Q: How did you and your husband get into the upholstery trade?
A: Rob my husband is an upholsterer tradesman, but it’s not just his trade; it's his passion. I was working sewing leather lounges on industrial sewing machines and cutting fabric for various companies in Australia. I worked in that industry for 22 years before changing direction. Rob has been in the trade now for 38 years. He worked through his apprenticeship for 4 years learning different techniques, honing his skills and eventually becoming a specialist in leather sofas, chairs & footstools. He can respray the leather lounges as well as upholster.
Q: What made you decide to start your own business in Australia?
A: Eventually we decided that we didn’t really want to work for other people anymore and would rather go into business together giving us the opportunity to focus on Rob’s creative side. We really wanted to give more time & attention to detail on our client’s projects. Word spread quickly that we were working independently, and sales started picking up fast. We got so busy that I decided to go back to college to become qualified in bookkeeping and to make sure that we were running the business well from a financial point of view. Our daughter, Toni-Lee, wanted to learn the trade so Rob took her on as his apprentice and registered her with the apprentice board where she had to go regularly for practical and theory. When she completed her trade (which is now a dying trade) she continued working with dad in the family business which enabled us to take on more work.
Q: It sounds like the skills run in the family! What changed so much that you felt you wanted to leave Australia?
A: Unfortunately, 3 or 4 years later we saw that the market was changing. Cheap Frames were being imported from China and the market was becoming flooded with much cheaper furniture, which seemed to be becoming the trend. They were not built to last but served a purpose for young families with a limited budget for sofas etc. I felt that people didn’t value the time and skill that went into reviving a piece of furniture that had been in the family for generations. Or if they did value it, they weren’t prepared to pay for it. It seemed that the new ‘throwaway society’ was being born where cheaper furniture was easy to obtain and easily changeable every few years. Eventually our sales slowed so much that we decided, with a heavy heart and after 12 years of trading as a family, to close the business.
Q: -That must have been heart-breaking. What did you do next?
A: We had to keep paying the bills, so Rob took a local roofing job but, 3 months into the job, he had a car accident on his way to work. The accident was life-threatening and threw us into years of rehabilitation and recovery. We needed a fresh start from everything that life had thrown at us and 4 years after his accident, when Rob was well enough, we moved to France in search of new beginnings!
Q: But actually, your new beginning seems to have taken you straight back to where it all started...
A: Yes. Ultimately, we know our trade really well, it’s what we both love, and we know that we work really well together, so it was an obvious move to start our company ‘Robert Mann Upholstery Service’ here in France. It was the best thing we ever did as so many people have old well-made furniture that is worth investing in with new upholstery.
Q: What area of France do you cover?
A: When we first moved to France, we were in the Deux-Sevres region and we now have a good & loyal client base in that area, so we will always look after our very first clients. However, we are just about to make a move up to Normandy, where we have found our forever home. Generally, we travel up to two hours or a radius of 120km of where we live, but it does very much depend on the job. Sometimes we can give a ball park figure from photos or videos of the item and the client will bring the piece to us, although this method is not practical for most things so we would always encourage potential clients to call us, no matter where they live, so that we can discuss the project and see whether or not we can help them.
Q: How does the process work once you’ve received that call from a client?
A: Rob likes to be able to see the furniture and so if it’s viable in terms of location, he’ll always do that first. He prefers to touch & feel the furniture, feel the springs etc. before he can give an accurate quotation for the work involved as some things are not visible to the untrained eye. Once the client has agreed our quotation and have received their fabric, we schedule the work in and are currently working to a 4-5 week lead time.
Q: Do you supply the fabric?
A: No, but we work with lots of amazing fabric suppliers. Some clients already have their fabric, but if not then I will forward lots of links & information to the client, who can then order fabric samples for our suppliers and make their final decision in the comfort of their own home. Rob will always tell them how much fabric to order and is a genius at pattern matching! If choosing a pattern match rule of thumb in most cases is to allow 30% more fabric depending on how often the pattern repeats, but we guide our clients through this.
Q: What do you use for the seating pads of chairs & sofas.
A: We have three French suppliers of horsehair and we use a Belgium company for foam. Rob would normally advise about which is the best material to use based on the piece of furniture he is working with, however what the client wants should always be foremost in any job. We also have a large choice of upholstery studs to make sure that every project is finished beautifully. But we don’t just work on chairs & sofas!
Q: What else do you work on?!
A: Rob is never happier than when he’s reupholstering a ‘special’ project like a vintage car or a boat for example! But his passion is antiques, he loves old furniture and being part of bringing it back to life.
For more information on Rob & Joyce Mann’s business ‘Robert Mann Upholstery Service’ or to talk directly with Joyce or Rob, simply click here: www.mannupholstery.com