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How to Start an Upholstery Business

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start an Upholstery Business

Upcycled furniture is all the rage, as people try to reduce their environmental footprint by bringing old things back to life. A popular way to refurbish old chairs and couches is to reupholster them, making the furniture repair and reupholstery industry huge, worth more than $2 billion in the U.S. alone. 

If you are an expert in upholstery, you could start your one upholstery business to get a share of that market and give old furniture a second chance.

But first, you’ll need some business know-how. Luckily, this step-by-step guide details all you need to know to start a successful upholstery business.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Growing market
  • Satisfying work
  • Work flexibly from home

Cons

  • Skills required
  • Competitive industry

Upholstery industry trends

Industry size and growth

Upholstery industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Trends

  • Eco-friendly fabrics for upholstery, such as hemp and linen, are growing in popularity.
  • Many people are interested in upcycled furniture that keeps its original wood color and is reupholstered with vintage looking patterns.

Challenges

  • Material shortages are occurring, sometimes causing delays in getting fabric for reupholstery. 
  • Current economic conditions may deter people from spending money on new upholstery.
Upholstery Industry Trends and Challenges

Demand hotspots

  • Most popular states –The most popular states for upholsterers are Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Rhode Island.((https://www.zippia.com/upholsterer-jobs/best-states/))
  • Least popular states – The least popular states for upholsterers are Texas, New Mexico, and Arkansas.
Upholstery Business demand hotspots

What kind of people work in upholstery?

  • Gender – 22% of upholsterers are female, while 78% are male.((https://www.zippia.com/upholsterer-jobs/demographics/))
  • Average level of education – The average upholsterer is high school educated.
  • Average age The average upholsterer in the US is 47.4 years old.
Upholstery industry demographics

How much does it cost to start an upholstery business?

Startup costs for an upholstery business range from $1,500 to $3,500. Costs include upholstery tools, a website, and a marketing budget. 

You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your upholstery business, including: 

  • Sewing machine
  • Pneumatic stapler
  • Upholstery mallet
  • Tack and staple remover
  • Tape measure
  • Upholstery hand needles
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$100 - $500$300
Business licenses and permits$100 - $300$200
Insurance$100-$500$300
Website$500 - $1,000$750
Tools$200 - $300$250
Sales and marketing budget$500 - $1,000$750
Total$1,500 - $3,600$2,550

How much can you earn from an upholstery business?

How much you charge for upholstery work will depend on the size of the furniture pieces. An average cost should be around $500. Your profit margin when you’re working on your own should be about 90%. 

In your first year or two, you could work from home and do two projects a week, bringing in $52,000 in revenue. This would mean $46,800 in profit, assuming that 90% margin. 

As you gain traction, you might get 10 projects a week. At this stage, you might have a work space and hire staff, reducing your margin to around 40%. With annual revenue of $260,000, you’d make a tidy profit of $104,000.

Upholstery Business earning forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for an upholstery business. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Having the necessary skills
  • Breaking into a competitive market

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting an upholstery business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Market research could give you the upper hand even if you’ve got the perfect product. Conducting robust market research is crucial, as it will help you better understand your customers, your competitors, and the broader business landscape.

Analyze your competitors 

Research upholstery businesses in your area to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews.

  • Make a list of upholstery businesses that offer similar services. 
  • Review your competitors’ services – their features, pricing, and quality – and marketing strategies
  • Check out their online reviews and ratings on Google, Yelp, and Facebook to get an idea of what their customers like and dislike.
  • Identify your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. 

This should identify areas where you can strengthen your business and gain a competitive edge to make better business decisions.

Why? Identify an opportunity

You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a full furniture repair and reupholstery business.

You might consider targeting a niche, such as vintage sofas.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Determine your products or services

You can offer reupholstery of both newer and vintage furniture. You could also find old furniture at flea markets to refurbish and sell. 

How much should you charge for upholstery services?

Your prices should be based on market prices in your area and the time it takes you to do each project, but also on your operating costs.

Once you know your costs, use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market could literally be anyone who owns furniture, including younger people who are interested in upcycled items. You should market on both Facebook and Instagram.

Where? Choose your business premises

In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out a work space. You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Upholstery Business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm an Upholstery Business Name

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “furniture refurbishing” or “reupholstery”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “AllCover Design Studios” and “ExpandFab Interiors” over “SofTech Luxe” and “CushionCrafters”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
  • Use online tools like the Step by Step Business Name Generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead and reserve your business name with your state, start the trademark registration process, and complete your domain registration and social media account creation. 

Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick a name, reserve it and start with the branding, it’s hard to switch to a new name. So be sure to carefully consider your choice before moving forward. 

Step 4: Create an Upholstery Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:

  • Executive Summary: Summarize the key points of your upholstery business plan, including its purpose, growth potential, and financial projections.
  • Business Overview: Provide an introduction to your upholstery business, outlining its location, size, target market, and the types of upholstery services you offer.
  • Product and Services: Detail the range of upholstery services you provide, such as furniture reupholstery, custom upholstery, and any specialty services like leather repair.
  • Market Analysis: Analyze the local and regional market for upholstery services, considering factors like demand for furniture refurbishment, competition, and economic conditions.
  • Competitive Analysis: Identify and assess your competitors in the upholstery industry, highlighting your unique offerings and competitive advantages.
  • Sales and Marketing: Explain your strategies for acquiring clients and promoting your upholstery services, including advertising, partnerships, and online presence.
  • Management Team: Showcase the qualifications and experience of your management team, emphasizing their expertise in upholstery and customer service.
  • Operations Plan: Describe the day-to-day operations of your upholstery business, covering areas like staffing, equipment, workshop setup, and quality control.
  • Financial Plan: Present financial projections, including startup costs, revenue forecasts, operating expenses, and profitability estimates for your upholstery business.
  • Appendix: Include any supporting documents, such as upholstery fabric samples, before-and-after photos of past projects, client testimonials, and industry certifications, to enhance your business plan’s credibility.
what to include in a business plan

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to upholstery businesses. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your upholstery business  will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts. Here’s how to form an LLC.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation. Read how to start a corporation here.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
types of business structures

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have. 

Form Your LLC

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding an upholstery business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.  

types of business financing

Step 8: Apply for Upholstery Business Licenses/Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting an upholstery business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your upholstery business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
types of business insurance

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Business Licenses and Permits

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.  

You may want to use industry-specific software, such as Albiware, or RepairQ, to manage your projects, appointments, estimates, and invoices.

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Create a website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

Your customers are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. 

Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Get Quote Now”. This can sharply increase purchases. 

Online Marketing

Here are some powerful marketing strategies for your future business:

  1. Local Partnerships: Collaborate with local furniture stores, interior designers, or real estate agents to establish partnerships that can lead to referrals and mutually beneficial business relationships.
  2. Showroom Presence: Set up a small showroom or display in popular home improvement stores to showcase your upholstery work, allowing potential customers to see and touch your craftsmanship firsthand.
  3. Social Proof and Testimonials: Encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews and testimonials on online platforms. Leverage these endorsements to build trust and credibility with potential clients.
  4. Targeted Direct Mail: Develop a targeted direct mail campaign, sending promotional materials to households in neighborhoods known for higher income levels and homeownership rates.
  5. Seasonal Promotions: Capitalize on seasonal trends by offering promotions tied to specific times of the year, such as discounts for spring cleaning or holiday upholstery refreshes.
  6. DIY Workshops: Host DIY upholstery workshops or classes in collaboration with local community centers or home improvement stores, positioning yourself as an expert while attracting potential customers.
  7. Referral Programs: Implement a referral program that rewards existing customers for recommending your services, creating a network of satisfied clients who actively promote your business.
  8. Before-and-After Visuals: Share compelling before-and-after photos of your upholstery projects on social media platforms, highlighting the transformative power of your services to engage and attract new customers.
  9. Local Event Sponsorship: Sponsor local events or community gatherings to increase brand visibility, demonstrating your commitment to the community and generating positive word-of-mouth.
  10. Mobile Marketing: Utilize vehicle decals or wraps on your work vehicles to turn them into mobile advertisements, ensuring your business gains exposure as you travel between job sites.

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your upholstery business meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your upholstery business could be:

  • Custom upholstery that reflects your personal style
  • Revitalize your space with expertly crafted upholstery
  • Reimagine your furniture with artisanal upholstery
unique selling proposition

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running an upholstery business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in upholstery for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in upholstery. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. 

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for an upholstery business include:

  • Upholsterers – work on customer projects
  • Marketing Lead – create and implement marketing strategies
  • General Manager – scheduling, accounting

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Run an Upholstery Business – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

Upholstery skills are valuable, particularly in an age where upcycled furniture is increasingly popular. By starting your own upholstery business, you’d be bringing furniture back to life and getting a piece of a $2 billion market. Eventually, you could have a whole team and become the go-to upholstery company in your area.

You understand the business now, so you’re ready to get out your tools and launch your successful upholstery business!

Upholstery Business FAQs

Is an upholstery business profitable?

The profitability of an upholstery business can vary depending on factors such as location, target market, competition, and the quality of services offered. A well-run upholstery business with a strong customer base and efficient operations can be profitable. Additionally, offering specialized or custom upholstery services can help differentiate the business and potentially command higher prices, increasing profitability.

What happens during a typical day at an upholstery business?

A typical day at an upholstery business involves tasks such as customer consultations, material selection, furniture inspection, upholstery work, order management, customer service, and business operations. These activities include meeting with clients, discussing upholstery needs, estimating costs, assisting customers in material selection, performing upholstery work, managing orders, tracking inventory, providing customer support, and handling business-related tasks.

What is the growth potential of an upholstery business?

The growth potential of an upholstery business can be influenced by factors such as market demand, niche specialization, expansion of services, online presence, and building a strong reputation. Market demand, trends in interior design, and the economy can affect growth. Specializing in specific areas like antique furniture restoration or high-end custom upholstery can attract a targeted clientele. Diversifying services or offering related products can expand the business. Developing an online presence and building a strong reputation through customer reviews and referrals can also contribute to growth.

What type of business is an upholstery business?

An upholstery business is generally classified as a service-based business operating within the home improvement or interior design industry. It involves providing upholstery services for furniture, such as sofas, chairs, benches, and other items. Upholstery businesses may also offer related services like furniture repairs, cushion replacements, or custom design work.

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How to Start an Upholstery Business