Aftermarket Seating Package or Custom Interior? What’s Right For Your Customer?

Jul 1, 2010

For many builders and auto trimmers, the decision to use an interior kit over a custom interior is a no-brainer: If the rest of the car is custom then the interior has to be custom. Beyond the people doing the work, the customers often believe something custom is automatically better.

Now before you accuse me of being partial to kits over custom work, this isn’t about one being better than the other; both options have their benefits and drawbacks. As with anything, you must investigate your options and know what’s best for your business.

If you’re an upholsterer, and you know you have the time and skill to take on major custom work while making a profit on it, then you’re in an entirely different boat than the rod builder who doesn’t have an upholstery shop within 100 miles of his business. Even the upholsterer may get a job request where the customer’s budget just is not enough to pay for a custom interior. What’s better, turning away the work entirely or installing a kit or pre-built seat and getting paid?

Let’s say a customer walks in who’s on the fence about which option to choose. He’s heard about kits but likes the idea of a custom interior better. What do you tell him? The factors that you should consider are time, profit potential, availability of a kit for the make and model, interior material availability, and what the customer intends to do with the car. Is it a show car, daily driver or just for local cruise-ins? Does the customer have pets or kids they want to haul around?

There are several companies that manufacture kits for classic vehicles. For example, Distinctive Industries offers interiors for Camaros, Chevelles, Cougars, Cutlasses, Falcons, Firebirds, Galaxies and Mustangs, among others. Wise Guys offers a range of pre-built seats in various styles for different makes and models, such as for Chevys, Corvettes, bench and bucket seats.

When it comes to price versus features, one major challenge upholsterers and builders run into isn’t in selecting the best option, it’s making the customer happy. If you have a customer who wants a custom leather interior no matter what, but can only spend $1,000, then you’ve got a problem on your hands. The place to start with customers like that is to let them know what their choices actually are and then show them examples in your showroom of what they could have.

If you’re a builder working with an upholsterer, find out if you can arrange to show a customer what a few different types of custom and pre-built seats look like. Although photo books and websites are OK, you can do better than just showing your customer pictures. Material swatches are also OK, but to a customer nothing can replace actually sitting in the type of seat they’re going to get.

In addition, if whatever custom option you offer is more profitable for your business, you’re still far more likely to convince a customer to pay for it if they can sit in it themselves and actually feel why it’s more comfortable, and will be a better investment in the long run. A display area for seats and various upgrades, such as power seats, a seat heater or a seat massager, is a great way to up-sell customers on seating accessories.

Even if the customer is willing to pay more for custom work, are you sure you’re really charging appropriately for what they’re asking for? Are you itemizing all aspects of the seat build and pricing everything out in advance? How will a custom seating job affect your schedule? Remember, it’s common for major projects to take far longer than you estimated. Are there any important car show dates the customer absolutely must make? If doing custom work on deadline is going to throw your entire shop into chaos, maybe that pre-built seat or ready-made seating package option really is the best choice for your shop or your customer.

Seating is all too often one of the last things customers think about during a project build, so knowing your options and having the interior solutions you sell on display can help you and your customer avoid unnecessary hassle and make everyone in the build process happier.