Some of the information here is drawn from the manual

"How To Start And Operate An Upholstery Business"

(c.1995-2014 by Ken Bowles).

Getting started

Ken Bowles
The one most important thing a person needs to realize when going into their own upholstery business is; that no matter how much experience you may have and no matter how many or how few tools you may have, your customer doesn't have to see the job until it's done right. Just try to "earn while you learn" plumbing for example. If you have to go to a customer's house three times to fix a leaky pipe they probably won't call you again. Whereas, if you have to redo a seat deck, for example, because you made a bad cut that shows, your client won't even know. You'll have a customer for life and they'll tell their friends.

Supplement your professional tools with these items you can purchase from a hardware store:
  • Flat and Phillips screw drivers
  • Cordless driver and drill set --Dry wall screws are easier and faster to use than nails when tightening or remodeling frames.
  • Miter box saw--- Looks like half a saw-- Works for cutting straight pieces of foam, pull the blade handle towards you rather than going back and forth
  • Claw hammer-- use instead of tack or stapler puller for removing nails.
  • Electric carving knife-- Great for cutting curved pieces of foam
  • Dikes or wire cutters-- Use for pulling out staples you have loosened with your staple knocker. Dikes work best when a little bit dull.
  • Framer's square-- Get a straight edge when cutting fabric and true right angles when assembling wood.
  • Allen wrenches, open end wrenches and sockets for taking apart recliners and sofa beds etc.
  • Pliers and channel locks
  • Saw horses-- add 2x4s to make wider at the top so furniture legs don't slip off. Also cover with vinyl or fabric a 4'x4' piece of plywood to put on top of your horses when working on smaller pieces and chairs.

Death and taxes

Paying taxes won't kill you even though it feels like you're being strangled sometimes. In fact it's a sign that you're making money. But don't pay anymore than you owe! Keep all business related receipts. If you're having a tough time keeping hold of receipts, you may want to put all business related expenses on a credit card, but don't let the balances get away from you. I put all my business and personal expenses on credit cards that give 1% or more back (gives me a few extra hundreds of dollars a year).

Those two and three dollar trips to the hardware store every week mount up. If you will be running your shop from home pay close attention to the "exclusive use" requirements for home businesses. Many people have abused the home business deductions and the IRS knows it, so don't push their buttons, if you know what I mean.

IRS Homepage

IRS Tax info for business

Business use of your home

SBA--The Small Business Administration loans money for starting and purchasing businesses.

See the hand tools pro upholsterers use. Or buy at our upholstery tool kits page.
Supplement your professional tools with these items which you may already have or can get at a hardware store: wire cutters for pulling out staples (an old dull pair is good because it won't cut the staples), a framer's square for getting straight cuts on fabric, a 45" or 60" ruler (most upholstery weight fabric is US is 54" wide) and a utility knife for stripping off old fabric.

This video can help you decide whether to buy air or electric, 3/8 or 1/2" crown.
Buy staple guns here: UPHOLSTERY STAPLER Electric guns from hardware stores shoot too thick of a staple and aren't powerful enough for furniture hardwoods.

How to price upholstery jobs, excerpts from our Discussion Board

The following is an interesting opinion from Bernards Upholstery:

Hello!  Just happened to stumble onto your site here. Been in the Upholstery business for well over 30 years. I have had Magazines for our trade coming to me many times. All are about out of publication now. I took a glance at some of the discussion board's information. I sure got some laughs and good information as well. One that comes to mind is lots of questions on how much to reupholster compared to buying new. This will be by far the most asked question that your site will get from any outsider for a better lack of a name. The problem that all professionals in this trade have is that of our trade has a reputation that goes back to the 50's and people still think that the price to reupholster is well cheaper than buying new. The 1950's was a really big swing in the reupholstery trade. Not a real big manufacturing base at that time. Cost were down in supplies, fabrics, etc. Small trades were the main stay back than as well.

Then the manufacturers got smart and decided to do some ad campaigns to their favor. They wanted to get the market back again. Well! We professionals now see that they did their work well! Today they put a class life of no more than 2 years on the products. They don't want the stuff to last. Would put them out of business. They need to keep the lines going. Speaking of lines, The consumer today has no idea that the chair they just bought was upholstered on an assembly line in just 7 minutes. That sofa just delivered was put together in 30 minutes. You have the insiders, the outsiders on both sides of the line. All the pieces are pre sewn and grab the guy off the street and hand them a staple gun. Springs, what springs! The days of the coil spring base in furniture are almost gone. There are a few that still have these available. There are only a few that tie 8 way tie anymore. Most manufactures that still offer them have subcontractors come in to do the coil spring tying. This is not hear say here. I have family relation that worked at a factory in NC that filled me in on this. He now has his own business in the reupholstery trade now. He had enough of seeing what was going out to the un-informed consumer.

In closing I would say to all the upholsters that are in your site, the next time that one of your customers says "Wow, I can buy a new one for that much". Tell them that they are correct, but the piece that you are thinking about having done is far better than what you can get nowadays. With the fabrics and materials that I have available, the finished product produced from me will out perform any new that you are thinking about. Also inform them that the true professional is a stickler to detail. Most likely he will be the one that cuts, sews and applies these components to their furniture. He, We or I do all the work. Materials used are of the highest grade ( and use them, don't short change) inform the customer to any other work that might have to be done that was not visible (don't short yourself on your labor) The customer will pay your price if you in return do what you say you will. I have stood by this rule for years. My $44.00 per hour bench time labor is my commitment to myself as well as to my customers.

I do home furniture-marine-auto upholstering  all facets. Concluding I would like to say that I will visit this site often and hope that I can be of help to who may ask. Keep up the great work.

Barnard's Upholstery


I don't want to get too preachy about this but... If you're unable to manage your personal finances now you're going to have plenty of problems managing your business finances.It may be time for a little introspection!

  • What is a healthy attitude about money and how do I get it?
  • What is a healthy attitude about my work?
  • What is cash flow and why is it important?
  • Paying attention to details and seeing the big picture.

I'm not an expert at finances or psychology (that's for sure!) but I know how much I have profited by the little time I've spent looking at my inner mental habits and their relationship to my outer financial condition. My first suggestion is: Write stuff down. We're taking inventory of ourselves and it's harder to keep on fooling ourselves about the truth on paper. Where am I coming from? Where am I now? Where do I want to go?

Yes, we need to look at the past. So what did our parents do, that may affect our present cash flow? For some of us plenty. The first thing, then, is to look at and write down those early influences on our thinking in regards to money and work. What attitudes did my parents, siblings, early employers, close friends and others have about earning a living and finances?

Write down your current position and a clear (as possible) vision of how you would like to see the future. Spend even an hour in this type of introspection and you'll find it will help smooth your way into a new business or take a few of the kinks out of the business you have now.

I was raised on a farm. As farm families know, that means that within minutes after birth I was assigned chores and the work ethic was instilled in me. But I learned little about managing money and developed an attitude that if I struggled hard enough I might just be able to  "get by".  I don't want to just "get by". Do you? I want to easily be able to take care of my needs (and my more noble wants) and have some money left over to share with less fortunate folks. That's prosperity! I've had it for a few years and freedom from worry about money feels great.

Whether you continue in the upholstery biz or not, some of my best advice is to make an appointment with yourself (at the very least quarterly) to examine your own life and financial condition.  It's too easy to go year after year after year without making the effort to change. I know I've done it.

Here's some common problems to look at: Are you draining your business capitol to finance your personal life? Are you draining your personal finances to support your business?  Maybe you have too many "unnecessary necessities". Find out, look within.

Cash Flow

I suppose a simple definition of "cash flow" would be "money comin' in, money goin' out". What is important is what it can do for a small business. It can produce a small or large bank of money which is under your control. You're a banker. Like the professional banker you allocate those funds; to bring you more profit, save you money, buy needed equipment, etc. Where does this money come from? (It's not profit you know.) On a monthly basis it can be your shop rent or mortgage, money owed to suppliers, utilities and so on. Yearly or quarterly it can be estimated taxes, insurance etc. You can borrow from this fund interest free, with a reasonable expectation that you will be able replace the money when you need it , of course, to pay your bills.

How to benefit from cash flow:

  • Instead of buying one roll of cotton or poly wrap at a time buy 5 or more rolls. You might save $.10 to $.25 per pound. Do that with all your supplies that you can save on by purchasing in bulk.
  • Pay for insurance, (such as, for your delivery truck or car that you take to make estimates) in one payment instead of by the month. Even a $5 a month service charge mounts up.
  • Pay down monthly vehicle payments or make larger down payments or pay cash. Installment debt (especially credit cards) is the number one "financial killer" of Americans.
  • Keep a minimum balance in your business checking to save on monthly bank service charges if your bank offers that option.

Well, you get the idea. You'll find many other ways to improve your personal and business financial condition right before your eyes. Try looking at the big picture instead of living from one upholstery job to the next. Charge a fair price (to you and your customer), do a good job and don't be too emotionally attached to the outcome of your labors and life becomes a lot easier. Hey works for me!



The amount you can charge or get for an upholstery job varies all over the country. Where I'm at is between one of the richest and one of the poorest counties in California. The best way to see what you can charge is by finding out what other shops are charging in your area. Have a friend call the shops and describe a specific chair and sofa. Find out how much they charge for labor both if you supply the fabric and if you purchase it from them. Customers may expect you to charge a little less if you are working from home and have low overhead. When you are as busy as you want to be then begin to up your prices.
And one more thing-get a website for your business and put it on your business cards. These days you can have a site hosted for less than $10 per month. Include your city in the site's title (Joe's Upholstery Seattle) so you can be found by the search engines. Include photos of your work and testimonials from your customers.

Check out our Discussion Board. We have years of posts which you can search for answers to your upholstery questions or register and ask a question. Many of the forum members are professional upholsterers and have built a social community there. There's plenty of good advice on how to run your business or how to complete a tricky job you're working on.