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Will the cost of upholstery compete with new furniture?

Recently another upholsterer said that it was becoming increasingly harder to convince people that reupholstery was a better option than buying new. This upholsterer was afraid that he would have a hard time charging enough.

I Tried to Compete

Early in my career as an upholsterer I used to try to compete with the price of new furniture. There were times when work was scarce and finances were extremely tight. Often when I would give an estimate, as I was feeling desperate to to get the job, I'd beat myself down in price before I even told the client the price. Then the client would often say, "I'll think about it." We went through some years of pretty tight times. 

I've Learned To Trust

It took me a long time to get the message that there is something bigger than myself that is my provider. I have learned to trust that enough work will come if I'm proactive about seeking new clients, am faithful in doing quality work, treat clients like  I would want to be treated. I no longer try to compete with the cost of new furniture. I try to just focus on what is in my control.

I Engage With The Clients

In this world of high pressure sales tactics many clients run for the hills. While some sales people would frown at my "lack of closing tecniques" I purposely have thrown away any attempts to "make a sale" with the clients. Instead, I treat the clients as I would a friend. While we are discussing their potential upholstery job I also casually ask them about themselves, their families, their hobbiies, their job etc. At the same time I share those some things about myself and my family. We also talk about the good times and the bad times. I don't try to "convince" the client of anything. I just talk to them as friends. 

My "Presentation"

As part of my "presentation" I teach them what they need to know to make an informed decision and get them involved with aspects of what their renew furniture would contain.For Example:

  • I show them the difference between the high quality foam I sell versus the cheap foam. (I put the two pieces of foam on a table side by side and then press my straight fingers repeatedly firmly down into the cheap foam and show them how quickly it breaks down. Then I do the same thing with the high quality foam, which doesn't break down in my test)
  • I talk to them about fabrics. I tell about double rubs and show them the double rubs markings on many fabrics. I also mention that high double rubs are not the only consideration in fabric quality, but it at least is helpful.
  • Based upon them either bringing in their furniture, or bringing or emailing a picture of their furniture, I generally give them a detail estimate with multiple options.
  • Many clients don't have a lot of time, so, if they need to leave I often email them the estimate.
  • If I give them the estimate in person I tell them that they don't have to make up their minds "today". They can go home and think about it. Do what's right for them. I don't get every job, but I get enough to keep me as busy as I want to be. A large percentage decide to proceed.

The Client's Furniture

The jobs I mainly get are from clients who:

  1. Have high quality furniture
  2. Have sentimental pieces
  3. Have antiques
  4. Have furniture that fits a specific purpose. For example, it's just the right size for a corner or a nook, etc. They can't find another piece to fit that space.
  5. Really like their furniture and are delighted that someone can renew it for them.
  6. Want a better selection of fabrics than they can get at the furniture store

I do also get some clients that have regular run-of-the-mill furniture that I wonder why they are having it done. They could probably buy a new piece for less money, but they have me do it anyway.

The Cost of Upholstery

There are a number of people who only want the cheapest price, and we wouldn't get those jobs anyway, so why worry about them. While cost is an important issue, it's not the only thing that is important. A major selling point, as I see it, is that we, the upholsterer, can give the client something that new furniture store can't give them. We can restore their beloved furniture into "Better than new" condition, with a much wider selection of fabrics that is possible with a new furniture store.

Seeking New Clients

Another piece of the puzzle is that for many years we spent about $250 to $300 per month on advertising (a small display in the local phone directory and also in the larger area phone book (which we recently discontinued, and in two small newspapers)  When you get a lot of calls it is easier to get more jobs. Of the calls we get, I figure that about 1/2 to 3/4 of the people who call us have no idea as to the cost. Some are blown away by the cost. I can imagine their eyes going wide when they hear a price quote. But the remaining 1/4 to 1/2 ask more questions. A lot of those will go a step further. The point is, if you get enough people calling about their furniture, you have a much higher probability of getting more work. If you are proactive in this way, and are able to get more work, you will be less concerned with "competing" with new furniture. 

I realize that I won't get every client that contacts us, and that is OK. We will get enough. Many just want a price to see if it is something that they can even get consider.

Furniture Stores Also Need Clients

Yes, some people will go to the new furniture stores instead of having us do it. That is OK. The employees at those stores need to eat and provide for their families as well. My mindset is that I will get whatever jobs I get and it will be enough. In the event that I even can't make a living at upholstery, if I'm proactive, other doors will open to provide for myself and my family. So why worry about it?

In Conclusion

So, my parting message to you is, do your best to provide quality workmanship, treat your clients well, and be proactive in trying to get clients.