Interior Insights: Fixing Other Shops’ Mistakes

Nov 25, 2009

It’s all too common in the auto trim and upholstery market, as well as in the hot rod and restoration market, to have customers come in with cars that had work done on them by a less-than-competent craftsman.

At the ARMO roundtable discussion at the 2009 SEMA Show, Jim Barber, chair of ARMO and owner of C.A.R.S. (Classic Automotive Restoration Specialists) in Belews Creek, North Carolina, said that he tracks the percentage of vehicles that come into his restoration shop that have workmanship problems and require fixing, and it’s roughly 30 to 40 percent of his business.

Obviously, this is a situation that a number of trim shops must be running into.

What does this have to do with upholstery work?

How many times has an auto trimmer gotten a car in the bay that was nearly damaged beyond recognition by somebody else?

The reason this is an issue is that if an auto trimmer starts working on an interior, it’s difficult to explain to the customer what’s wrong and what it will take to fix it.

When it’s an engine and the car won’t run, most customers will realize that it’s not the fault of the professional shop they just brought the car to.

For auto trimmers, unless it’s a visibly bad job, you can easily underestimate the amount of work that a job will take unless you’re aware of what was done to it previously.

Oftentimes, a trimmer can’t see how badly a job was done until they take the seat and seat cover out, especially if there are problems with a seat frame.

Because of this, it’s easy for a shop to end up in a situation where a customer blames you for the bad work done by someone else.

What can be done about this?

An inspection checklist for your trimmer employees can help ensure that whoever is working on the seat is not overlooking anything that either the owner or shop salesperson needs to report to the customer.

Next, documenting the job as you take apart the seats, and photographing the problems that are discovered, can help prevent the customer from blaming you for pre-existing issues with the seats, seat covers or other interior areas.

By keeping all of your individual projects, photos and documentation dated and in organized folders, either in hard-copy or online, you’ll be able to reference the work you’ve done if the customer complains about the time you’re taking or what you’re charging for the work you’re doing.

With some preparation, though, you won’t have to deal with complaining customers at all.

To prepare for the inevitable “can you please fix this?” request from customers, a trim shop should have a written policy in place that all employees are aware of.

Charging labor plus materials, rather than a written estimate, makes more sense when dealing with someone else’s mistakes.

With no way to know just how bad the job actually is before taking on the project, it makes zero sense to provide an estimate and then, if the job ends up taking a lot longer than expected, the shop doesn’t have to eat the cost.

Next, making sure the customer is aware that you have no idea how long the job will take from the get-go is crucial.

If a trim shop owner or salesperson quotes the customer a specific completion time, that customer will expect it to be finished, regardless of any reasons the shop’s owner or employees give.

What happens if the job is truly a train-wreck and is nearly unsalvageable?

Again, this is something the trim shop’s owner or salesperson should discuss as a possibility with the customer before even taking on the job.

They need to know that the job might require being redone completely, and that they will have to pay for all the materials and labor that entails.

What about a car that needs to be re-done in time for a car show?

This is a tough situation, because to get the job done and fix everything that’s wrong, the shop might have to put all other projects aside to meet the deadline.

The shop owner and staff have to weigh the benefits of doing the job, which means charging a premium over the normal cost of doing work.

Even with the slow economy, many trim shops are doing well and are booked well in advance, especially in the restoration, hot rod, street rod, classic car and muscle car markets.

With demand still relatively strong, shop owners shouldn’t be afraid to charge what their work is worth. Letting the customer know upfront, especially when dealing with fixing somebody else’s mistakes, is the way to go.