Taking An Upholstery Job In

Making out an estimate

Writing up a Work Order

Ordering Materials

  1. Ordering the Fabric
  2. Order matching thread
  3. Order any foam or other supplies

Using a Calendar

Your Job Schedule


When the Fabric Arrives from the Fabric company

  1. Check the fabric in
  2. Put client's name or Job Name on the fabric
  3. Check fabric against the fabric in the sample book to verify
    1. Pattern and Color is the same as what client ordered: Read color and pattern names on both fabric sample and on
    2. Color dye lot is the close: hold fabric on roll against the color swatch in the sample book.
  4. Roll out fabric:
    1. measure to verify you receive the amount you ordered
    2. Watch carefully for flaws, color variations, crushing of the pile (of velvets)
    3. Put the fabric back in it's protective wrapping, or wrap it in new plastic.
  5. Put roll of fabric away on the shelf

Starting the Job

  1. Check the Fabric
    1. Roll out the fabric, determine useable length.
    2. Measure usable width.
    3. Check for flaws. Make drawing of where flaws are in fabric, take measurements

Getting Deposits on Jobs

In this article I want to talk about getting deposits, to tell what I do.

   I usually ask for about 50% of the job, enough to cover the fabrics and any supplies. If the labor is a lot more than the fabric I might not ask for quite half, sometimes it may be closer to a third. I usually add up the retail price of any fabrics and other supplies, such as new foam for the cushions, and then round that amount off, perhaps to the nearest $50 or or hundred dollars.

    However,  if they have their own fabric, and if there an no other special supplies being used, I may not ask for a deposit, or may must ask for a minimal. I figure that them supplying their own fabric is kind of a deposit (money that they've already paid out for the job.

    I see the deposit as a kind of guarantee (not exactly the right word) or a commitment from the client that they will come back. In years past, when I was working with my dad, we sometimes had people come into our shop, write up the order (no deposit was taken) and then when the job was finished, and we tried to contact them, we never heard back from them. we were stuck with the furniture. We usually wouldn't be able to sell the piece for what the client was going to pay.

    If we take a deposit up front, then the client is more likely to come back and pay the rest, and, if the client doesn't come back to get the furniture (which rarely happens when we take a deposit) we don't loose as much money on the job trying to sell it for costs.

    Another practice that we use, is that we don't deposit or cash the client's check until we have confirmed that the fabric is indeed in stock and is shipping. If the fabric is back ordered, we contact the client and tell them the status of the fabric before we order it. If the client is willing to wait, then we cash the check and order the fabric. Another thing to consider is that when a client's fabric is back ordered, there really is no certainty that we actually will ever get it. Although it doesn't happen too often, sometimes it may take two to three times as long, or longer, to actually get the fabric. If the wholesale supplier doesn't have the fabric in stock, there is no guarantee as to when and if you will get the fabric.

     I don't spend any money of the client's until the fabric is a certainty, that we have it in hand, or have it ordered and know it is actually coming.

     Whenever there is a problem or a delay with the client's fabric or supplies, we hold off spending the client's deposit. It's not ours to spend until all the pieces of the order come together.

     We keep all of our records in QuickBooks (an accounting software). I create my estimates and work orders in it, as well as the purchase orders, checking account, etc. Whenever there is all, or a portion, of the client's money that we can't spend, We have set up, what we call, a "holding account"  that we hold the client's deposit into until the proper time.

    For example, when a client pays for the whole job in advance, I don't want to spend all of their money before I even do the work. So, when  client pays in advance, and we have confirmed stock on all the fabric, we deposit the whole about into our bank account. Then I enter about 60% (more or less) of that amount into the "holding account" (with the client's name attached to it) in the bank register in QuickBooks. This way it is very much like just receiving the deposit at the beginning, and then, when the job is finished, we take the money out of the holding account. It's like getting paid for the balance of the job when it is finished. If there is a problem with the client's order or fabric, and we do, or did, deposit the client's check into the bank, we'll put the whole amount into the "holding account" until the problem gets cleared up. We figure that the money is not ours to spend until any job or fabric issues are resolved.

    In the past, I use to decline accepting full payment on a job at the beginning. If we did that, we'd more likely spend all the money before I even did the job, and then I'd have to do that job knowing that I wouldn't get any money when the job was done. Getting paid the balance at the end is a good motivation to get any job finished. Having money in that holding account is both a guarantee that we will get paid (because we have already been paid) and a reminder not to spend the money before the job is finished.

Planning Each Upholstery Job


Planning out a job before you do it can make a lot of difference whether you make any money on the job, or if you have enough fabric

On Overview of the Planning Process

During the process of taking in and doing each job, there are a number of stages of planning. There is an initial over preplanning that one does at the beginning. Then, there are more focused planning that takes place at each step. When an upholsterer is first beginning in the trade he may not know about planning, or may... Planning at all the various stages helps to minimize errors and helps to do a better job. For a beginning upholsterer this planning may need to be more involved and on paper. For a professional upholsterer, many of these planning steps are almost automatic and may only require thinking out each step in advance.

Scheduling Calendar

A Scheduling Calendar will help you keep track of your jobs

Cutting Layouts

Doing a cutting layout will often determine whether or not you will have enough fabric to finish the job. See more about cutting layouts here.

Rush Jobs

A Rush Order

 Learning to work with clients is an ongoing process for me. Sometimes it takes me a while before I figure out what works best for me.

A Rush Moving Job

    Yesterday I had a client who was going move this weekend. She was calling us because, as they were moving their sofa, she wanted to drop it off at our place, have it repaired, and then take it to the new play. She  wants to drop it off on Saturday, the day that they will be moving. I told her I’d call her back. I was feeling pressured because I have a lot of other work booked ahead of her. I suppose I could do it for her, but it would interfere with my other work. After thinking about it, and especially after talking it over with Emmy, I decided to give them an option. I told them that I was booked out about a month to a month and a half right now. I told her that the cost would be somewhere from $100 to $200. And, If she wants it quick, there would be a $75 rush-fee, because I’d have to move aside my other work, etc. She said that she hadn’t even thought that I would have other work in the shop that she would be interfering with, and she was very understanding. She then said that we could just put her on our schedule. I told her that I would need a signed work order  before I could put her on the schedule, and she was OK with that. I have no idea if I’ll actually get the job, but I emailed the Work Order to her and am waiting for her to mail it back.

Client: I'll Just Drop it Off

    I think that the point of this story is really for me. I tend to feel pressured if I’m not prepared to answer a potential client’s question. In this instance the client wanted to just drop off her sofa this Saturday while she was moving. In her mind it made sense. As long as she had the truck and was moving the sofa, she would just drop it off at my shop on the way to the new place. (She hadn’t even thought that I would be in the midst of other stuff, or that I would have a backlog of work.)

Clarifying My Response

    Part of my problem is that I like to be able to accommodate people. My instant inner-response is to want to say, “Sure, I can do it for you.” (But when I say that, I often don’t’ think about all the other jobs that I also said that too, and that are already on my list.) But one thing that has been really helping me is that I’m learning to say, “Let me call you back.” This gives me time to look at my work flow chart, explain the situation to my wife (She’s really good and giving me realistic feedback.). I can also think about how I’d be in the middle of a job, and would have to set the job aside neatly, organize it so that I can remember where I left off, etc. I might also have to put in extra hours to not get to far behind.
    This extra time helps me to get mentally prepared, to think out my other responsibilities, before I talk with the client. This time of preparing myself really helps me to talk calmly and honestly with the client(s).
    Too many times, when I give "instant" answers, I live to regret it. I speak from the emotion of the moment (of wanting to help (or to be the "hero" )) and not taking time to look at the bigger picture.

A Rush Fee

   Another part of this equation for me was the rush fee. I’ve seldom, if ever, charged a rush fee. My “instant response” is to NOT want to charge a rush fee. (It feels like I’m taking advantage of the customer’s situation). However, taking time to think out the situation, and the extra work that it would cause me to put aside my work,, etc. I was then able to justify (to myself) that, yes, I would need a rush fee to do this job by her timeline.

Having (and Using) Faith

    Part of the issue, for me, is having (and using) a little faith. The fear inside me says “If I don’t accept the job under her terms, I won’t get the job. (The unspoken, and often unthought, implication is that, “If I don’t get this job, I’ll run out of work, and I won’t have enough money … and  ... on and on and on.) But faith comes in to say, “God is my provider. He will provide for my needs. Yes, I’d like to take care of her needs, but I have other responsibilities as well. If I take in her job and get it right back to her, I’m not being responsible to my other clients. My other clients also have needs, and I have a duty to them as well. So faith says, be honest with the new client about where I’m at and what I can and will do. If she needs something more immediate, she has other options; other upholsters, buy another sofa, etc. (and no, I won’t go hungry if I don’t get the job.)

Taking Time Before Answering

   So, the conclusion of this matter is that, when needed or appropriate, I’m learning to take time to think before I give answers to my clients.

At Least Three Issues

Evaluation of Costs

Shop costs
Extra work involved in organizing and straightening up.
Effects on other jobs
Effects on family life


Affect on shops reputation: It would not be wise to charge an outlandishing charge just to get rid of the client or to "put the client in her place". Everything that we do will ultimately be part of our reputation and how client's percieve us.

Our Responsibililty to the Clients: We have a responsibility to treat our clients politely and fairly. Sometimes we just won't be able to meet their needs, or .... but ultimately, we are obligated, as part of a responsible society, to do what we can to be kind and courteous the the client, even if we can't do anything else for them.

Being Fully convinced in one's own mind

What's reasonable. What's fair to the our shop and also fair to the client. This would be based partly on the Evaluation of Costs, Partly on the tempermate of the shopowner,
Base partly on knowledge.
Write out a paragraph or an article about why you charge a Rush Fee. (this is as much to convince myself as it is to explain it to the client.)
What is a Rush Fee. Besides explain why I charge a Rush Fee, explain what a Rush Fee is and and what it covers.

Establishing a Policy.

Putting the Rush Fee charges on the posted hourly rates signs
Possibly putting it on your advertising flyers.

Research Presedence

What do other shops charge?
What is common in the trade?
Look it up on the Internet. See what other trades and businesses charge.

The most recent version of this can be found here.

Upholstery Job Process

What are the steps that a professional upholsterer should go through to make sure that the job runs smoothly through the shop? These would probably vary widely from shop to shop. Below is a list that I am making for my own use to help me keep organized. Perhaps it may give you some ideas about how to organize your own process.

Supplies & Items Needed

Making out an estimate

To save time and frustration for both us and the potential client that we sometimes start by giving a rough phone quote.

If the client is acceptable to our rough phone quote or rough estimate then we give a full detailed estimate to the client (and keep a copy.) For more information,see Giving Detailed Estimates.

Choosing fabric

Clients can choose fabric from the samples in our store or from the fabric samples linked to our website. If a client chooses a fabric from the website we will either recommend that the client order a swatch or the fabric, or we will order it for them. We will not order the fabric for them until after they have seen an actual sample of the fabric.

After client chooses a fabric, call the wholesale fabric company and check the current retail price and check current stock. (Some fabric supplies will allow you to log into their website and check the current price and how many yards they have in stock) If possible, do that immediately while the client is still in your shop. If you are doing an in-home estimate, call the fabric supplier to check stock and price while you are still in the client's home. If that isn't possible, do it promptly that day or the following day.


Using Customer's Own Fabric

If a client wants to purchase their own fabric I strongly recommend that they first let us give them an estimate, which shows both the total cost using our fabric and using their fabric. Our estimate form automatically figures into the price a COM fee of $15 per yard. On this page is a sample of our estimate form, which gives various price options. From that page, click on the estimate form, then click again to enlarge it. You will notice that the price for C.O.M. fabric is at the bottom of the form. On the estimate I also have a link to our COM page where it explains the COM fee.

Some clients like to purchase their own fabric for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is that they want to buy the fabric at a lower price than you sell it for. As you know, part of the money that we upholsterers make on any job is the profit on selling the fabric. In recent years I have been charging a $15 per yard COM fee, which is automatically put into my estimates. (If you look closely at the bottom of the estimate form you can see how I include the COM fee. (Click on the form and it will enlarge.)

Writing up a Work Order

There are several ways to write up a Work Order.
On Paper

If you hand write your work orders I recommend having a preprinted work order that has places for all the standard charges as well as all the possible extra charges. this will remind you to add those extra charges that you would normally forget. At the right you can see an example of one that I created some years ago .Click on the picture at the left to see a pop-u[ window with a larger view of the paper Work Order

In Recent years I have been using the invoice function of QuickBooks to create my work orders. I very seldom use the preprinted paper work orders any more. You can see an example of my QuickBooks work order at the right. Click on the picture to see a pop-up window with a much larger view of it.


Besides having a place to write the prices, the work order form should a description of your standard services and practices as well as also have all of your disclaimers and limitations. ....


Sending Out Work Orders

In the busy day and age most of client's don't want to hang around while I write up the work order. So I offer to email the Work Order to them, and most of them jump at the chance rather than waiting around for me to finish it.

Once I have the Work Order finished, I email it out with these instructions:

I've created the Work Order and have attached it to this email as a pdf file.
  1. Please look it over and make sure everything is as you wanted it.
  2. Also, check the fabric sample below and verify that is the correct fabric.
  3. If everything is OK, and to proceed, then you would print out two copies of the Work Order,
  4. sign one copy and, 
  5. return it to us with a 1/2 deposit. 
   Once we receive the Work Order and deposit we will put your furniture on the Work Schedule to start after we have worked through all the jobs in front of your job. (We are booked out quite a few months). We will also order any orderable materials that might be listed on your Work Order. 
   When we have all your materials in our shop and when we are ready for your furniture we will notify you.   Looking forward to working with you. Feel free call or email us if you have any questions.
Much of the time I also go to othe fabric company website and find the fabric, copy a picture of the fabric which also shows the Pattern and color name. I paste that into the above email before I send it out.

Ordering Materials

Keep a running list of the supplies needed. Add new items to the list as we think of them.

  1. Ordering the Fabric
    1. Once the client has chosen a fabric, if they chose a fabric from one of our sample books.
      1. Write client's name, fabric pattern & color name, and date attached to the fabric
      2. Put fabric samples aside in a chosen place until the fabric comes in.
    2. Always make out a purchase order, which includes the wholesale prices.
      1. While the client is at your shop OR while you are at the client's home, call the upholstery supplier to check stock and check the current retail prices. (Your wholesale cost ist generally 1/2 of the retail price. Sometimes the supeplier will give you the wholesale price. make sure you clarify with them whether they are giving you the retail or wholesale price.
      2. Sometimes the wholesale supplier may make a mistake on the price list or the web page , which you probably wouldn't  catch if you didn't have the price on the Purchase Order.
      3. The Purchase Order also will remind you of what you ordered.
      4. Quickbooks has Purchase Orders built into it, which is what we use. If you do not have Quickboods or another software, buy a pad of purchase orders from an office  supply store.
    3. Keep the ordered fabric sample in a safe place until the fabric comes it. That will make it much easier to check the fabric against the sample when it arrives.
  2. Order matching thread
    1. Once the client has chosen her fabric, use a thread color chart to match the chosen fabric.
    2. Check to see if we have enough of that thread.
    3. If not, put the thread on the supplies order sheet.
  3. Order any foam or other supplies

Using a Calendar

Our Job Schedule


When the Fabric Arrives from the Fabric company

  1. Check the fabric in
  2. Check fabric against the fabric in the sample book to verify
    1. Pattern and Color is the same as what the client ordered: Compare the color and pattern names on both fabric sample and on client's work order.
    2. Color dye lot is close: hold fabric on roll against the color swatch in the sample book.
  3. Roll out fabric:
    1. Measure the fabric to verify that you received the amount you ordered
    2. Watch carefully for flaws, color variations, crushing of the pile (of velvets)
      1. If you see any flaws, put a marker (ribbon, tape, yarn) on the selvage edge of the fabric that can  be easily seen.
      2. Measure how far up and how far from the edge each flaw is located. Put this info with your job notes.
    3. Write a note about the date you verified the fabric.
    4. If the fabric is unacceptable for any reason, contact the supplier immediately to start the process of returning the fabric.
  4. Put client's name or Job Name on the fabric
  5. Put the fabric back in it's protective wrapping, or wrap it in new plastic.
  6. Write a dated note on the back of the work order or on job notes or in the computer that you checked in the fabric and the results.
  7. Put roll of fabric away on the shelf, under the table, etc. However, if the fabric is a velvet or other  pile fabric, do not put it on a self. Rather hang the fabric using a rod or pipe through the carboard tube so that it is hanging freely, not laying on its pile. (Putting velvet in a sack with other fabrics, or just laying it on a shelf by itself for long periods of tme can cause damage to the pile.)

Starting the Job

  1. Check the Fabric
    1. Read your previous notes about the fabric.
    2. If you have not previously checked the fabric, roll out the fabric and inspect it now.
    3. determine useable length and width.
    4. Check for flaws. Make drawing of where flaws are in fabric, take measurements


Working long hours to get a job finished

I just read a message by another workshop that had work long hours to get their job done on time. I've also done the over nighters. A few years ago (I was doing more wholesale work for decorators), when I was silly enough to try to get work from the largest interior decorating shop in town, I agreed to do a drapery job for them (for which I didn't have the correct equipment, or the table space needed). Their other workshop hadn't gotten it done for them, and the decorating shop was in a pinch. So, I took in the job.

   I found that, by not having the right equipment or space, it took me a long time to do each step. In order to meet the deadline I worked straight through one day and night and through another night with, at most, a couple hours sleep. I think that I made the deadline, but it was also my deadline, meaning, I was dead (tired that is). When I did the math, I think I made something like $1 to $2 per hour. (if I had gotten paid, don't remember if I did or not.)

 Afterwards I found out that this decorating shop was having financial problems and ended up going broke, owing me about $700 and owing others a lot of money.

I think that was a good learning experience for me. I also have stopped doing "heroics" after that as well. I rarely promise any crushing deadlines on me. If they want it sooner than I can have it, I refer them to another shop (that I've seen the work of) At this point in life, I rarely give people exact dates. If I'm booked out a couple months, I usually say that I'll have it done in about 2 or 3 months. Although, right now work is slow. I find that at times I'm booked out 2-3 months, and other times work is slow. Feast or famine.