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Hi everyone, Ive been having a conversation with @TedP about this on another thread about pricing and felt it needed to be its own topic of discussion. Here is the conversation so far.

There is a lot more to go . . . I think 32 pieces total, which is about double of the last boat I did a couple of years ago. I have 7 pieces done, so I'm taking a look at my average time per piece and projecting my schedule. Working on it some nights and most weekends.

My average time so far is about 5-6 hours per piece, which includes

Removal of the old skin from the base or backing
Marking and disassembly of the panels
Cutting new fabric pieces from the old pieces as templates
Gluing the Sew Foam backing and trimming any excess
Sewing new panels together
Fitting the new skin to the existing seat frame/base.

Just wondering if this amount of time sounds about right, or if there are some time-saving steps I should consider ?

If I were to do this semi-professionally, I'm wondering what labor rate would be appropriate? If each seat piece (base, backrest, etc.) is taking about 5 hours then the base cushion I posted a few days ago might be $300 (assuming $50/hour + materials/supplies), which feels a bit high (maybe not ?)

If I were to price out this entire boat re-upholster project, 32 pieces at 5 hours per piece. It would come out to about $8,000 in labor and $2,500 in material, or $10,500 total (@ a $50/hr labor rate).

I guess that is OK . . . If my 'rate' was more like $75/hr the total job would be $14,500 . . . that might be a bit high. :thinking:

Thanks in advance for any input on the time and hourly rate if I were to do this work for others (right now just doing my own stuff)

Estimating is very difficult with upholstery because there are sooo many variables. This is why I encourage people to get out of the set price / estimate model as soon as they can and focus on building a customer base that is willing to pay for quality and not the cheapest they can find. I understand that when starting out thats hard to do but it should be you goal to get to that point.
I feel pretty strongly that every trimmer that does good work should be aiming to charge at least $100 per hour. This makes some people starting out uncomfortable but if you look at other similar industries their shop rates are rarely under $100 per hour these days. Automotive repair shops now days charge between $100 and $250 an hour! Your skills are no less valuable than other trades.
At this point in my carrier I personally wont even turn the lights on for a job that doesn't pay that and all of the high end trimmers are the same way. This industry needs to start valuing their skills more and not be so scared of customers that expect to pay you pennies. Its our fault that customers across the country think that way because we continue to take the jobs at that price.
The key to getting to charge for every hour and not a set estimate is being very honest and upfront with the customer about the estimate not being a guarantee and keeping them looped in on set backs throughout the project. For example I recently did a plane interior that went more that %50 over the estimate. I notified the customer about all of the broken parts and problems I came across once getting the interior apart and how I recommend we fix it. That's how it works at an automotive repair shop right? If they start the job and find another problem they call you and tell you its gonna cost x to fix the problem. They would never fix it for free because of an estimate. It should be no different for us. At the end of the project the customer was extremely happy with the end result because he knew what he paid for because I was honest and upfront. If I had not kept him informed he would have justifiably been very angry upon receiving the bill.

Again I understand when your just starting out and building a reputation this isn't realistic but it should be your intention to get to that point because if you get stuck with the reputation of being the lowest price in town your gonna end up too much work, customers that dont value you, no time and wonder why your just barely getting by and busting your ass.

Sorry for the rant but the business side and pricing side of upholstery is something I'm really passionate about. I hate seeing people so drastically undervalue their skills and the demand for those skills. Its a big problem in trade and I hope to help fix that one day...

Hope this helps!!!

Very helpful @John . I appreciate your guidance. :thumbsup:

This being the third boat I've done over the years, I feel like I'm getting better at the stitching, but not really any faster (yet). I'm a few years away from retirement at the day job and considering if this might be a good line of part-time work afterwards (or not).

I guess I'd have to balance my speed and what I'd want to earn ($$$) to come up with a marketable rate. Probably price things by the job, not the hour, which I think you recommend in some other posts on the subject of pricing. As I get more time on my hands, I might try taking 1 or 2 boat upholstery jobs just to see how it works out.
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So yes you will find post on from the past where I state its better to estimate by the job instead of show estimated hours and materials. I used to do this because I found that when some customers see the the labor rate per hour they get offended because they compare it to what they make at their job and feel that your time should not be worth mor than yours. They dont take in to consideration at all your cost of running a business or any other factors. Then because they feel offended they try to argue with you.
This is the method I would recommend for people starting out and building a reputation.

However I too am still learning more about business and this trade every day just like you all are as well. Since then I have have built my customer base and reputation to where I no longer have to or even want to accept customers that aren't willing to pay me for every minute of my time. These are the types customers that everyone should be striving to find and continue to work with. When you do find customers like this you will happily bend over backwards for them because they value your time, expertise, quality of work and the piece of mind you provide them knowing they will be very happy with the end result. Obviously I dont charge time on any mistakes I make during the job. Many industries operate this way and there is no reason your upholstery shop cant.

I would love to hear others opinions on this and what they are doing in their own business.
MalcolmM liked this
The problem is the guy in his garage doing it for the price of a pack of smokes and a 12 pack. I get calls to price match, and it's a lot lower than my price. Some call and complain that the interior price is more than they paid for the boat, so irritating. Some people don't care about quality, they just want the foam covered, and they have no clue about quality materials.
Bohdan, John liked this
Excellent advice John. I've learned to not bother working with people who complain about an estimated price. If someone asks about doing it cheaper or the line "but I can get this for $x" then that's not the demographic that is going to help you build a reputation or tell others of your business. Most often they're the demographic who complain about random things, like why their projects aren't done immediately even though I give a time frame. Ignore the guy in the garage doing work for cheap. If you cut your prices down to compete with them then you will be super busy and making the same money. I'm fairly new to Trimming as a business, a few months running from home full time, but I know I'd prefer to get fair pay four days a week rather than being flooded with work for six days because I give my time away. Whenever I've underestimated a job it's always been not fun to do. When something unexpected comes up and takes more time it can really suck to know you're only making $x for the next week of work. I always quote a price and let the customer know that it's almost always within ± %X of the given price. The percentage changes dependant on the job, age of the work is a large factor.
John liked this
This is a great discussion, because I think it is at the heart of what many of us deal with in terms of doing this type of work for a living or just some extra $$$$ on the side.

I would be fine with $100/hour in order to work up a price, but it seems that the speed at which you can produce quality work will also be a factor. My interest is in boat upholstery, since I spend a lot of time in and around boats.

@John I like the business model that you have worked towards, and to me it seems that it would work best in a business-to-business scenario, where you are doing the upholstery work as a sub-contractor for another company that is doing the larger scope of restoration. . . . cars, boats, planes, etc. I know from my own career experience business relationships are more important than price. You want to be in the ballpark regarding price, but the relationship is what you rely on. . . particularly when you need your vendor in a pinch (or your customer needs you).

I would imagine the price challenges are more in the business-to-consumer aspects of the industry. Consumers are going to be more often focused on price . . . not every consumer, but I would think a good portion of them will be quite price sensitive. I would think that is where the downward pressure on price comes from. However, in order to make a living, or to make your spare time worthwhile, you do have to earn a certain amount. Sort of a delicate balance of attracting jobs and making money.

Interestingly, my brother had his boat re-upholstered over the past year. It involved 4-5 seat assemblies and some side cushions. . . maybe individual 25 pieces total. His price was $6,500 and from the pictures that I saw, it looked like good work. So his average 'piece price' was $260 - including material. By an approximate comparison, it would put my current boat re-upholstery in the $8,500 range. . . which seems a bit low. . . but maybe not.

Anyway, this post is very informative and food for thought.
MalcolmM, John liked this
Being new to upholstery its always very informative as to how others charger for their service. When I work on projects I try to keep a rough total of hours it takes me to do certain things to help me better estimate the next job. When I started out I was doing the work for almost free. This isn't my actual business, more something I started with because I couldn't find anyone in my area to do the style work i wanted done. But as my skill has increased I am charging more for what I do and it does actually attract better customers. Very few people outside the upholstery trade realize all of the work and hours that go into a beautiful interior, myself included before I got into this. But it seems like trimmers are starting to get more of the respect they deserve now with a greater focus on beautifully finished interiors. I look forward to hearing how others price their work because there always seems to be some secrecy behind it. Time to up my prices!
TedP, John liked this
Speaking of 'the guy working out of his garage', this is one of the worst examples that I have seen of what customers can get themselves into. It has been something I remembered ever since seeing the pictures . . . about 8 years ago.

This is the remake of a rear seat of a go-fast boat by ' a local guy' . . .
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Interestingly enough, the local guy wanted $1700 for this job, which would be about $2500 today !!! The owner of the boat eventually had to go to the boat manufacturer to get the seat re-made.

From a business aspect, I think to go along with price/rate there is quality. If you can show the quality of your work and build a reputation of such, then price/earnings, etc should be in good shape.
Excellent discussion! I have lost plenty of work to "garage guy" it almost always turns out like that picture. When a customer is put off by my estimate, i like to break it down into the time involved in each step of the way. When you do a bit of math with them the conversation seems to take a turn for the better. If they still have reservations, i often ask what the hourly labor rate is at their own place of employment...even better if they are a small business owner. Doing it right takes a certain amount of time and there is no way around it. And material costs what it costs, i can't control that.
MalcolmM, John liked this
Boats and forklift enclosures are pretty much it. My business partner and I are both boaters, we get a lot of business from the marina where we keep our boats...guess that means my boat is tax deductible :innocent: . I'd like to get into doing planes as there is a small airport nearby that is way closer to my shop than any marina.
John liked this
A few points from my perspective.
When you are starting out if you keep track of your time for different projects you can build a base for estimating. As you learn and get better and faster, you do not reduce the time base for your estimate. The reduction in time is your experience. This also gives you something to discuss with the customer went it is time to educate them on how long it takes to do something.

I find that if I spend the time upfront educating the customer, they usually will want to work with me instead of someone else as they feel they will get a better result, as the ability to educate them conveys that you know what you are doing.

What we have been finding is that as we gain experience, we are also bumping up our shop rate job by job. We end up with 2 basic types of jobs, the repeats that we can now do in our sleep, and the projects where we are being pushed to learn new skills. We typically lose money on the projects as they are learning experiences, and as we all know learning is not free.
@Rug Dr. Yeah that happens to all of us! its super frustrating. Avoid those customers like the plague because you'll use money on them. I go by the 80/20 rule in life/business. In this situation its
Customer type 1: 80% 0f customers consume %8o of your time and amount to %20 of your income.
Customer type 2: 20% of the customers consume %20 of your time and amount to %80 of your income.
I actively try to eliminate customer 1 and get more customer 2s. Its more profitable and less stressful.

@Bohdan Spot on! I couldn't agree more. If someone else is selling their services cheaper than me its not my problem or responsibility to lower my prices.

@TedP mmm.... Not sure I completely agree on the way I charge when it comes to business to business sales. It all depends on the scenario. If your doing work directly for the business itself its great but if you are being subcontracted by another business then your are essentially held hostage to however they decide to charge their customer. Usually when you are being subcontracted they want a guaranteed price and they usually want a discount so they can make a profit on your work as well. Instead of being a sub contractor its better to build a relationship with that business where you send each other customers because you both trust each other to do good work when you recommend people to them.

Yeah thats pretty bad work for any price. Unfortunately I see this all the time.

@Mikesimpson Good point. Since I started charging hourly I have had to track my hours more closely and now I even not what I accomplished during those hours and make sure to study them after each job. That has helped a lot to get better at estimation. I recommend everyone track their time regardless of how they decide to charge. Also note how long things take like disassembly, patterning, foam backing, cut out, sewing, installation, etc.... That will help you with estimating and you can use that to refer back to when your doing a similar project.

@BigRig Well thats a good point and I guess it depends. If its a piece that I am worried will be difficult I will do some test practice pieces and charge for that. If I still screw it up I usually dont charge for the re do unless I had informed the customer that we shouldn't do it that way and they still insisted on having it done that way.

@Adam12 I love your advice to ask the customer what the hourly rate is at their place of employment or business :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup: I'm gonna use that one!

Yes! Your boat and the rent for the slip is absolutely a marketing expense :thumbsup: :thumbsup: Thats the perk of being self employed. You gotta do everything you can to avoid SE taxes :rage:

@JimmieJoe Fantastic advice! I completely agree.
TedP, MalcolmM liked this
This has been a helpful discussion and as a result, I have worked up a spreadsheet that I may use for estimating jobs, if I decide to take on some work in the next year or so. My focus would be on boat seating.

I do see some local trimmers advertising $50-65/ hour on CL, and I agree that price shoppers keep the pressure on pricing. I think I would create a web presence and stress quality and try to be mid-range on price. Since I'd do part-time work, I'm hopeful that I could pick and choose the jobs to take on. The person with little money to spend is probably never going to be a good customer.
John, Bohdan liked this
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