Taking Do It Yourself Upholstery to the Next Level

Cape Cod Upholstery ShopIn the section of my blog called, “Ask an Upholsterer“, I get questions from mostly Do it Yourself upholsterers. A lot of people are working on their own personal pieces. Occasionally, a few people are working at the next level. Working for a few friends or actual clients here and there, but still not set up with the equipment and tools commonly found in most professional upholstery shops.

For those of you considering upholstery as a profession, either as a full time or part time business, I thought I’d organize a list of items, needed to get an upholstery shop up and running. This includes having a good space for your upholstery workroom, as well as all the basic pieces of equipment and tools generally needed in a professional upholstery shop.

1) Home Business or Commercial Location
Working out of your home is perfectly fine if you have the proper space. A separate building on the property, like a garage or barn, I think is best. I advise you to check into your town or city zoning to see if you can run a home business from the property. Check if you need any permits or license for the business as well as for any signage.

With a commercial location, you still need to check with your town or city, to see what permits or licenses may be needed.

2) Your Upholstery Work Room
You need a good size workspace. Big enough for a fabric cutting table, a work table or saw horses, sewing machine, room for some supplies and maybe several pieces of furniture. I manage in my small shop with a main workspace 24’x 24′, plus the use of some basement storage space. (basement storage needs to be dry)

3) Equipment and Tools
a) Air compressor and Air Equipment
A small portable air compressor is generally fine for a one person shop. If you pan on having more than one person at the same time working, you’ll need to size your compressor accordingly.
b) Neumatic (air) Staple Gun.
I highly recommend the BEA #7 Air Tacker. It uses # 7 staples.
c) Air Hose.
For part of the hose, I like attaching a coil hose to the staple gun. For the rest, you’ll need high pressure 3/8″ air hose.
d) Industrial Sewing Machine
My main sewing machine is a year old Pfaff 145 H4. The Pfaff 145 is as basic as it gets. It’s a walking foot machine with a straight stitch with forward and reverse. All I do is upholstery. If you did draperies and slipcovers you might want to get a sewing machine with more features, like more types of stitches.
e) Steamer
You’ll need a steamer for steaming items such as, the old fabric for use as templates, steaming skirts, flattening seems. I recommend Jiffy Steamers.
f) Tables
You’ll need a fabric cutting table (6’x8′), work bench for furniture (4’x8′) and or saw horses
g) Tools
You’ll need all the tools commonly found in any type of workroom, plus numerous specialty tools for furniture upholstery.

4) Upholstery Supplies
You’ll need a full stock of all the commonly used upholstery supplies. The good thing is you don’t need to keep a large inventory of each item. Order what you need, when you need it, as shipping is generally fast.

5) The Legal Stuff
a) Check with your town or city for required permits and licenses
b) Check with your state department of revenue. You may need to collect sales tax from your customer. If so, you’ll need a state sales tax license and file sales tax returns.
c) For Federal Taxes, you’ll to file a Schedule C (Form 1040) Profit and Loss From Business.
d) In addition to Schedule C, if you have a Home Business, you may need to file Form 8829, Expense for Business Use of Your Home

6) Upholstery Supplier Account
You’ll want to get your supplies from an upholstery supplier, that sells professional quality supplies to the trade. You’ll need to set up a business account with the supplier. The supplier will most likely ask for your state sales tax number to make your account exempt from collecting sales tax on the cost of your supplies. If you don’t a have a state sales tax number, the supplier may still set up an account, but will charge you sales tax for the cost of the supplies.

Ready to open your own upholstery shop! I’ve left out plenty in order to keep the article a reasonable length, but I hope I’ve provided a little incite into what it would take to open a legal upholstery business. With all the tools, equipment and supplies, you could expect to spend $5,000.00 or more to get started. This would be excluding the cost of your work space itself. I think a reasonable amount, as there are not a lot of businesses you can start for as little as $5,000 – $10,000.00..

As usual, I will be happy to fill in any of the blank spaces for all who have more questions.