Why start a business in upholstery?
I’ve always enjoyed being creative and have had an interest in textiles since I was really quite young, but on the whole have stuck to fairly conventional jobs. Before my children were born I was a fraud investigator for a bank and more recently a sales agent selling children’s toys and gifts. Upholstery had been a hobby for quite a while and I probably mulled over the idea of turning it into a business for about five years. In the end I just thought what have I got to lose?
How difficult an area is it to get started in?
Compared with some [businesses], I don’t think that setting up as an upholsterer has been that expensive. I’ve gradually built up the equipment that I need. I work from home – what used to be my office is now my upholstery space filled with tools like my pneumatic stapler and industrial sewing machine. To keep costs down I have done everything myself. For example I taught myself to code and have done my own website. It’s basic but does what it needs to. So the main investment has been the equipment.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
Trying to juggle all of the demands of running a business. Sourcing the best suppliers of materials and fabric, back office admin, communicating with customers, scheduling work, ordering supplies and then there is the actual upholstering. You have to keep it all going at the same time and that is quite a big challenge. But I love doing it all myself. I’m a bit of a control freak. It makes my days varied and keeps it interesting. I do work long hours and weekends but I’m still a relatively new business and hope that gradually it will settle down.
Working for yourself isn’t for the feint-hearted, do you regard yourself as a confident person?
I’m not an overly confident person but I wouldn’t have started this business if I didn’t think I could do it – some days I just have to keep reminding myself of that. If you only ever do things that you know you can definitely do, you probably wouldn’t end up doing much.
Did you find it difficult quoting for jobs when you started out?
It was difficult quoting when I first started. But you soon get the hang of it. For blinds and curtains it’s quite straight forward but for re-upholstery, the reality is that often I won’t know exactly what work will need to be done until I’ve taken the top cover off and the state of the upholstery is revealed underneath. I tend to give a best and worst case scenario to save my customers any surprises. So my customers will know what the different cost implications are if the top cover comes off and the upholstery underneath has totally perished, or if actually it is just a simple matter of recovering.
How have you structured your business legally?
I set up as a sole trader because it was the easiest way to start out. When I first had the idea I didn’t know how well it would work, so setting up as a sole trader seemed a soft way to start. I’ll review this as I go along to check it’s still the best option for me.
What about marketing?
My business has mainly grown through word of mouth. I have my own business Facebook page and it’s also been a huge help to be recommended by satisfied customers on a Facebook page called Ask Ilkley. I will need to market more actively at some point but will cross that bridge when I come to it.
What’s been the most satisfying piece you’ve upholstered?
I love them all in their own way. By the end of the process I have usually built up quite an attachment. It’s a very personal thing. These are possessions that people love and are willing to invest in. I love the pieces with a story behind them such as the piano stool that has been used by generations or the chair that belonged to their grandma. I quoted to cover an inherited sofa recently and was lucky enough to be shown a picture of the owner sitting on it as a small child.
What are your future plans for the business?
Long term my aspiration would be to have a work unit so that I can move my work out of my home. I have heard of upholsterers sharing a workspace and working as a sort of collective. That could be an option.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone else thinking about setting themselves up in business?
Just do it. A lot of what holds people back is thinking ‘I’m just not sure’. Get out there and talk to as many people as you can – find out how things work and make contacts. There isn’t much point in just sitting at home and thinking about it.
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