Customer Stories | King and Eastland Upholsterers
You name it and, over the 38 years they’ve been in business together, master craftsmen Kevin Eastland and Alan King have covered it: contemporary three-piece suites to antique Chesterfields – with your odd classic car thrown in for good measure.
“There’s no average day,” says Kevin, of the business, based in Horsham, West Sussex. “We get a real mix of jobs. New furniture, old furniture, family heirlooms, Nan’s old chair.
“We even re-upholstered a 1904 Cadillac once. Our passion is restoring pieces to their original beauty and our motto, if you like, is ‘If it’s been covered, we can cover it. And sometimes if it hasn’t been covered, we can cover it.’
Pull up a chair…
Kevin and Alan pride themselves on giving as much care and attention to modern pieces as they do vintage furniture.
“People see the furniture we restore every day in their homes – so it’s really important that we’re proud of the work we’ve done. If I wouldn’t be happy with it in my own home it won’t leave the workshop,” says Kevin.
He admits he’s a perfectionist – but that’s only good for business.
“The lines have to be straight. The patterns have to match up. I annoy my wife sometimes looking through the Sunday supplements, pointing out pictures of sofas that look off,” he laughs. “I said to my son, who’s just started his own business as a plumber and gas engineer, ‘If you get your pipes straight you’ll never get a complaint’. As an apprentice, you’re taught from an early age that everything has to be straight and centred.”
Covering customers’ needs since 1981…
Kevin, now 62, and Alan, 64, have known each other since they were kids, where they grew up on the same council estate in Ashtead in Surrey, and went to the same secondary school.
At 15, they both took up apprenticeships; Alan going into carpet laying and Kevin training in aircraft and boat seating. However, when two jobs with the same upholstery firm came up the boys went for it.
“There are only so many times you can refit a Jumbo Jet,” Kevin says. “Upholstery was one of those trades that incorporated restoration, curtains, carpet laying. I loved it from day one.”
A few years later, still working for the same business – but both having married and moved out of town – Kevin and Alan decided to take the plunge and go into business together closer to home.
They kept their 9-5 going, while working on their own venture at weekends, and eventually opened King & Eastland in the summer of 1981.
Carving out a niche…
Over the subsequent decades, King & Eastland have built up a strong client base and an even stronger reputation for quality, affordability – and likeability.
It’s all about customer service, first and foremost, they say.
“As any new business that starts out, knows: the customer is king or queen. They may not always be right, but that’s down to you to explain – and they’ll respect you for it if you do it nicely.
“We make a point of always delivering people’s furniture when we say we’re going to, and if there’s ever a problem with anything we’ve done, we’ll be round that afternoon or the next day at the latest.”
“Good job, good price”…
Fair pricing is also key. “An antique dealer once said to us ‘You have to do a good job at a good price’ and I echo that. You don’t need to be the cheapest but you need to offer a product or service that matches your price.” (We’re totally on board with this ethos!)
Staying on top of economic changes is vital, too. “Small business will always survive but you need to stay alert and informed. Take Brexit, you have to look into all the potential outcomes for your business, and have the right conversations with the right people.
“A lot of our fabrics come from Europe but because we’ve spoken to people in the trade, we’ve discovered that if needs be, our suppliers can get fabrics in from America.”
Friendship (the other fabric of their business)
“People say ‘You must argue’ but we don’t really,” says Kevin. “Our abilities and personalities have complemented each other over the years.”
The only time there’s ever a niggle is over football. “We’re both Chelsea fans and we’ll both watch the same match, then come in on Monday and it’s like we’ve watched two totally different matches! We’re a bit like an old married couple in that we don’t argue, we just bicker.”
Bionic adds polish…
Although Kevin and Alan have been a two-man business since they started out, they say using Bionic for their electricity and gas for almost 10 years has been like having an extra employee on board.
“It’s brilliant. Bionic are always at the end of phone and they’re always aware of when our contracts are going to end, so they flag those up,” says Kevin. “As a small business there are so many things you have to deal with - insurance, vehicles, utilities – so if you can rely on someone to help you take care of some of that, it’s great. It’s like having an expert employee at the end of the phone line.”
He adds, “We trust Bionic 100%. Not only have they helped us make good savings, they’ve made making them, easy.”
Designs on the future…
With work booked up at least 8 to ten weeks in advance, a buzzing workshop – where everyone’s welcome to pop by for a cuppa and watch the duo work – and an influx of exciting and challenging new briefs, Kevin and Alan are in no hurry to hang up their tools.
“I’ll probably still be going when I’m 104,” says Kevin. “There’s always work out there. Building up our reputation and seeing the same customers come back year after year has been our biggest achievement,” he says.
The boys are still up for new challenges, too – including taking on their dream corporate client if they ever came their way.
“If Chelsea FC came in tomorrow and told us they wanted their club room re-upholstered then that would be right up our street!” says Kevin.