I would like to share some tips Trevor and I have found useful in our shop in order to work more efficiently and reduce unnecessary stress. All of our systems have evolved from one principle: Don’t reinvent the wheel! Enough thought and planning goes into each custom job that you need to keep the number of extra variables as few as possible to cut the costly margin of error and save yourself time.
One of easiest ways to increase efficiency is to use the right equipment for the job. Short of investing in a CAD cutter, we have found that simple metal bars are the next best tool for streamlining the cutting process. To get started, Trevor and I made a list of the most common long cut sizes we use and then had a metal shop fabricate 72-inch bars for each measurement. Now when we need to cut long runs of welt or cushion zippers and bands, we just grab one of the bars and get to cutting. This process eliminates the error-prone process of measuring and connecting dashes and produces long runs with a more uniform width in addition to saving time.
In order to further streamline our business, we had to look at the whole project lifecycle, starting with sales. We found that by offering a concise and orderly sample line, we can more quickly get down to business. Instead of showing a customer our entire 8-inch-thick vinyl sample binder, we have distilled the selection down to one line card for colors and a ring of larger swatches for all the shades of white. We found that we like to have larger “loose” swatches of the white vinyl colors so that the sample can be placed directly on the cushion or gel coat to get the perfect match where subtle differences are important. We always have specialized cards available if needed, but most routine jobs are perfectly suited for a vinyl from our straightforward line.
We like this edited selection approach because after using our preferred vinyl so many times we really know how it behaves, making it more predictable and easier to work with. Another bonus to having a default vinyl line is that you need to stock only a limited number of coordinating hydem gimps and welts, which saves room in the shop and also saves money by limiting the number of one-off orders for obscure colors.
In addition to the way we set up our vinyl selection, we also have a preferred system for foam. We have found that by using the same types of foam in a limited range of densities from the same manufacturer, we know what to expect in terms of compression and how it fills a cushion. Once we have the foam variable fixed, we have been able to develop reliable formulas for cutting foam and fabric in order to reach the desired finished dimensions for a cushion with consistent results.
I hope you find some of these tips helpful for your shop. We have found that our systems have made our work a little easier and a lot less stressful. I also discovered that our customers feel comfortable trusting our material recommendations because we have successfully used them over and over. So rather than spending an extra hour figuring out how a new product behaves on every job, you can now go home early and kick back because you already fixed that variable. Cheers!
Rebecca and Trevor Kennedy own Kennedy Custom Upholstery in Ocean City, N.J.