Our Family Upholstery Business

It started as an occasional sideline, but popular demand led the author and her husband into running an upholstery business full time.

  • 030 upholstery business - photo
    The shop didn't need fancy quarters. The Underwoods run their upholstery business from this simple $120 cottage.

  • 030 upholstery business - photo

Although we didn't know it back then, our family's upholstery business really began several years ago when Billy (my husband) and I upholstered some of our own furniture to save money. Friends and relations saw the results, and were soon asking us to do pieces for them. We felt we weren't skilled enough, but they insisted that we try. So, to supplement our income, I started recovering a couch or chair now and then in my spare time.

My first tools—a claw hammer, screwdriver, scissors and sewing machine—made for very slow progress. The living room doubled as my workshop and was always a mess. Then friends told friends about my sideline, and before long our porch was full of old ragged furniture. At that point my family complained about the clutter and insisted that if I must do such work I was going to have to move it out of the house.

At the time, my husband owned and operated a service station ... but not very profitably, what with the nine others in town. "Well," we thought, "if there's all this furniture around just begging to be refurbished, why not sell the business and open an upholstery shop?" We purchased an old one-room house for $120 to serve as quarters for the new enterprise and set out to get the information that would make our idea pay.

Our first step was to write the State Comptroller at Austin Texas, requesting an application for a store license and a sale tax number. (These cost us $10.00 a year and entitled us to sell material.) Then we stopped in at a shop in Brownwood and asked the owner where he bought his fabric. A phone call to the company he named—Durotex Supply in Dallas—brought us a visit from a salesman who turned out to be most helpful and encouraging. There was a great opportunity in the upholstering business, he told us, if we would work at it. He gave some material, vinyl sample books and a supply list, told which tools and findings we'd need to start with, and quoted the going rates for furniture renovation in Dallas. These seemed high to us and we adjusted the prices to a realistic level for our small town.

Our first purchase was a good secondhand commercial sewing machine and accessories ($80.00). We've since found that one essential for upholstery work is a narrow left- or right- hinged cording foot ($1.85) to form those decorative ribs you've noticed around the edges of stuffed furniture.

Actually—as we learned later—you can sew heavy fabric on any machine if you spray the seam line with a silicone friction reducer. The product (which also has many other uses) now costs $2.35 per 20-ounce can and is an economy considering the price of a new commercial sewing machine. Nevertheless our older model has turned out to be a very good investment



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