Cover stories

McFarland upholsterer gives furniture and windows new life.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

After 32 years as an upholsterer, Cindy Lane Krenz, owner of Cindy’s Custom Interiors (CCI) on Terminal Drive in McFarland, has experienced just about everything a small business owner can, from floods to economic recessions to employee issues.

“In the last few months, I had to replace a furnace, had to put a new garage door opener in, and replace my gutters that were damaged from ice dams, which caused flooding and forced me to redo some commercial work. And yesterday, our email server — wherever that may be — had a fire so we couldn’t access our online calendar. We spent the day recreating appointments from paper notes.”

The office phone rings. “No, we didn’t have a fire. We’re open and fine,” she assures a concerned vendor, referring to a notification sent the day before to her contact list. “When you own your own business,” she sighs, “there’s always something besides doing the job.”

Since launching in 1986, CCI has evolved from exclusively doing upholstery to branching into slipcovers and window coverings. Now, its business portfolio is equally distributed between selling blinds (made elsewhere), draperies (some made on site), and re-upholstery. Slipcovers — 90% in the white spectrum — fill in the gaps.

There have been ebbs and flows, of course. “Honestly, other than the Great Recession, most of my unprofitable years were directly related to mistakes in hiring and not acting quickly enough. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this,” she emphasizes. Finding good workers is always a challenge, and when she posts a job on national upholstery websites, the biggest hurdle candidates raise is Wisconsin winters!

At its peak, CCI employed seven employees, but now it’s more of a family affair. Her 86-year old father/baker/gardener stops in every day to see if there’s work to be done. He’s particularly good at removing staples from wood, Lane Krenz explains, which, depending on the hardness of the wood frames and the number of staples, can take as long as seven hours. “That’s just one reason why I’m very grateful for my dad,” she smiles.

Rick, her significant other, handles pickups, deliveries, and maintenance; Toni Brunker is the shop’s window-treatment specialist; and sister-in-law and sewer Lena handles slipcovers, draperies, and cushions. “Everyone gets paid,” Lane Krenz states.

For over three decades, Lane Krenz has enjoyed breathing new life into well-made furniture. Above, she adds fabric to cording that will be attached with a staple gun around the perimeter of a couple of chairs the company is re-upholstering.

Early beginnings

The McFarland native recalls being an unemployed 25-year-old in search of a career when she wandered into a local upholstery shop one day. “I didn’t know anything about upholstery, but I’d sewn my entire life,” Lane Krenz states. “Something inside me just clicked. ‘I can do this!’” she realized. She continued to stop in every week until the shop owner hired her.

So what’s the attraction? “I love creating something from nothing,” she says. “I don’t like doing routine cleaning as a rule, but give me a big mess and I’ll transform it or reorganize things. Re-upholstery suits that.”

Lane Krenz still has a photo of her first job: giving a wingback sofa new life “in a Waverly Cranston blue plaid,” she recites confidently.

And recently, while at a local St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, some furniture caught her eye. “I know for a fact that I did that set in 1989,” she remarks. “I remembered that fabric so distinctly and took a closer look. Yep, it was my work,” she smiles.

Twists and trends

Much has changed over the years, particularly in furniture styles and quality. “What I thought used to be only mediocre quality, I’m now pleased to see,” she says sadly, noting that today’s furniture is often poorly made and disposable.

Gone are the days when customers were familiar with terms like kiln-dried hardwood frames, corner-blocked, or coil-spring eight-way tied. “Now, many people either don’t know or don’t care about furniture quality the way they used to. We actually turn down a lot of re-upholstery work because it’s just not worth re-upholstering.”

A lot of poor quality furniture is made in China, she explains, shipped to the U.S. in cartons and pieces, assembled, stapled with black netting on the bottom, and then slapped with the Assembled in America tag. “Watch for that phrase!” she cautions.

“The upholstery industry is very concerned,” Lane Krenz admits. Occasionally she sees glimmers of hope that quality is making a comeback as people tire of replacing uncomfortable pieces every few years.

It’s true that the state of North Carolina still produces excellent quality furniture, she says, but garage sales and thrift stores can be great resources too, as items can be re-upholstered to a consumer’s tastes.

Fabrics have changed, as well, from the large, floral cabbage-rose patterns of old to solids and subtle textures. “I cut my teeth on matching flowers on upholstery. Now I can’t remember the last time we did a floral sofa.”

Soft velvets are also trending. “They’re very pet-able and scream to be touched,” she smiles, “and draperies are coming back in a big way,” she laughs, “fully operable, pinch-pleated, wall-to-wall drapes that shut the world out.”

Is this a sign of the times, perhaps?



Cindy’s workshop

The CCI shop is chock full of fabric books for perusing, feeling, and dreaming, but the furniture transformations occur downstairs in the spacious and bright lower level.

Top, foam padding on a wooden drapery awning will be removed and replaced, but not before wrinkles are ironed out of the new fabric.

There, several projects are in the works. Fabric is being cut on a large table, the last of four wood and upholstered chairs is getting recovered, cushions are being stuffed, and a newly upholstered orange sofa is ready to be delivered.

Two men drop off three pieces of chiropractic furniture needing to be recovered. The mood is friendly and familiar, a benefit of long-time, repeat clients.

Lane Krenz takes a seat at a sewing machine. “My manicure is typical of an average upholsterer,” she laughs as she loads a bobber with upholstery thread and attaches fabric to cording that will be attached to the velvet chair.

Generally, furniture reupholstery involves removing fabric, inspecting the interior, re-springing, if necessary, re-padding, cutting fabric, and finally recovering.

Across the room, a drapery awning is being updated from a yellow to blue-stripe fabric, and in another room, the awning’s worn, foam padding will be replaced.

Business boom

Last fall, the business lost a long-time upholsterer to retirement, which Lane Krenz admits was unnerving. As a small business owner, she’s zigged and zagged many times over the years, and this was another challenge. But the change has allowed the business to be more selective of the work it takes on, and Lane Krenz is thrilled to return to hands-on upholstery again.

The results have been eye opening.

CCI profits are almost double what they were this time last year, she reports, and her gross is up 5%.

“My advice to other business owners is don’t be afraid of change. Change happens and sometimes it’s okay!”

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