working stiff a break, etc ....... I was kind in my response, but kept firm in my price. He decided to have me go ahead and do it anyway. After I finished the job and he came to pick it up, he wanted me to go home with him to help him get it in the house. Since I wanted it out of my shop, and he said he didn't have anyone at home to help him, I went with him. His house must have cost at least $500,000 to $800,00, possibly a million dollars. He is a regional sales manager for a large company. His wife also has some type of high position in a school system. I would guess that he alone easily makes 10 times as much as I do. By the way, he gave me an extra $10 to go with him clear across town, which took at least an hour. I cheated myself by not specifying a reasonable price for my time in advance. Before going with him, I should have told him a price for helping him deliver it.

I thought it humorous that (when I was giving him the price) he tried to relate to me on my level as a mutual struggling working man, and yet obviously had an income waaaaay above mine. His interpretation of being a "poor working stiff" is far different from mine.

Best Wishes,

How Should I Figure Out What to Charge?

The Beginnings

I've doing upholstery since 1966. During the first years I worked for my dad. He took pictures of his work. Eventually he used his pictures to create an estimate manual. Each picture was numbered. Then he had a list of numbered prices and yardages that corresponded with the picture numbers. Clients would look through the pictures and find something that look like theirs. Right then they could see what the labor and yardage would be for their piece of furniture Giving each estimate didn't require much effort at all. To go with that estimate manual my dad had a mindset of "Do it quick, do it cheap." He had a number of upholsterers what did work for him. They did the work quick and slapped it out. High quality wasn't much of a concern. (There was a number of furniture that got rejected and my dad ended up fixing much of it so that he wouldn't have to fight with the upholsterers about it.) That  seemed work for him, but not for me. For many years my focus has been on doing my high quality. My dad and I had many words over that (but that's another story)

Figuring It Out

Over the years since Dad died I eventually had to figure it out for myself (and I'm still looking for, or developing, better ways that match how I  do business. My current methods includes a price page on my website here: [url=]Upholstery Labor Prices[/url] I give price ranges and yardage ranges. I never give an exact price over the phone. I can give a closer estimate from a picture, but I still accompany my estimated price with a disclaimer phrase (as I already mentioned, in a link, in a previous message.

How do figure out my pricing structure?

Some upholsterers are very diligent and organized about timing how long it takes them to reupholster each piece of furniture. After some time they build up a reference showing how long each piece of furniture has taken them to reupholster it. I admire these professionals. In my mind, I'd love to do this. However, I work at home. In reality, I have some many interruptions (many of my own making) and am not that organized to do that.

So, what I've kind of done and go by kind of a "per yard" base labor pricing, and then that is adjusted by the complexity of the furniture. For instance, if I figure charging about $50 per yard as a "fluid" starting basis, and if the chair takes about 6 yards of fabric, then my base labor would start around $300. Then I look to see if it has extra banding on it, or lots of cording, or other special detailing, or anything else that would take extra work. From that I adjust (raise) the base labor cost. Then I add on any of the others in the component pricing list.

Component Pricing

I get so many interruptions each day that it's hard for me to judge my time. Instead I do what I can "component pricing" I figure a certain price for a certain type of furniture, then I add-on for additional items (i.e. skirts, new foam, attached pillows, channels, spring tying, etc.) Consequently, I don't spend a lot of time figuring out prices. I just list everything out on my estimate form.

An Example Price List.

For an example of what I'm currently doing, look at the upholstery Labor Price List on my business website. I'm not the most happy with this system, but, for now it at least gives me a starting point. Whenever I need to give an estimate, I just go to my Labor Price List (Which I've copied to my estimate form) and make adjust ments to the price as explained above.