Think Through The Job In Advance

Many potential problems of many jobs can be greatly minimized by thinking through the details of the job before you take the job in.

Keeping Records

As you work through the process described by this document be sure to keep records and take pictures as you go. Keep a notebook that you use (put the date and the client name on top of your notes). As I'm inspecting the job I try to keep notes about everything that needs to remember.  After the client leaves I will enter my notes and every other useful thing that i remember of what the client said or that i noticed into my Business Journal

Taking Pictures

As I'm gathering information for the estimate I also take a lot of pictures.(Read that accompanying article).

Thinking It Through

Here are some things to think about while you are figure prices and talking with the client:

  • Should you match the pattern of the fabric? Think about how the fabric will look on the furniture. If you have a piece of the fabric available, lay it on the furniture to get a feel for how it will look on the furniture.
  • Will there be enough fabric? I almost always add at least 10% to 15% more than I think that the job will take. You never know what you might have forgotten to include, or you might make a mistake.
  • Should the seams be bound? Examine the weave and he backing of the fabric. Will it hold together or do the yarns at the edge of the sample  come loose  easily?
  • Is the chosen fabric really a good choice for the furniture
    • Is the fabric too thin?
    • Should a muslin be put on the chair before the fabric?
    • Is the pattern a good match for the chair? Is it a square design, will it be going a round chair? How will that look?
  • Ask the client if there is anything that they would like changed about the chair?
    • Does the furniture have any squeaks or noises?

Talking With The Client

After you have taken in a job and are ready to start on it you should never have to ask yourself or the client things like, "Should I match the pattern". This should have all been talked about with the client before the job was taken in. Taking the time to talk through the details of the job both shows the client that you care about them and their furniture and it lets them know your thinking about the job. It gives them kind of an advance "mind picture" of what their job might look like and the quality of the work you might put into it.

About the Furniture

Ask the client if they like the furniture as it is, or if they's like anything changed.

Ask the client if there are any design elements about the furniture that she would like to keep. For example, if the furniture as tassells around the bottom, or buttons, or seams between the buttons, or attached pillows, make sure that you talk with the client in advance about anything that you are planning on changing BEFORE you do the job. Be sure that the client is  OK with the changes before you make the changes.

Don't make changes to the way the furniture feels or looks without first checking with the client. For example, if the chair needs a new cushion, have her sit on a foam sample of the new foam while you are discussing details with her. I keep foam samples in my shop for this purpose.

If the cushion or panels on the furniture have seams on them, point them out to the client. Then, depending on which way you run the fabric you can either tell them that the new cover will also have those seams, or that it won't.

For any special design elements, draw a sketch of the furniture with the special design element on it.

About the Fabric

Always discuss with the client in advance the details how they want the fabric applied. If needed, have the client come back out once you have the fabric and are ready to start the job

  • Focal Point: If the fabric has a pattern, check the client has a particular focal point she wants centered. Some patterns have obvious center points, while other patterns may have multiple points that could be used as the center.  Yet, even more, sometimes the client may want (or be OK with) have a different focal pont on each panel.
  • Plaid/check patterns: If there are different color lines or stripes in the pattern, which color does the client prefer as the center line?
  • Cutting Direction of Fabric
    • Top of Pattern: Also, check with the client which direction of the fabric that she sees as the top of the pattern. After all, she is the one who will have to live with the pattern for many years.
    • Top of Plain Fabric: Sometimes a seemingly plain fabric will have a stripe that didn't show up on the swatch in the sample book. Sometimes the fabric will look different or have a different sheen one direction or another.
  • Seams in Fabric: If the fabric has a pattern or characteristic (such as velvet) that will cause you put seams in places that did not previously have seams, talk with the client about it. Tell them what needs to be done (i.e. put seams on the cushion or backrest, etc.) and why. This can save both you and the client lots of grief.
  • Anything Else in Same Fabric: Ask the client if anything else in the room will be made from the same fabric. Will another workroom be making something out of the same fabric? If so, check with the client or the workroom to make sure everyone is applying the fabric in the same direction and using the same focal points, etc.
  • Seaming Outside Back: If the outside needs to be seamed, ask client their preference of one center seam or a seam on each side. Do they want cording in the same or just a plain seam.

If The Client Provides the Fabric

Face Side of Fabric: Verify with the client which is the front side of the fabric. I've had to redo two jobs because I didn't first check with the client which side she wanted on the top. Some fabrics can be used either side out. Sometimes the fabric stores will roll the fabric so that the face side is on the back of the roll. (They do this so that they can hang the fabric so that back side of the roll shows as the front.)

Is There Enough Fabric: If the client provides the fabric make sure that there is plenty of fabric. Also, ask how long she has had the fabric, and if she can get more, if needed. Is the fabric orderable, or was it a closeout?

Enter The Information into the Business Journal

When the client leaves and before I do anything else, I enter the pictures and everything that I can remember into my Business Journal. I never know when the next client will show up (sometimes another client shows up quickly following the previous client. So it is important that I make a written record of all the details before I get interrupted by the next client or other important event.

Giving The Client An Estimate

When giving the client an estimate it is really helpful to have specially designed estimate sheet that covers all the common areas that need to be considered in the estimate. (A substitute for this could be a list of those same specifics that you go over as you write the estimate.) It is very difficult, if not impossible, for even a very experienced professional to remember everything that should be inspected during the estimate, so have the printed guide is a great help.

As I prepare the estimate I use my Business Journal to great advantage.

Also, read the accompanying section on Giving Estimates. This is highly recommended.

Giving The Client Price Options

Another advantage of thinking through a job is that you can then give a client options. Learn to really "see" the furniture. Closely examine how it is made. What things are necessary and what things are optional.You never know how much the client wants to spend on the project. There have been times when I thought that a client wanted .... upholstery. In these cases I didn't bother to give lesser cost options. However, many of these potential clients decided not to do the job. I think that I might had been able to do many of these jobs if I had of given them more choices. Nowadays I almost always give several price options, from, what is the lowest cost I can do a job (wherever possible: eliminating skirts, attached pillows, buttons, banding, etc.

For more information about giving multiple options on estimates see: Giving Estimates

Writing Up The Order

Firstly, You should have a Work Order that covers all the particulars, it can either be preprinted that you fill in by hand or something where you enter the information on the computer. As an example, I use Quickbooks invoices as the Work Order. You can see samples of both preprinted and computer of Work Orders here.

When you write up the order be sure to write out all the details of the job. Don't trust anything to memory (your memory or the client's memory). Sometimes a client may have previously told you to details in person or in an email. They might remember those details because it is their furniture, but you have other things on your mind and don't remember. Let the client read the contract and ask the client if there is anything else that needs to be included. Ask if there is anything that you have left off the Contract.

It is to your advantage to write all the details on the Contract, both as a reminder to you of what the job includes, and as a protection if the client ever complains that you did not do something, or did something that you weren't supposed to do.

Special Thanks To

For suggesting some great ideas for this article, special thanks to fellow upholsterers: Danielle MacKenzie Miller, Nancy Baldwin Letts, Dennis Locke, Edwin Ladd Northuis, Christopher Berry, Glynis Manningm, Debra Fabian.