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Interior restoration: Is it right for your detail shop?

December 08, 2010
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Sometimes we don’t take action because of a lack of resources, bad timing or other factors. However, if we examine most of these situations honestly, all too often our failure to seize opportunity is due to a lack of vision.

There is one opportunity that I did realize, and my participation has been greatly rewarded. The opportunity I’m referring to is when I decided to pursue a career within the field of interior aesthetics, becoming a skilled specialist in the restoration and repair of leather, vinyl, plastic and fabric.

I know that many of you already may have a successful detailing or carwashing business. But I am inviting you to seriously investigate the possibility of adding another hugely profitable service to your business. That would be “interior restoration.”

Let’s say that you are a small business owner in some facet of the automotive appearance field, but that you do not necessarily offer repair and restoration services for leather, vinyl, plastic and fabric. When you encounter customer requests for these services, you have had to call some aesthetic technician or repair/restoration specialist.

Our goal today is not only to call your attention to the “knocking” of opportunity, but also to give you a realistic estimate of what it would take for someone to become skilled enough to offer this service to customers. Let’s answer some of the most common questions I encounter when people consult with me about starting their own business in this field:

How hard is it to learn?
Becoming an aesthetic technician used to be kind of difficult. There wasn’t a lot of quality training available, so most technicians learned directly from someone else, which meant their skill level was directly linked to how good or bad the technician was that they learned from.

The other reality is that this industry is growing and maturing with time. There have been countless improvements and technological developments over the past couple of decades that have exponentially increased a technician’s ability to offer “almost perfect” results for repairs that wouldn’t have even been attempted 20 or 30 years ago.

Our industry’s ability to provide better and better repair results has also raised the bar in what our customers expect. Trying to learn everything you need to know from a single person like in the old days is really not an option anymore. Training is essential to any successful business, but especially in this field since your success will directly hinge upon an aesthetic technician’s solid foundation of technical ability, along with considerable knowledge of the products, skills and techniques required to produce great results.

Choosing an instructor
The real trick today is not finding training — but rather, to find the right training for what you want to accomplish. The real key in analysis of this is: caveat emptor (buyer beware). Most orthodox procedures that are in field use today are the combination of time-tested techniques from technicians through the last four decades.

If a company or trainer makes promises that are too good to be true or secret techniques that no one else knows, be advised to look elsewhere. Also beware of companies that offer free or ridiculously low-cost training.

Your best bet in this circumstance is to look for the most unbiased instructors and curriculum available. If the training is being sponsored or organized by a product manufacturer, ask whether or not the instructor teaches techniques only using that company’s products, or what their policy is in that area. You might still receive good training, but you might want to learn from an instructor that teaches techniques that use the best product for the job, rather than the best product available in the sponsor’s catalog.

How long will it take for me to be good at it?
Like any learned skill, such as marriage, karate or bear wrestling (any perceived common thread to these examples is probably unintended), it takes time to build the neuro-muscular pathways necessary to have such skill. This is through practice and more practice.

However a frequent saying comes to mind just about now that goes something like this: practice makes perfect. Unfortunately, that is not entirely accurate. The saying should actually be: perfect practice makes perfect. Constant practice of techniques that are poorly done, or that do not use the multitude of innovations available in the field are not going to move you that much closer to your goal.

So, again, the first principle is to make sure that you have learned the proper methods, and then to “practice perfect” as much as you can. Each time you practice you will get better and better at what you do.

It is almost impossible to judge how much actual time this will take, since all people learn and develop learned skills at different rates. We have seen people that have been in the field for years still unable to perform certain procedures, and we have seen some of our students produce professional trainings after only three or four days of training.

Great techniques are accomplished by eliminating as many of the variables as possible in the repair process. Through skill, training and experience you will eliminate variables in the repair process and great results will become predictable. How do you limit such said variables? Technology and training. Utilizing technical advantages such as color computers or digital electronic thermostatically controlled heat guns do much to limit variables and shorten technical proficiency.

How much will it cost?
This is a valid concern for anyone attempting to add an additional profit center to their existing business. Expect to pay anywhere from free to several thousand dollars for training in the beginning. Supplies can vary widely, depending on the extent of your budget and clientele you wish to pursue. To go top-notch with a color computer and a full supply line you could expect to pay around $12,000 to $15,000. If you forego the color computer and just go for the basics, you could start at $3,000.

I tend to be cautious of starter kits, so be careful and investigate what you are getting. Make sure that the components in the kit are things that you really need for the objectives of your business.

How much can I make?
This depends on your market. In Los Angeles, my minimum fee to go to a location is $125. This only covers the first repair (if it is a simple job). I try to average between $95 to $100 per hour time spent on the job. Sometimes the $125 minimum takes even less than an hour, but this compensates my travel time.

Pricing your services correctly is vital, so do some market research in your area and find out what your potential competitors are charging. With good training and lots of practice on different materials before you go out into the field, you will become accurate at determining approximately how long a particular job will take.

As for how much you will make – as in all business ventures, a lot of this depends upon your business administration skill. However, the good thing is that in this field we usually have lower overhead costs then businesses that require storefront locations or tons of employees.

Given this information, we hope you can make an informed choice about how to begin your business or add-on profit center. Remember that the most important thing is to make sure and be ready, willing and able to answer the door when opportunity knocks.

Doug Snow and Kian Amirkhizi lead MATRI-X. specializing in the education and training of interior repair industry technicians. Doug and Kian have a varied and extensive background in training and almost 50 years combined experience as expert repair technicians themselves. For more information, visit

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