Louise is a great example of someone who took the big leap to completely change career and retrain as an upholsterer by completing the AMUSF course. After completing her training at Wendy Shorter Interiors, Louise continued with apprenticeships at various London upholsterers, worked for a few years “on the bench” at a large furniture manufacturer before returning to teach the AMUSF upholstery course at Wendy Shorter’s. Whilst teaching Louise took on a small studio space in Shoreditch to work on commissions and also set up a unique Upholstery workshop at Wandsworth Prison teaching the inmates alongside the charity Fine Cell Work.
In 2013 Louise set up Shoreditch Design Rooms where she now runs the hugely successful upholstery school as well as a very busy working upholstery studio. Having changed careers, completed the AMUSF courses, worked in the industry and now is training others interested in moving into the world of upholstery, Louise is in a great position to throw out a few selected bits of advice about what’s important once you’ve finished your training.
Not in any way intended to be a definitive list, these are 6 bits of advice we extracted from Louise over an exotic cup of tea and a small platter of biscuits (everyone who knows SDR will appreciate the dizzying array of tea and biscuit options!)
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Something will always come up to flaw you! Don’t let it bother you – it’s how you creatively overcome problems which will make you stand out. Every upholsterer I speak to says they are always learning in various ways. I learn from my students all the time, as well as from things I come across in books, on the web and also from other upholsterers.
2. Your Biggest Asset is Your Network of Support
It’s vital to build up and maintain your network:
Stay in touch with your tutors for little nuggets of advice now and again or just to tell you that “you’re going to be fine!”. (I love speaking to and seeing our ex students and we have a steady stream of them coming back to the SDR Studios – many of whom have now set up their own workshops and are taking on commissions which is something I’m really proud of!)
Stay in touch with your fellow students – there are always great opportunities to collaborate, share a studio etc + also many of them will be going through similar experiences to you, so they can be a great help and source of support.
Use your friends! There are loads of non-upholstery skills that can help hugely: business advice, website design, social media etc
Develop good, dependable suppliers – take time out to create really good relationships: be a good customer – pay your bills on time and be clear with your ordering. Knowing where you can go, who you can call, often last minute, to get what you need and quickly, will make your life so much easier.
Remember it’s give and take! Help people and it will come back you in spades…
3. Your Time
Learn the best ways for you to manage your time (everyone is different). When do you start and finish each day? How many breaks? When do you upholster, when do you deal with admin? How long do you put aside for ordering, for cutting plans, for marketing etc? Try not to spend your day getting distracted by these sorts of things – put them into a schedule so you can leave space to focus on one thing at a time.
Try and find ways to become more efficient – work hard at this as this is where your profit lies.
4. Don’t Under-sell
At anytime, customers will always be able to find others who are cheaper, but they may not be as good and not as thorough.
It’s vital to communicate clearly with your customers exactly what’s involved (as most people just don’t appreciate the complexity) – the processes, the details, the finish etc all help to demonstrate your competence and show your customers that they are in safe hands. I always try and take a load of photos of the various stages of each job to show the customer – again just to show them exactly what’s involved (and also helps them get excited about seeing the finished piece).
Once you’ve communicated all this – charge appropriately.
If for whatever reason you’re under-charging or doing a favour for a friend or family, then it’s vital you tell them what the job would normally cost. Otherwise they won’t understand what sort of favour you are doing them, which is particularly important when they recommend your services to others. If you’re not careful you’ll end up in an endless cycle of “mate’s rates”.
5. Good and Robust Record Keeping and Admin
Take time to find and develop a system that works for you and stick to it. By having a system and a time-frame that effectively deals with writing quotes, raising invoices, answering emails, paying bills etc then it keeps your customers and suppliers happy. But more importantly it helps clear your mind and help you concentrate when you are actually upholstering. It’s something you have to continually work on as it’s so easy to let everything get on top of you – setting time aside so I know, for example, that this hour all I’m going to do is some admin so that the last 4 hours of the day I know I can get my head down cutting some fabrics and working on a job without getting distracted by the bloody computer!
6. Remember To Enjoy Your Work
Keep reminding yourself and asking yourself what it is about your work that makes it so rewarding and so enjoyable. It’s important to understand and remember this when times get hard!
You’re actually making, creating and doing something amazing – but if you’re not finding any enjoyment in it, then you may as well go and run a hedge fund!