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How to start a custom job

September 1st, 2012 / By: / How-To Articles, Interiors & Upholstery

Building custom interiors allow us to go from being upholsterers to designers to make something uniquely comfortable and classy.
Building custom interiors allow us to go from being upholsterers to designers to make something uniquely comfortable and classy.

Building a custom interior in a vessel can be a challenge or an excitement. This all depends on how the project is presented to the customer, especially if in the beginning you can portray the idea of an interior that will fit what the customer is looking for.

In addition to a low-maintenance or maintenance-free interior, most customers want the interior to be uniquely theirs. We try to read the customer as to what their wants and needs are and incorporate the ideas into the new interior. And we ask a lot of questions: What about your present boat interior don’t you like? If there were any changes made what would they be? If we could make these changes for you would that be acceptable?

We also ask questions to receive information on how they boat: Are you a fisherman, a cruiser, do you ski or tube? If you fish, what type of fishing do you do, trolling or anchoring? How many people usually go with you on an outing, do you travel to other areas to boat? Do you have kids? How old are they?

Listening to their answers tells us a lot about how they boat, and we can then decide what direction to go with the interior. For example, if they are an older couple and like to cruise, then a nice, comfortable seat is important. They will be excited to have appropriate foam underneath them and even some lumbar support (photo 1).
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Most manufactures build seats to fit all size customers, but we know a person who weighs 300 pounds and a person who weighs 90 pounds are going to find the same seat either too hard or soft. So we try to fit the seat foam to the customer.

Most customers think all foam is the same, and to make a cushion thicker and firmer you just add more of it. But this is why foam comes in different densities (photo 2).
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Customers really do not know this can be done until we suggest it. Same goes for the height of the seat. Have you ever sat in a bass boat with your knees up to your chest, (photo 3) or sat in a seat that cuts off the circulation in your legs because the height is too tall and your legs dangle? (photo 4)

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We have customers sit in the seat at our shop. As they sit there, they usually will say something like, “can we move this seat forward or back?” Yes we can. We also have them stand at the seat and see if they can actually drive the boat in the standing position (photo 5).
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We have seen seats where the driver is so folded up or has to sit to the side or even on his feet in order to drive the boat. This is where we change from upholsterers to designers. With the actual market being more about comfort and looking classy, rather than “just do it like it was.”

We always ask the same questions and are always surprised at the answers. Some customers have no idea that we can make their seats easier to clean and more comfortable to sit in—for hours. If the customer has specific desires of what can be done to make his boat built for them, they are willing to spend a little more to make it that way. You can make it uniquely different and comfortable.

We focus on the ease of access for maintenance and service, and look for things like storage areas, places the speakers might be mounted for the best sound, and the positioning of the seats for example—no one likes to face backwards or sideways while cruising.

A big issue we often deal with is if the driver can actually shift into reverse without standing up and swiveling the seat away from the shifter. Since the bolsters are going to be replaced, this is the perfect opportunity to make a few minor changes. Maybe move the shifter location a few inches forward (photo 6).
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This observation and concern you are showing for the potential client lets them see you are truly interested in making them comfortable. We always get the customer to make a list of priorities they want. As a fabricator, if you can fulfill those wants and needs, you just got yourself another job.

Now that we have the customer interested in our options and what the cost might be, we find that they are willing to make the project their idea. From here we will go through some previous projects and show them some ideas other customers like. Don’t let the customer go crazy unless you feel comfortable. Always keep in mind the depth and scope of the work you are about to attack.

Care and maintenance of our final product is probably the most important part of the job, and we spend time with the person in charge of cleaning the vessel after regular use. I find one of the biggest problems with the industry is the lack of training on proper maintenance and storage to boat owners after the sale. We have small seminars every few months and have a small group of customers come in for pizza and soda to discuss this. The response has been overwhelming and we usually hear that no one explained this to the customer when they bought the boat. So they just use bleach and other harsh cleaners and come back in a year with problems.

As you would after any job, make sure you follow up a few months later to confirm everything is great and to answer any questions. I don’t usually have any problems, but I usually do get a reference for another customer.

Don Racine is a designer/fabricator and co-owner of Racine Design in Jacksonville, Fla.

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