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Types Of Upholsterers

This is an essay I wrote for a college writing class, which tells about some different types of upholsterers:

The Ways That Upholsterers Do Their Jobs

by Stephen Winters

Since my immersion into the trade in 1966, I have come to realize that there are many different skill levels in the upholstery trade. I have been through many skill levels myself, and I have known other upholsterers at different levels. Those who are just beginning into the trade have very limited skills; to attract clients some of these often use such gimmicks as: having the "cheapest prices", using flattery or smooth talk, "doing it fast", or claiming to be "the best." Those who use these tactics may never advance to higher skill levels. But those who are truly learning the trade avoid these tactics as they learn better skills. In order to become a true craftsman it takes a lot of hard work, diligence, experience, admitting and fixing countless mistakes, asking advice, experimenting with different methods, and constantly looking for better ways to achieve higher levels of quality. The true craftsman doesn't need any gimmicks to get customers; his workmanship and reputation speak for themselves.

Cheap Charlie, "the cheapest upholsterer in town," gives no thought about quality because he believes that most people are looking for the lowest price. He takes pride in giving people "real bargains." As an example, unconcerned about how long something will last, he continuously searches for the lowest priced materials that he can find, and he uses the quickest and simplest methods of doing the work. Without checking, he just assumes that the frame, the springs, and everything else under the cover is OK, and he puts the new cover right over the old cover. He uses the cheapest of threads and spaces his staples much further apart while attaching the fabric to the frame. He'll change the style of the furniture to make it easier to do. He keeps his word; he's the cheapest!

Smooth-Talking Sam is proud of his sales ability; using the "bait and switch" method, he can easily get his foot in the door "to give a free estimate." He can make a sale most of the time. If he gives the client anything in writing, it may only be a "receipt" scribbled on a scrap of paper or, if he wishes to further impress a client, the indecipherable receipt will be on "his letterhead." His wide smile and flattering words help to mask his pushy and manipulative ways. Once in the home, he'll find that "the sofa needs extra work he didn't know about." Mainly interested in making money, he claims to use only the highest grade materials and the finest workmanship while using the very cheapest materials he can find. When he finally delivers the hastily slapped together sofa, he sweet-talks and flatters the customer to mask his inferior materials and his shoddy workmanship. He gives the upholstery trade a bad name.

Fast Freddie may be the hardest worker of all the different upholsterers; while using his speed to get things done quickly he tries to do what he thinks is a reasonable job. Although he is not as sloppy as Cheap Charlie or Smooth-Talking Sam, his focus is not high quality work; he gets things done fast. Many customers think his work "looks good" and never notice that he took a few "shortcuts," such as, leaving some of the old cover on or "making a few minor changes." He thrives on trying to meet tight deadlines.

When he talks to the customers, he doesn't spend much time with them. He subtly hurries them into making a quick decision. He promises quick delivery times and rushes like crazy to meet his often self imposed tight schedule. Most of the time he succeeds; he's fast!

Average-Avery is a fairly likable fellow. Having successfully been in the upholstery business for a number of years, he does a pretty good job, and most of his repeat clients are reasonably happy with his work. He has learned from experience that it doesn't pay to do sloppy work, but he is not interested in doing, or even learning about, high quality work. There's not much unique about him; he's just about average. Average-Avery does an OK job for an OK price.

Perfectionist Pete is proud of, what he thinks are, his "superior abilities." He has been doing upholstery for many years and perhaps learned his trade from a craftsman. Since he views himself as the "expert," he is not open to receiving criticism or advice from his customers or other upholsterers; consequently, long ago he stopped learning to improve his skill level. While he does an above average job, he has an inflated perception of his skills. Thinking that his work is "nearly perfect," he doesn't see many of his mistakes and imperfections. Having relied upon his workmanship to gain a following, he never bothered to learn many sales or communication skills; he is often ill tempered and irritable. Many people put up with his abrupt and often rude attitude because his higher level of workmanship is harder to find.

Craftsman Craig is a rare find, but those who do find him remain immensely loyal. He truly loves people and sees each of his clients as unique human beings, each having their own individual set of needs, desires, and wishes. He treats each customer as he would like to be treated, with great dignity and respect, dealing honestly and truthfully with them. He carefully listens to what they say, and he writes out complete and detailed estimates or work orders, (which he follows meticulously when he does the work.) He clearly explains each charge to the clients, and openly answers any questions that they may have. He never says how honest he is, but he is very careful to live it out.

Having had many years of successful experience he is very confident in his abilities. Since he realizes that he isn't perfect, he is continually striving to improve the quality of his work. Taking the extra time to do the careful planning, watching for mistakes as he works, and his meticulous attention to details are key to doing his very high level of craftsmanship. He doesn't give any thought to whether he's the best; he just tries to do his best. He has the highest level of quality and is perhaps the highest priced of all the upholsterers; those who value their furniture and truly appreciate quality craftsmanship are more than willing to pay it. "You get what you pay for."

Like any profession, there are types of upholsterers at many different skill levels. There is a good match-up between upholsterers and clients when the right type of upholsterer does work for the corresponding right type of client. Those who work cheaply are best suited to those clients who, unconcerned about quality, want a cheap price. The fast upholsterers are good matches for those clients who want it "NOW!" The average upholsterer is good for most average clients with average expectations. The Perfectionist finds his niche in doing work for people who want to think that they are getting "the very best." The harder-to-find craftsmen is a good match for those who value their furniture, and who truly appreciate his fastidious attention to the fine details of putting out a true work of art. Those who claim to be "the best" seldom are; those who are the best don't need to say it.

Those who value this profession will keep learning and persevere through the many difficult times. They will continue to improve their skills as stay in the trade through many years. Those who charge a realistic price for the level of quality that they produce, and deal straightforwardly and honestly with their customers will gain a following of loyal client that will keep them in business for many years.

Copyright 2004 by Stephen Winters