Upholstery Isn’t Just A Job

There are many one-person upholstery shops out there, but you may have a business partner sitting right next to you.  I have had the luxury of working with my husband, Bill since 1999.  He joined me 3 and a half years into the upholstery business.  Our family and friends weren’t sure we were making a good choice working together, but we’ve never regretted our decision.  After getting to know Wes and Jessica Breitenbach of Crown Upholstery through our upholstery meetups and seeing what a great husband and wife team they made I asked them if they would share their story with us and you, our readers.  When Wes said, “Upholstery isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle for us”. I could totally relate!


Wes and Jessica Crown Upholstery 1 Kim's Upholstery blog

Crown Upholstery: not your traditional Mom & Pop upholstery shop!

A client once said to us, “You two are married? I would kill my husband if I had to work with him.” Well, I can gladly say that neither one of us has been murdered, yet. For those of you who know us, we need no introduction. For the rest of you, we are Crown Upholstery. A family-style Upholstery shop located in Knoxville, TN. For the past 23 years, Jesica and I have been working together to build on our family’s tradition of upholstery. Jesica was raised in an upholstery shop but didn’t get the bug until her soon-to-be husband Wes, me, decided to try my hand at the craft. She was always more of a book type while I was more of the fix-it type. So when our little business started to take off neither one of us had a doubt as to who would be doing the paperwork and who would be putting the furniture back together. It was a good match. That same August of 1999 we made the business official and we got married too. We already had a 3-year-old child and a house together, so why not?

Fortunately, we were good at different things.

Our relationship and our business have been tested many times over the years and each time they come out stronger. There are many things I feel would have helped us had we known them earlier but I believe we had a better start than our parents, who had a better start than theirs.
We never set out with a plan. We just knew we wanted to be available for our son while he was living at home. Upholstery gave us that availability. We never needed to say whose job was whose. We both just did what we were good at. Fortunately, we were good at different things.
One day, after many many years, we realized neither of us had to work any additional jobs. Our workload had evolved so slowly and unintentionally that we didn’t really see it coming. Our little business was flying.

We get lots of questions about being married and working together. I describe it like dog years. Most people spend only a few hours a day and maybe a weekend together. We hardly have time apart. We do things independently of each other. I spent a month in the Grand Canyon last year, but we prefer to be together. That is, after all, why we got married.

Upholstery isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle for us.

Like many modern upholsterers, work and home share the same address. We live above our studio in a 1920s grocery store so work is never far away. I’m typing this now, in the studio at 8:56 pm. So yes, we are here a lot. But what does that actually look like? I can tell you we love what we do. Most people do a job and go home. Upholstery isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle for us.

We don’t stop talking about work. We get away from time to time but it is our life. It goes back 5 generations. We have been doing it professionally for more than half of our lives. So to most people, it’s crazy to work for weeks on end without taking time off. Those are the same people that spend hours every day driving to and from work. Is one really crazier than the other?

I find being able to work when I feel most productive is a divine way to go through life and we have trained our clients accordingly. Some evenings I work late into the night and other mornings I am sewing before the sun comes up. Some Wednesdays we take off just because.
When we first started, Jesica did strictly paperwork. As time passed and our son got older, her part in the shop grew. She tore down and cleaned up furniture and we began to develop our style of in-home estimates. Something that stands us out from most other shops. We go to the client’s home to not only evaluate their furniture and pick out the appropriate fabric but to educate them on the process as well. We work together to answer any and all questions or concerns the client may have. When I say we are a team, it’s almost an understatement to our process.

You can’t have two bosses.

Over the past few years, our workload has grown to demand help so we’ve hired a few people. Employees add another level of complexity to our environment. You can’t have two bosses and I have no issue leaving all the bossing to Jesica. She is really good at the business side of operations so I feel it’s best left up to her. Any final decision is discussed but she is the majority.

Communication is key.

I feel with many couples, working together or not, egos must be put aside. Really any aspect of life is made better without egos but especially when working with a spouse. If you don’t feel respected it’s hard to give respect. We have to care for each other in order for the business to survive let alone thrive. In order to do that we must put ourselves first. I can’t take care of her or the business if I’m not good. She can’t take care of me if she isn’t well. We both share the philosophy; that in order to have any success, you must put yourself first. Taking care of yourself allows you to take care of others better. This is applicable in business, life, and love. For 23 years this has proven true for us. We have absolutely struggled. We’ve had many dark times and many challenges. But at the end of the day, we have each other. I don’t have to explain the ups and downs to her every evening or weekend. She knows she was there. She doesn’t need to tell me about her bad day, I saw it. I can start working on making it better as I see it unfolding. The dynamic of this type of relationship isn’t for everyone but I wouldn’t want it any other way. For those considering or those that may be struggling with a spouse/work relationship, we can say with absolute certainty, find help with communication. Regardless of how good you think you are, find a professional who is skilled in couples’ communication. Just as you need help to get the skills to be proficient at upholstery or anything, learning how you communicate, how your partner communicates, and how you can better understand each other is an endeavor that will not only build a better bond, it will build a better business. Working with your partner can be the most rewarding way to spend your life. But, just like anything worth having, it doesn’t happen on its own, you have to want it and consistently work towards it. Happiness is more than dollars when you work with love every day.

Written by Wes Breitenbach

Wow, thank you Wes for sharing your upholstery journey with our readers!

What a great team Wes and Jessica make, don’t you agree?  They each bring a different skill set to the business and they’ve used that to their advantage.  Crown Upholstery is an extremely successful professional upholstery business and to share with others they have started offering hands-on classes in Knoxville TN.  I loved when Wes said, “just like anything worth having, it doesn’t happen on its own, you have to want it and consistently work towards it.”.  A statement so true and something many upholstery studio owners and those learning new upholstery skills forget.

See you on the inside, Kim