Giving Estimates

There are several types of estimates

Phone quotes

Always give as accurate of a quote as you can quickly do it. NEVER give a low price just to get them in the shop (bait & switch).  However, it is better that you make up a phone quote sheet that has approximate prices for most of the major types of furniture on it.

Never give precise details and Never let the client pin you down on a price while on the phone. When you give a phone quote, you really don't know the actual style of the furniture or its condition. Always say your standard disclaimer.

Always follow up your phone quotes with a disclaimer (that you have written up and memorized in advance). You should know your disclaimer so well that it just flows naturally out of you. An example of a disclaimer might be something like, "The actual price will vary depending on the style and condition of the (sofa, chair, etc.), the type, style and pattern of the fabric." Follow it up with a request for them to email a picture of their furniture to you.

Whenever I give estimates on the phone I generally give a price range. I also use phrases like, "in the neighborhood". For example, when I give a phone quote I may say something like, "To cover that wing chair in a basic* upholstery fabric, if everything is in good shape, it could run in the neighborhood of $600 to $900. The actual price may vary depending on the style and condition of the (sofa, chair, etc.), the type, style and pattern of the fabric."

When potential clients call for an estimate, many of them aren't looking an exact price. They just to know if it will cost about $300, $600, $900, $1200, $2000, etc. They just want to know if they can afford it, or it it will be way out of their price range.

*"basic" upholstery fabric. This means in a plain or other easily workable upholstery fabric that doesn't require matching or any other special handling.

Rough Estimates

It is useful to be able to give rough estimates for clients. For clients who think upholstery is much cheaper than buying new furniture it saves both them and you time and money. When you give a rough estimate, it should be based upon some actual costs. Don't just give a quick low cost without any thought to it. It is very useful to figure the actual costs of some jobs that you have done, or to price out some jobs of various type to make out a rough price sheet.

Bargaining with a Client

NEVER "bargain" from a rough estimate, you will only hurt yourself. It is so easy to overlook or forget the costs of all the details of the job. If you bargain at all (I rarely if ever bargain with a client), wait until you have your detailed estimate (see below) finished. If I ever bargain with a client, I don't reduce the prices that I give him. Instead, I cross off the items or services that I am supplying (i.e. new foam, etc.) or tell him that I will simplify the way that that I will do his furniture. In other words, when he pays less, he gets less. I don't work for a lower wage and I don't lower the cost of what I'm selling to him. In addition, since I give most of my estimates as comparison estimate (see below) it already show the client what specifics will be given with each price level. Consequently, there is rarely ever a need to bargain with a client.

What is the Client's Budget?

How much is the client willing to or expecting to pay. It would be much simpler if the client would just tell us up front how much they wanted to spend. Then we would just make out an estimate (or a Work Order) to include items that would be just that amount. However, that isn't how it works. During the earlier part of my upholstery career I would just give the client one price, and the client would either take it or leave it.

Over a period of years since then I've learned to make a different type of estimate, where (in a sense) I become my own competition. In my estimates (see below) I make out a very detailed estimate which gives the client a number of choices. They have a lot of control over how much the job will cost. They can just pick and choose the options that they want and the price of the fabric. They can instantly see what the total price is for the options that they choose.

Detailed Comparative Estimates

 "The client might ask, "Will you do the job for $XXX?" In a case where the client is trying to get a lower price from you, it is to your advantage to give a detailed estimate, with prices listed on each item before you talking with the client. Then determine, or mark, which items are required, and which items can be left out or done with a lesser quality of materials. Once you have everything listed, priced, and totaled, you can go to the client with confidence. As he tries to negotiate, just reply to him, "Which of these items do you want to leave out to get a lower price? Do you want a lesser quality foam? Do you want the skirt left off the furniture

Here is an example of the Summary Page of my estimate form for one of my estimates. (Click on the picture for a larger picture.) The summary shown here is automatically generated from the Full Estimate on page 2 shown below.


This is the detail page where all the costs are listed. The individual charges and prices are shown in the white cells shown at the left side. Each colored column gives a different price option for the client.

What do the Colored Columns Mean?

The white area to the left of the form (see above) is for the listing of the various items and services with the associated prices. Then those items are numbered in the colored columns depending upont which is appropriate to which column.

  • For the left yellow  column I try to give a choice of doing the job as inexpensive as possible while maintaining a high quality of workmanship. This would mean simplifying the style of the furniture as much as possible, such as: no skirt, no buttons, no special designs, reuse all the existing foam in the seat cushions and other parts of the furniture.
  • The Next (blue) column would involve adding the next part, such as adding new cushions to the price of the yellow column.
  • For the green column I add a few more things.
  • For the right side pink column I would add everything that I would suggest or recommend for their furniture. This might be to replace all the foam in the cushion and back rest, add a skirt, retie springs, or whatever else might be needed.

For the columns I would generally start with only the most important of the basic things in the left yellow column. Then, for each of the following columns we would add other options, always adding the most important (of what was left) to each of the following columns.


Some upholsterers don't like to give detailed estimates because be they think that the client will nit-pik all their prices. In reality, it is better to have all the items with prices listed out. Otherwise, if a client tries to negotiate price, the only thing that they have to look at is the total price.  You've already told them (or they will assume) what the job will  include. They focus only on trying to  reduce the price, not on what can be eliminated to reduce the price. When you reduce the price, then you're stuck with having to give them all the stuff on the list at the reduced price. It's money out of your pocket.  Compare that to having all the items & prices listed. If you reduce the price, you are crossing out some of the items or services that you would do for them. the customer can clearly see that as you reduce the price you are also eliminating items and services from their job. If the client values her furniture, she is less likely to want a lesser quality job.

How do you become confident with your prices?

Becoming confident is not just a process of psyching yourself up. This doesn't change your knowledge or awareness. To become truly confident with the prices you charge often takes work. Measure and figure out what each of your services or products cost you, and how much of you time it involves. The more knowledgeable and aware you become of what the costs of your business are, the more confident you can become.

Sometimes we have to deal with insecurities or...