Kristin Ottesen has found a way to do what she loves! She started her career in the social services industry, but she knew it wasn’t quite the right fit. Her mother taught her to sew at a young age and inspired Kristin’s love for upholstery design. Encouraged by her mother’s own entrepreneur experience, when a local upholstery company went up for sale in 2014, Kristin considered the purchase. Her mom recommended she visit the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UW-La Crosse for help in making the decision.
Terri Urbanek, an Outreach Specialist at the SBDC, helped Kristin weigh the pros and cons of buying the existing business. Together, the two women worked through financial projections, feasibility of success and overhead costs. When Kristin decided it was more practical to open her own business, Terri gave her the reassurance that she needed. Kristin said, “Terri was extremely easy to talk with and she introduced me to tons of resources. She brought up ideas about which I hadn’t even thought to ask.”
The Kristin Ottesen Upholstery business opened in 2015 in Holmen, WI. The site is the home of Kristin’s parents and she uses a three-car garage as space for crafting large projects that need ventilation. She also has a smaller workshop and gallery space in that home. “My own house in La Crosse serves as a gallery as well when clients want to see the types of projects I do,” Kristin shared. Local stores also host Kristin’s work as an alternative to factory-made pieces in their businesses.
Since opening, Kristin has made lots of changes to optimize her business. She has limited her upholstery services to be specific to furniture. Weeding out work on vehicle upholstery for cars and boats has given her a niche market and allowed her to uniquely enhance the quality of her products. She has added leather restoration and vinyl repair to her scope of work. In 2019, she adapted her estimate form to more accurately reflect pricing in Wisconsin. “I have learned to value my work, and not to give it away,” Kristin said. She also incorporated additional digital communication into her business, cutting the time she spent traveling to client sites by 75%. She partnered with La Crosse Movers for pick-up and delivery services and hired an accountant. Kristin also works with a local fine woodworking artisan and a woodworking finishing professional to complete the type of construction she does not do herself.
However, she does all the design and custom reupholstery as well as website and marketing on her own. “I love what I do!” she exclaimed. One of her favorite projects was a sofa reconstruction in which she added an accordion-style removable bed and altered the original seating structure to create a “sleeper sofa.” Another favorite project was a couch made of birch logs complete with bark. “It was fun and challenging to make this piece from scratch. I love the fine details in the project such as decorative nails and hand-tying coil springs in 8 different directions,” Kristen explained.
Accomplishment with UW-La Crosse SBDC
- Financial projections
- Feasibility study
- Overhead costs
Terri Urbanek, SBDC Outreach Specialist, commented, “Kristin knows her stuff! She can look at a piece of furniture and envision a design and estimate an approximate cost for a project.” Kristin looks forward to more growth and an even larger variety of projects in the future! Her five-year plan for Kristin Ottesen Upholstery includes moving to a facility that allows for bigger projects, more commercial work and easier accessibility for clients. She also dreams of someday teaching upholstery classes to preserve this nearly “lost” art that she loves.