Mark Benson never planned to become an upholsterer, much less own his own custom upholstery business, Benson's Upholstery (3044 Galleria Drive, Metairie, 504-831-5244; www.bensons-upholstery.com). During college in the 1970s, Benson received his family's unwanted furniture. Instead of living with worn cast-offs, Benson decided to fix up the pieces.
"It was either that or have ratty furniture," Benson says. "I liked working on automobiles when I was younger, so I was always good with my hands."
Benson sought guidance from family members who knew about upholstery, but he is primarily self-taught. Once Benson finished his pieces, he received upholstery requests from people who had seen his work. He continued to work through college in the back of a convenience store, where he first opened his business. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, he was a marketing executive for his cousin Tom Benson, who owns the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans.
"He was my inspiration, showing me what it takes to create a successful business," Benson says.
Benson left his marketing position in 1996 to fully devote himself to his upholstery business. It offers complete upholstery services for commercial and residential customers, designer fabrics and leather upholstery, as well as custom cushions, pillows and replacement foam for worn-out seats. "We are leather and commercial upholstery specialists, and we do residential furniture," Benson says. "We are deadline-oriented, fast and precise."
Although Benson is self-taught, he felt it was important to hire people with a solid background in the business. His head upholsterer, Mike Vonderhaar, is a second-generation upholsterer. Benson's son and daughter, now working in the Navy and as a dermatologist, respectively, worked in the shop when they were younger.
"As they grew up, they both worked in the business, so it gave them a good work ethic," Benson says.
A native New Orleanian whose family has been in the city for many generations, Benson values his longstanding relationships.
"We appreciate the relationships we have with the local businesses, and they appreciate the outstanding service," Benson says. "My greatest responsibility is to provide the best possible product and in turn maintain a healthy business for my employees and customers."