Color your trips—with fabric that works

Competing coach salesmen were imbibing at a convention when one asked, “What’s the ugliest bus you’ve ever sold”

“Anvil Bus Line,” they yelled in unison (name changed to protect the artistically impaired).

This successful company’s coaches were blah on the outside but hideous on the inside. Beauty may be skin deep, but “ugly is to the bone.” The owner allowed three family members to pick seat fabric, and they compromised by alternating three different colors by row. Inside the bus, it felt like you were being pummeled by a rainbow.

Choosing fabric, whether in spec’ing a new coach or refurbishing an older one, is a major decision because it’s the first thing customers see while boarding. If it’s perceived as inviting and comfortable, it colors the whole trip (pun intended).

Most fabric used in coaches is actually woven like lightweight carpet. In the past, changing patterns was difficult for the vendor, but modern computerized looms make unique designs possible.

Before you specify seat fabric boasting a picture of Elvis… consider a few things.

Quality seat covering lasts a long time, sometimes longer than our tolerance for a trendy pattern. Select one that your customers will enjoy several years hence. If someone spills something on Elvis, the stain may look like age spots—a capital offense.

If your choice is outside the manufacturer’s (or refurber’s) normal offerings, be aware that replacing a seat cover wounded by an attack of motion sickness may be costly. Fabric providers often have minimum order quantities.

One of my upscale customers ordered green corduroy seats, and they looked great. There were several problems. Minimum order quantity was three coaches worth, and he often ordered only two buses. He had to store the extra fabric and hope it was still usable when he needed it.

Corduroy isn’t carpet and  doesn’t wear as well, with costly implications. In addition, solid colors show stains. Once he had used up the green corduroy he’d stored in order to have replacements made, minimum order quantities meant he had to purchase enough to make hundreds of additional covers.

Eagle once offered three patterned fabrics—red, blue and brown—all with random blotches of color. A stain often improved them. While not recommending this psychedelic approach, do consider how your choice will age.

Horizontal stripes make seats look wider (and more inviting to we calorically challenged). On the other hand, trying to align them is irritating. Some fabrics have a horizontal pattern in the middle and solid towards the edges, offering the wide look without driving installers nuts.

Try to strike a balance between inviting and aging well. A spectacularly hip pattern may be beauteous in its youth and (figuratively) a pain in the butt as time passes. The same holds true with the weave quality itself. No matter how nice it looks new, if it has holes in it a couple of years later….

My start in the industry was transporting high schoolers cross-country in the summer. Our boss found a fabric that was bulletproof. Kevlar hadn’t been invented, so best guess is that it was woven from surplus WWII tank armor. It was black, so it held heat nicely in our occasionally air-conditioned coaches.

The downside was that it was so stiff and hard that every time we hit a bump, kids would bounce and hit the ceiling. Helmets solved that.

On hot days, one benefit was that the ones wearing shorts stuck to the seats. No need for seat belts and very entertaining every time they tried to get up at a rest stop.


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