Need Help? Call Us 415-423-3313
Need Help? Call Us 415-423-3313
  • Welcome to The Forum. Please login or sign up.
October 26, 2021, 08:13:40 am


Welcome to our new upholstery forum with an updated theme and improved functionality. We welcome your comments and questions to our forum! Visit our main website,, for our extensive supply of upholstery products, instructional information and videos, and much more.

Expansion, different sector?

Started by 65Buick, May 22, 2018, 02:18:45 pm

Previous topic - Next topic


In sharp contrast to the previous discussion to exit strategy, I'm wondering if I might need to change it up and/or pursue a slightly different market.

Where I live, we have a few different ports/marinas. I'm wondering if it might be a good idea to learn marine upholstery. I'm finding that my interior designers for the most part just don't want the hassle of custom furniture. They want it done. Delivered. Over and next project.

No surprise there since that's really what happens with everything. No time. Hussle hussle.
Keep in mind I didn't decide to learn about upholstery in the hope of making millions. Just want a decent life.

Curious what everyone's thoughts are about this.


I use to do all phases of Upholstery. Cars, Boat, and furniture. It is a good thing to learn it all and then choose one or more to follow up with. I for one don't like to mix them any more. Cars, and Boats are hard to take apart and very dirty. It is easy to get a spot of grease on a horse or table only to have it transfer onto a white sofa. Extreme example but true. So no I only do furniture. I also turn down things like tape repair as I don't want to run it through my machines. You learn whatever you can and figure out what you like.
Minichillo's Upholstery


Are you talking about on-site work at marinas? Many marinas have a cozy deal with one upholstery shop only.

It's like a drug dealer trying to take over another dealer's "corner".
"Perfection is the greatest enemy of profitability" - Mark Cuban


Quote from: MinUph on May 22, 2018, 02:23:33 pm
It is easy to get a spot of grease on a horse or table only to have it transfer onto a white sofa.

I'm not saying don't do it but Paul makes a good point. Also you like me have your shop at your house. My neighbors would get upset with two or three boats in the front yard. And my insurance company wouldn't be very happy either. Also there have been people visit the forum trying to figure out patterns that were a nightmare. Lots of curved backs using vinyl with puckers that won't come out.

On the other hand if you can get past these hurtles and if you live near the California coast there is a lot of money to be made doing boats. 
There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.


I am going to be the odd man out. I am all for expanding services and reaching out into other sectors. I am also big on experimenting and testing the waters in certain areas of an industry.

Only you know what the market in your area holds in regards to marina's and marine work. The Marine fabricators I know have always relied on work coming directly from the owners. Big Mike is a perfect example. While he is tied in with a marina I am sure he will tell you he would have starved relying on work coming only from them. He makes his money from direct contact with boat owners.

RiCat is another. I may be wrong but I do not think Rick has ever been tied into a marina. He like Mike are freelancers and works directly with the boat owners. I might add that Rick is a rarity because he specializes in many areas of upholstery - auto, furniture, classic cars, RV interiors, marine work, canopy's, awnings, etc. And he is damn good at all of them. I have seen his work and I call Rick a true master. He has been in the business for 30 plus years.

Rick or Mike may be able to give better advice on doing Marine work but I think both will tell you some marine jobs get much harder on the body as you get older. One of our marine experts, June ended up giving up all marine work but cushions and interiors. It was killing her poor body. I think Rick may have put limits on some of his marine work too.

I have always been one to explore new frontiers by testing the waters to see if I can get a foot hold in a certain sector of a market. I have also been one to run from sectors if they don't bring the cash in that I wanted them to. We started this company doing RV solar screens for windows, then went into RV awnings all the while being a general upholstery shop for boats and even golf carts ( we have never done auto or furniture ). I soon found out that there was a helluva lot more money in awnings then in all the other product lines we carried so dropped it all and focused on awnings. I also learned that trying to be everything to everyone can sometimes burn a lot of time that could have been spent making money in another sector.

As a business owner you have to be willing to take calculated risks and explore new areas while also being smart enough to know when to drop those ventures if they do not pan out. In other words, my advice is - Nothing Ventured..Nothing Gained. Maybe Rick or Mike have something to add.



This is a wealth of info to digest.

I certainly didn't intend to have boats at my house, was just considering smaller jobs like cushions. I'm not sure I could do much more. Though I do understand that learning marine vinyls and fabrics is a job in itself.

The golf cart bit is interesting. I have now 3 different courses within arms reach. I know one for sure maintains the carts for customers to use. I wonder if they would have a need, and if so would I be able to dismantle the part needed there and bring it back to my shop?

For sure I like doing furniture the most. But I'm exploring because I have to.


At one time our Miami salesman told us we were his second largest client in Florida. The largest was a golf cart company. They have a huge business buying, selling and refurbishing golf carts. I forgot the number of carts that left their door every month but it was huge. They have their own upholstery department.

Florida has a massive golf cart industry due to all the retirees and the many senior citizen developments that allow golf carts. One can easily make a great living just in the " The Villages ". This is one of the nations largest retirement communities with its own Wal Mart, Walgreens, restaurants and other speciality stores. I believe the entire development encompasses a million square acres. Golf carts are allowed in almost the entire community and there are some real tricked out carts there too. Hummers, Mercedes and some with all kinds of bolt on equipment. Many have amazing custom upholstery. :)



Mojo, thank you for the kind words. Chris and I have had quite a few conversations over the years on upholstery. In the 40+ years I have been doing the craft I have seen a lot. At this stage, I am getting more and more on picky and choosing my work. The main thing I target now is the marine soft upholstery. I have found that it is the least in aggravation and easiest to do.

65Buick, a couple of things about marine upholstery. After doing different aspects of the pure side of working a piece of material to accomplish a project - measuring, cutting, fitting, sewing, installation - things start to become relevant. When doing an upholstery project - I call it the theory of upholstery - if a car, furniture, boat, golf cart, etc. - if done properly it will fit - if that material is not fit, sewn and installed properly it won't. Some marine upholstery can be a challenge. Barrel bucket Captain's chairs and flat facings in seating sewn with multiple colors with curved seams sewn together to lay flat. Here in this part of Florida, we have pontoon boats and the large curved backrest for the couches can be another challenge.

The other aspect of marine upholstery is applying the proper materials and principals to deal with the outdoor elements. In Florida, exposed marine upholstery that is not taken care of will take a beating. Customers need to know to keep the upholstery clean and covered. I use what I consider the best marine vinyl's available and still they have their limits if not protected. Sun fading and dirt with heat and moister that promotes mildew. Time and time again, if I get an inquiry for a major boat upholstery project, I will ask them with the money they are investing do they have a way to protect the seating. A cover for the boat, under a canopy or in a garage. Something.
When doing marine upholstery, other proper materials need to be used, stainless steel staples, stainless steel hardware (nuts, bolts, screws, t-nuts). If wood is replace, proper treatment of wood to withstand water that will rot wood. Another aspect I address is water barriers on the foam and water extraction with mesh in the upholstery. If original foam is used, I treat it with a mold mildew killer.

In upholstery, what I have found is different aspects of upholstery projects carries their own nuances. Paul can deal with materials for a furniture piece that will not work in marine, autos or medical.

Another area I target is medical. It might not be as busy as marine, but it is ok. But, pay attention to the areas of concern with medical upholstery and address it to the customer. When I bring these things up with an office manager or doctor, they really appreciate it.

With a proper outlook, you can stay busy with customer pay's projects.

And Chris was right; I do not promote myself to marinas. For me, I am busy as it is and I don't like putting all my eggs in one basket. All it takes is a change in management and you can be asked for kickbacks or lose the account all together. And it is more difficult to pick and choose the projects. One would have to do what is required.

I hope it works out for you and if you need, call me anytime if you have questions. My phone number is on the contact page of my website.



I can't even imagine all the things you folks have seen in the decades of various upholstery work.
I do frequent offices of various kinds, medical & veterinary, etc. I even had a doctor of mine ask if I would do his tables. A shame that he's over an hour away.

Absolutely Rick the theory of upholstery is a great way to describe various applications. For sure just sheer experience I lack there. But just researching, I am absolutely dumbfounded at the number of textiles makers. Just the other day I had a chair with original naugahyde. Researched that and found a gazillion new types of it.

But now for the good news! -
My efforts attending monthly interior designer meetings is paying off! I am starting to get calls for projects. And my 'one up' on shops is that I pick up, drop off, and bill electronically. So the designer and client have nothing to do but open the door.

So I will be always looking around, but my heart really is in furniture. I hope I can remain there since I know there is so much more to learn and I don't want to be spread too thin.

Thanks everyone for your ideas.


Do what the opportunity offers - that is the way to keep learning and expanding opportunities.

There will be new issues to be resolved but a good business person can work on that too.



A little update, more info here.
I am always a bit suspicious at the latest 'in'  social media site. It's exhausting. Anyway, there's something called 'nextdoor' in which you can talk and meet with really local people. There's a business section too.
I found out with that the golf courses just buy new carts. They don't bother.
However, it may be a way to find legit people needing/wanting work done. So, check it out. It's easy.
Continuing on with meeting local designers & focusing on furniture. It's where my heart is anyway. Some have inquired about banquets which may be a real possibility, though I would have to collab with a furniture maker.
I did get another dining chair job so I think there's interest. And, they like my quality.
So..things are looking up. Made a couple new friends in the process.
Running out of room though!


I joined our local nextdoor out of curiosity -
Against my better computer judgment I signed up and the last registration page said we'll include your contact list.  I x'd out but it went through anyway. 
Didn't get my contacts but I hate sneaky crap like that. 
Saw my name mentioned twice but received no calls or jobs. 
My opinion is it is mostly folks recommending the last guy who worked for them without a true long time history of employment with that person.  I also see tradesman lurking on the site and  stepping up to reply " yes I do that call me ! "  In either case I think folks will need to screen better  -
I don't think I want to compete against some of those who are looking for a side job without all the responsibilities of true business ownership.
It's OK to get the pulse of your neighborhood or keep your eye open for someone's lost dog.


I've decided my best bet is to stick with furniture upholstery. It's what I'm best at, and I really can't compete with the auto/boat people.
I continue to go to the local designer meetings, and know most everyone/ vice-versa.
A couple designers have taken me up on small jobs. To be expected and I completely understand.
I'd really like to get a few profitable jobs with valuable pieces. Thoughts?


Find the most upscale neighborhood within traveling distance and see if they have a home town paper with a classified section.
Check out some antique restorers who work on high end pieces - they seldom do woodworking and recovering in the same space.


Decorators are a trip but we love working for them anyway. Be leery of decorators who are only shopping for the cheapest price. They will be the ones that give you the most difficult jobs. Decorators will wait 6 months to get their fabric and as soon as it comes in they want it done tomorrow. They will often want you to make 2 or 3 trips to the customers house to help make technical decisions. And if they forget to tell you about a change order some will expect you to fix it for free. This involves another trip to the house.

Building your business is a lot like network marketing. If you can get 2 or 3 customers who tell all their friends and then those friends tell all their friends you'll be off and running. Question is how do you find those 2 or 3 customers? Besides doing what you're already doing it's pretty much by chance. You never know when you will meet someone who will start the process.

Here are three things that we did to help our business take off.

First, the economy is doing really well right now. People are making money and spending like never before. Now is a perfect time to start a business. But you cannot just sit there and wait for them to find you. It takes a lot of work. You have to get out there and meet them. We're taking advantage of the economy by turning down jobs that are profit losers and getting more jobs that are money makers

Second, make sure your website and all of your business pages are up to date. Do whatever it takes to get your site onto the first page. When someone does a search for upholsterers in your area they will not look past page one. Google business is #1. Add photos to this page often.

If you are ready to take your business to the next level contact a group of retired business owners called SCORE. During the recession our business was floundering. Rose called a retired designer in Naples Fl. After several calls and many questions he finally told Rose, you're location sucks, you need to move where people have money. He helped us make a 3 year plan and we made it work.

Our website was stuck on page 3 when doing a google search. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. Once again we contacted SCORE. A retired webpage designer and IT guy came to our house and pointed out all the things we could be doing better. Within 3 months he had us on page one. The neat thing about SCORE is they are FREE.

There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.