Changing the conversation

There’s a great line in MadMen where Don Draper tells Peggy Olson: “If you don’t like what people are saying, change the conversation.”

And that, my upholstery friends, is what I’d like to discuss.

Locally, we’re headed into an uncertain year, pushing the boundaries of our little education model. Can we create better tools for our serious students? Can we connect them successfully to the professional community around us? Time will tell . . .

But bigger than that, we’re trying to inspire a fresh look at upholstery education and the future of our profession.

“Upholstery is a dying trade”

Let’s acknowledge that the disintegration of our U.S. furniture manufacturing market dealt a staggering blow from which we’re still reeling.

But, “dying?”

Most established shops actually have more work than they can handle- they may even be trying to reduce their visibility  to manage workflow.

Young shops are often overwhelmed a few years in, as their marketing gains traction and they struggle to scale for growth.

Custom residential is probably the toughest arena, given the shockingly low price of new furniture. . . but still, are there not heirlooms? A design community? A luxury market? A growing consumer base that’s motivated by sustainability and quality??

And let’s take a saunter OUTSIDE the home, shall we?

Here’s a fun game: For the next week, pay attention to all the upholstered items you pass. Really look around! Restaurants, offices, hospitals, hotels, boats, cars, airports, theaters, libraries, fitness equipment . . . . We are literally surrounded by upholstery.

When you step beyond the boundaries of custom residential you discover a solid market that requires a SKILLED LOCAL craftsperson. Is your dentist going to replace their chair every time the vinyl wears out? Are they going to send it overseas to be recovered? Not likely. HOPEFULLY they can find someone nearby with the time and skills to handle it – along with all the restaurants, hospitals, boats, hotels and libraries.

You just can’t find skilled help these days

“You can’t get right answers if you’re asking the wrong questions.”

Mark Victor Hansen

Let’s ask a few right questions:

#1 Has anything been done recently to cultivate skilled help?

#2 If there exists skilled help, do we have clear pathways to find it?

#3 Are we able offer positions that are attractive to “skilled help?” If not, do we need to reconsider our strategies and expectations?

#4 If it takes years to cultivate “skilled help” are there ways to successfully integrate “partially skilled help” or “promising unskilled help”?

We need education

Well . . . yes. But we’d better dig deeper than that.

Why have we continued to lose programs? The education that we DO have: what is it doing successfully? Where is it less successful and why?

What should education look like in the modern post-manufacturing world? How do we meet the incredibly diverse training needs of our scattered and many-faceted trade?

Who is responsible for creating education? For funding it?

Who’s currently educating? Could we work together? It’s a big, messy market out there . . .

If a skilled candidate takes years to cultivate – practice and experience on top of training – what is the primary role of education? Where does it end?

Can professional training ever fully succeed without healthy ties to the working community around it?

Ah ha. Ah ha!

Now we’re getting down to brass (upholstery) tacks.

How far are we ever going to get . . . alone?

For so many reasons, the upholstery community has a long, long history of viewing one another first as competitors. It’s a tough conversation to change.

But what if we could? What if we could prove the value of working together? Of supporting one another? What if we spent a year building bridges instead of walls?

What if we started now?

silhouette of bridge under orange sky

In Minnesota, we are fortunate to have a significant number of shops and professionals who believe in the value of collaboration. It’s our secret ingredient – one that can be reproduced by any like minded community. How does it start? By supporting one another in words and actions and attitude. I hope you’ll try it . . . I think you’ll like it. . . 

Locally, we’ll be strengthening our network of relationships, exploring new models for education, training and working.  Hopefully, those efforts will benefit everyone.

We’re feeling good about our chances for progress. And we’re feeling good about sharing that progress with you. 

Thank you to our education sponsor and our community on Patreon for making this year of education and exploration possible. We simply couldn’t do it without you. Cheers to a brighter future . . . .


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