I learned to sew from my mother, as did my three daughters; she helped me with my wedding dress and the first furniture I had, some car seats and a motorcycle seat. When the food factory I worked in for many years closed, I went to work for a boat builder here in Sumner. When they sold the business, I started thinking about starting an upholstery shop of my own. A local Realtor suggested this building, which back in the 1960s was built for a lumber yard. Then it was a plumbing shop and now an upholstery shop.
What is your product focus?
I started with just reupholstering boat interiors and new covers. January 2008 was a bit slow, so I took on some construction equipment re-upholstery and a few pieces of furniture. I have not had a slow season since.
Unique design elements
Into my boat covers, I put on what I call finger tabs. They are to help pull the cover to snap it down because sometimes it is very hard on your fingers to get the cover snapped. I also have a unique front on my covers.
More about the operation
My husband, Jamie, cuts wood for any pieces I need replaced; he also drills holes in the boats for snap-down covers. My oldest daughter, Toni, is a chiropractor and has her clinic inside my shop. When she has time, she helps with upholstery. My middle daughter, Jessica, and her two sons have lived with me for the past year. She has been helping me in my shop learning as she works; she does most of the marine work. In June of this year she and her boys moved to Arizona to join her husband in the U.S. Navy. My youngest daughter, Jacki, does my bookwork. My business truly is a family business.
Who are your main customers?
I do a lot of work for several boat dealers all over the state. They, in turn, give my business card to individuals; word of mouth is a great asset, also.
Inside my entrance is a 20-foot-by-4-foot sewing table with a Consew sewing machine built into one side and a Sailrite machine built into the other side. I have a 20-foot-by-5-foot table for cutting material, that works great for 60-inch-wide fabric. I have big bookshelves in this room for my fabric sample books and my desk and a table for customers to sit and look through samples. In the next room I have a 12-foot-by-4-foot table for stapling and a mobile 4-by-6-foot table for stapling. Benches along walls have shelves underneath for equipment storage, and another 8-foot shelf holds different sizes of foam. The bay where I back in boats is another 1,122 square feet, and seven attached storage sheds add 2,200 more square feet. And Dr. Toni has about 800 square feet. The greatest plus with this building: It is only two blocks from my house.
How do you deal with scheduling and handling customers?
Most often I schedule too much, so I’m working late evenings and most weekends. I absolutely hate not getting a project finished when I say I will have it done. It doesn’t happen very often.
What other products?
I re-upholster a lot of furniture, seats for construction equipment, golf carts, 4-wheelers and jet skis and patio furniture.
What are unique things you do to market your business?
I have won two awards from the MFA—one for boat interiors and the other for a pontoon cover—and last November, I won an award from IFAI for an antique sofa I re-upholstered. The local paper did a large story about my awards and my business. I get calls every day about doing work for someone who saw the story in the paper. It often gets overwhelming. My only regret is waiting until I was 48 years old to start my own upholstery shop.
Shop name: Nickle Ink Upholstery
Contact: Penny Johnson
Location: Sumner, Iowa
Year established: 2007
Number of employees: 1 (but this is a total family input.)