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Old 15-04-2009, 14:27   #1
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Upholstery Business? Viable

My mother is being "downsized" by her company, and we're trying to think of ways she can supplement her SS check with some side-work. She's quite a seamstress and has re-covered many a boat cushion for friends and family...

In general, is there enough of a demand for this type of work that we could get her started on her own little business, or is the niche pretty well saturated at this point?
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Old 15-04-2009, 14:57   #2
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My quick and un-knowledgable thought is could be viable, since she's already done it, and since there is probably room for a reasonably priced provider. That's based on my assumption that most existing boat upholstery providers are priced higher, just because it's a boating business.

Anyway, why not go for it? The cost of entry can't be too high, so there is not much risk.
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Old 16-04-2009, 03:59   #3
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Originally Posted by CharlieRay View Post
She's quite a seamstress and has re-covered many a boat cushion for friends and family...

In general, is there enough of a demand for this type of work that we could get her started on her own little business, or is the niche pretty well saturated at this point?
I am guessing you are somewhere in the US of A, but in general IME as long as their is sufficient market (in this case boats ) their is always room in a marketplace for one more business that is a) good on quality b) competitive (not always the cheapest) and c) delivers on promises - and in this case pretty low entry costs. But reputation (and therefore business) does take a little while to build - but once obtained folk will come a looking for you

I would also think about boat covers / Biminis - and maybe even the smaller stuff like hatch & winch covers etc etc that could be made pretty much to standard sizes.

Good luck to your mum
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Old 16-04-2009, 04:43   #4
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It would help to know where your mother is located (market analysis), and what equipment she currently possesses (investment analysis).

Barring exclusionary conditions, she might conclude (as others here have) that: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

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... in general IME as long as there is sufficient market (in this case boats ) there is always room in a marketplace for one more business that is
a) good on quality
b) competitive (not always the cheapest) and
c) delivers on promises ...
An old marine carpenter once told me that I could select any two of three criteria, and he would determine the third.
a) Quality
b) Price
c) Delivery

(Ie: High Quality at Low Price, will take forever)
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Old 16-04-2009, 06:05   #5
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Finding local customers might be an issue as well as doing measurements, and keeping inventory. But if the quality is there and the price is right, why not? Boat sewing seems awfully expensive as it is.
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Old 16-04-2009, 06:08   #6
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If she does good work at a fair price, I would think she would be very busy once the word got out.
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Old 16-04-2009, 08:06   #7
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It would help to know where your mother is located (market analysis), and what equipment she currently possesses (investment analysis).
She's in Upstate NY now (Lake Ontario Shore), but is considering a move to Philly to be near her grandchildren if the current job doesn't pan-out.
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Old 16-04-2009, 08:33   #8
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Obviously if she moves to Philly, she will have to start almost from scratch in terms of building a reputation and clientele. It would be a good idea to collect as many detailed endorsements and recommendations from her existing customers if she decides to pursue this.... that would be helpful in building the business, if the endorsements could be included on a website or in handout literature.

I lived in Philly for a few years before I became involved in boating, so I don't know much about the market there. But I would think there are plenty of boats in South Jersey, Delaware Bay and Upper Chesapeake that could be targeted. Plus of course all the smaller boats on the inland lakes and rivers.
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Old 16-04-2009, 10:11   #9
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Re-covering cushions is not the same as making new, which would open up a whole lot more work. My friends canvas shop did cushions as well and recovering was much less of what he did as compared to new. And new left a trail of happier customers. I'm trying to say that old cushions ususally have broken down foam. You need to know foam options as well.

Asided from that, I would only say that it's hell waiting for the phone to ring when you're starting a biz. I hope she's in a position to not have to count on the income for a while.

But to actually answer the question you asked,... Yes. My friends business has not missed a beat.

HOWEVER, I would stay away from biminis and enclosures ect. When I worked for my friend, I saw more wasted new material from upholstery shops trying to do boat canvas fit ups. It was cheaper for him to go back to scratch rather than try to fix somebody elses mistakes. There is a different art involved. Hatch covers ect, Go go for it.
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Old 16-04-2009, 12:36   #10
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Re-covering cushions is not the same as making new, which would open up a whole lot more work. My friends canvas shop did cushions as well and recovering was much less of what he did as compared to new. And new left a trail of happier customers. I'm trying to say that old cushions ususally have broken down foam. You need to know foam options as well.

Asided from that, I would only say that it's hell waiting for the phone to ring when you're starting a biz. I hope she's in a position to not have to count on the income for a while.

But to actually answer the question you asked,... Yes. My friends business has not missed a beat.

HOWEVER, I would stay away from biminis and enclosures ect. When I worked for my friend, I saw more wasted new material from upholstery shops trying to do boat canvas fit ups. It was cheaper for him to go back to scratch rather than try to fix somebody elses mistakes. There is a different art involved. Hatch covers ect, Go go for it.
More great info... Thanks a ton to everyone who's replied so far!

We had not really considered the new-foam situation, but it makes sense to do so... That actually opens-up a whole new realm of customization by incorporating memory foam, firm/soft combinations, etc... I had a friend in Colorado who specialized in motorcycle seats, and his 'claim to fame' was the introduction of hybrid-foam customization based on the owners input. It sounds like that could be one of the things that separates her business from the competition... My guess is that the economic downturn we're in will cause a lot of new boaters to consider reconditioning an older boat, and will prompt current owners to renew an old craft to get a few more years out of her before upgrading. I know that's where my head is right now...
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Old 16-04-2009, 12:50   #11
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Charlie Ray,
A couple here in Hilo (population 50K) started doing many different things when they first landed here after sailing from Mexico. They ended up buying an old established upholstery business. They've been at it for several years now and are doing well.
In addition to recovering cushions, they patch biminis, dodgers and do repairs to convertable tops and make covers. They also have started reupholstering antique furniture and even doing wood repairs to old furniture. She has modified a wetsuit of mine. There are a lot of things a good seamstress can do in addition to boat canvas.
Kind regards
JohnL
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