SUVs seem to top the list of vehicles that owners want upgraded seating, but anyone could be a candidate: Drivers of minivans, sedans and classics are also often interested. It’s not just the luxury feel that sells drivers on leather; the ease of cleanup and the increased resale value are big draws, too.
Replacing worn factory leather interiors on older models is also an option for trimmers who want to capitalize on leather installation. In many cases, aftermarket leather kits are far less expensive than OEM replacements, and are easily customizable-which makes your customers happy.
Offering other comfort items like seat heaters, massagers, sunroofs and even remote start to the vehicles provides opportunities for related sales, too. Experienced upholsterers recommend using the leather manufacturer’s sales tools: Showing samples that customers can see, feel and smell the distinctive scent of real leather is often the simplest way to making the sale.
Read on to find out what restylers across the country have to say about installing leather seating.
Steve Hardle, owner
Craftsman Upholstery & Interiors
A lot of what we do is order pre-made seating kits from companies like Katzkin. We just send in the order, they send us a pre-sewn package and we just install it, add in our margin and it seems to go quite smoothly. Katzkin is a great resource, but we do show samples of two or three other companies. I haven’t had any trouble at all with the products. Customers seem to really like them, and they like the selection; it’s an easy sell.
Typically, buyers are more affluent people. A lot of our clientele are restoring a car and they want it to look really nice. They fall in love with their car, and they want to keep it, preserve it; or they are restoring an old car, and want to use leather.
We install leather in a lot of Hondas. I think Honda builds a great car that outlasts its seat covers. The car is still going strong, so people come in and put a new leather seat in it, and drive it for another 100,000 miles. We see a few classic muscle cars and hot rods; our upholsterer has been doing it for 35 years, and he has a great reputation and following. A lot of people we service use him because of his reputation.
A great way to get new business is to talk to competitors-a lot of other shops don’t have the wherewithal to order in leather seats. It’s a great way to have business referred to you.
Katzkin puts all the tools in our hands to make it easy to sell. They have great pictures to show, and leather people can put hands on and touch it, smell it. It’s an easy sell. The vendor gives me the tools I need to paint a very clear picture for the customer. Because we know they’re a buyer, not a shopper, we just try to paint the picture that we do a great quality job. If you sell the quality, the price is really third or fourth or fifth on their list. They want convenience, a one-day install, a ride back to work, quality workmanship, guarantee of satisfaction and a warranty on the work. If you do all those things it is a pretty easy sell despite the price you quote.
Will Sissom, owner/manager
Icatt Custom Interiors
The market is a little down right now, and I believe it’s because of the economy. Normally the customer is over middle age; they’re an older clientele, and they’ve paid their dues and can afford to play with their toys. I do a lot of street rods, customs and Porsche restoration work.
Most of my advertisement is simply word of mouth; I don’t even have any signs on the building. I have a small Yellow Pages ad and a very loyal group of customers. They go to car shows, where they talk me up pretty good. I always go the extra mile to give them something extra; when I recover a seat, I always take it down to bare frame, check springs, if it needs it sandblast and repaint-basically a rebuild from the springs up. That’s why my prices are a little higher than most. I never cover old material, and I always add a little extra padding because it compresses over time. I do events, go to car shows. Most of my customers are in car shows, so I get mentioned on their build boards. I walk around to see what’s going on with other shops, see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
I do some boats, RVs-they can be lucrative. Most of those customers are older and have a little more play money.
I know 10 or 15 years ago all leather interiors were aftermarket for dealers, people looking for upgrades. Now people have a nicer car but nobody explained how to take care of leather, and it’s dried out and starting to crack, but they don’t know why. Usually when I do an interior I give them some cleaner and treatment, and explain they need to do this every two or three months. Even a dead cow needs to be fed.
Dennis Mielke, owner
Des Moines, Iowa
I think leather seating is something that is getting more and more popular every day. I think the cleanup factor compared to fabric is a lot better, and some of it is that people just like the fact they have leather.
I do some seat heaters as an add-on. People are spending a lot more time commuting in their cars now, so they want the comfort features. If they live somewhere with cold weather they get seat warmers. Remote start is another good add-on.
The SUVs seem to be the most popular. Normally, if they want the seat heaters, remote start is a big, big, popular add on. The person who has leather put in is definitely a candidate for seat warmers. They almost go hand in hand.
Generally when I have somebody who’s inquiring, they’re pretty much already sold on the fact that they want leather. The thing I also pitch is that it does help resale if they decide to get rid of the car. I have had several people who have put in leather just for resale, like car lots.
Replacing worn interiors is a big part of the business; it doesn’t seem to be as durable on some vehicles. People just don’t know they’re supposed to use special cleaner; when they climb in and out in summer and don’t put on any leather conditioner, it dries out the leather and it cracks.
Most of my business is from verbal referrals. I have a pretty good client list of car lots, and other networks that I work with.
Harry Funke, owner
It’s slow this time of year, but not too bad. I’d say the market for leather seats is growing, and there’s probably two reasons. First, when somebody goes in to buy new or newer car, and they want leather, but if the car they want is there and the deal’s right, they find out that we can do leather cheaper than the upcharge from the manufacturer. Second, some people just like and prefer leather over cloth and they are willing to spend money to upgrade.
It’s always on cars that are probably less than three years old, although we have had some cars come in where they’ve worn out the original leather. I can install an aftermarket kit cheaper than we can build an original kit.
SUVs and minivans are most popular, and it’s almost always domestic models. My customers are usually the middle and upper middle class, and of the people who prefer leather, the demographic is just all over the place. We do it for 20-somethings and retired people.
I for the most part usually don’t have to do any selling. By the time they come to us, they know what they want. If price is right, it’s a slam dunk. We’ll always throw seat heaters at them, too. Or we may talk about two-tone or colored stitching and custom embroidery.
My marketing is my relationship with dealers, and word of mouth. I have one little line in my Yellow Pages ad that mentions aftermarket leather kits, and that’s about all the advertising I do.
Bob Kline, Owner
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Here in Ann Arbor the demographic is 35 years and up for leather interiors. We deal with both dealers and retail. In the market we have here, people won’t buy second-rate products. It’s not an issue of price, it’s all about quality. Anything I use has to meet or exceed factory warranty, and that’s true of both retail and dealer clients.
The most popular vehicles would have to be between Toyota, Nissan and Subaru. A lot of Chrysler products, also. We’re doing Toyota Highlanders, Subaru Outbacks, Nissan Altimas, a lot of Dodge Rams and Chrysler minivans.
We’ve been a sunroof installer for 16 years, and we feel the trend is changing; we never used to be that much of a leather installer, but leather demands doubled or tripled in the last year. It’s a moneymaker for the car dealer. I think the end consumer is realizing they can buy a base model car and have their leather interior without buying a $5,000 package to get it. Dealers make more money on it; if they have a car with a lesser package on their lot, they can add leather to make it appealing to more people, and it’s still $5,000 to $7,000 cheaper on most vehicles.
We do Yellow Page ads, and we also have a full time salesperson on staff. She does cold calls at all new car dealerships. We also have a good return clientele; 75 percent is new car dealers, and 25 percent is retail.
We have a very good product, and customers can pick and choose what they like. They can take their car and add whatever color they want, custom order it to their liking with embroidery, custom stitching, perforation and seat heaters.
We sell quite a few seat heaters, especially here in Michigan. Other good add-on sales include the power electric moonroofs and interior mobile video and navigation. We can package all that for the retail customer so they don’t have to go to four different places, and get a package deal.
Even with Alea Leather being new in the market, the quality and product is just great. I’ve used all the leather companies out there, and I feel Alea is definitely heading in the right direction for end consumer. It’s a very fine product.
Rob Riley, owner
Car Stereo Plus
Ã‚ It’s a pretty strong market. It does fluctuate quarterly, depending on car sales and what’s being brought in at the time, but definitely for us it’s a great market. We got into it a couple years ago, and we’ve done phenomenally with it. For us it’s definitely grown, probably 18 percent over the past two years.
The average customer is 28 to 40 years old, and sometimes it’s a husband and wife, or a soccer mom. There are not a lot of teens or drivers over 40 in our demographic. Most of the time those people are looking for a luxury automobile that already has a leather interior.
Currently any of the Nissan product line would be very popular. Other imports are pretty strong, and after that, domestics. Definitely midsize SUVs and crossovers. I think what’s happening, is that people have had larger SUVs that were heavy on gas. They like the roominess but they don’t want the gas expense and it’s more difficult to drive. We’ve found in the past 10 to 12 months there’s been a huge shift of people going from a large SUVs to a crossover.
We service new car dealerships; we do from time to time get a retail customer in from a referral, but we don’t advertise to that portion of the industry. Our main focus is providing leather interiors for new car customers, both before and after the sale.
We have four people dedicated to making outside sales calls. We are never really introduced to the end user. We sell ourselves to the management and sales staff of the dealership. You always hope theÃ‚ end user has asked for a leather interior. We do have samples; we have some POP marketing material specific for that product line, for GM or Nissan or others.
It’s a great industry, a growing industry. It does have its challenges from time to time. A lot of the consumers do not realize that what we put on their vehicle is the same if not better in quality and installation as what the OEM puts on. That’s something people have a tendency to resist, because they don’t understand the difference. We offer the same as what the manufacturer offers.