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Family upholstery business grows

Several members of the Berres family helped open an upholstery business in River Falls last week. Adults (left to right) are Joe Berres, Rachael Canter and Mike Berres; kids (left to right) are Jackson, Devin, Charlie and Bennett.

Michael "Mike" Berres said Friday, Feb. 3, marked the first day open at new business Berres Upholstery Services, LLC, River Falls where he is the owner-operator. The new shop is open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment after hours.

A steady flow of customers -- from the curious to those on an upholstery mission --stopped in to see him and his brother Joe, who's working with him.

Berres said the River Falls location marks the second family upholstery business in the region. Berres' father, Ralph, has operated a home-based company named Berres Custom Upholstery in New Richmond for about the past nine years.

The younger Berres said about the two family businesses, "We're working alongside each other," explaining that the two are separate business entities that will help each other and work cooperatively.

He explains that his dad has about 30 years of experience doing upholstery; Berres, 31, said he grew up with sewing machines in the kitchen and other aspects of the business all around him. The two sons have also helped their dad with different parts of his work -- off and on -- all their lives.

"We focus on both commercial and residential," said Berres, "auto, marine and furniture."

The businessman shows pictures of custom-upholstered boats -- some matching the original exterior paint and some with customized looks.

He provides fabric solutions for everything from an antique sofa to the interior of a restored hot rod.

So how'd he, a resident of New Richmond, end up in a River Falls location? An upholstery job for lobby chairs at the River Falls location of the Chippewa Valley Technical College brought him to town. He'd also done some work for the Moody family car dealership over the years.

One day when leaving town, he drove north on Main Street and noticed the small, white building at 645 N. Main St., which the Moody family owns.

Berres had been thinking about the different ways he could support his blended family, which includes himself, Rachael Canter and four sons from 8 years to seven months.

"I've always wanted to own my own business," he said.

Berres liked the building but said it needed a lot of work before move in -- mainly removing partition walls and replacing a bad section of subfloor. Berres says he'll make more improvements to the building exterior once spring arrives.

He reconfigured the inside space to accommodate his sewing table -- a place he calls the "bread and butter spot."

He said his brother, Joe, a veteran Marine who returned from service in Iraq, helped him finish the prep work and will help him run the shop.

He and his brother started making improvements right after Christmas. The two redid the lobby area floors and walls; they're also creating a custom-seating bench for the front area that highlights their upholstery skills.

Berres said it's been a bit scary spending so much money but not bringing any in yet.

Weaving the fabric of family

Berres said between stints of working with his dad, he's held various other jobs -- in cell-phone sales, at a machine shop. He said enrolling in business courses at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College opened his eyes to new possibilities and made the timing of the new-business idea just about perfect.

He learned in school not only a lot about business, but also problem solving, how best to work with others, the psychology of customers and more.

"It's been quite the interesting experience," he said.

He's also researched the history of the upholstery craft and found out it's an ancient art. To Berres, all the factors seemed to indicate: It could be a legitimate business and the timing was good.

He thinks the recessed economy has affected business but possibly in a good way. People are holding onto and refurbishing what they have, as opposed to buying new stuff.

He thinks "we" were much more of a throwaway society before the recession than now. Berres' business gives people another way to "reduce, re-use and recycle."

He says the business sees a surge in some kinds of jobs at different times. Auto jobs tend to come throughout the year; people bring in more furniture during the winter and more boats in the spring.

Berres said the projects mostly depend on what people need at the time. "Some people like custom, some people go original, we can do both."

Reach Berres Upholstery Services at 715-425-5776 or 651-246-5777.