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"Cars Get Custom Upholstery, Fisher-Griffin Stays in Family"

-By Anna Guido, Enquirer Contributor

WALNUT HILLs - Bruce Fisher was a young soldier in the U.S. Army during World War II when he was captured by the enemy in the Battle of the Bulge and sent to Hammelburg prison camp.

There, out of necessity, he sewed his uniform to keep it from falling apart, a shill he had learned from his dad, who upholstered seats for horse-drawn carriages.

Fisher, 83, retired five years ago from Fisher-Griffin Co., known in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky for its automotive upholstery, interior restoration and convertible top work.

Two of Fisher's children Whit and Branden, now run the company.

"They're doing very well, better than I ever did," Bruce Fisher said of his sons. "I'm very pleased with them and I don't meddle in their business at all. I'm retired completely.

Whit Fisher smiles when he recalls the day his father - a University of Cincinnati-educated lawyer - handed over the business.

"It was December 3oth five years ago, and we were leaving for the holidays," Whit said. "Dad locked the door, turned to us, gave us the keys and said'I'm done.

That sudden transition into business ownership "initially was tough," Branden Fisher said. But in no time, he and Whit developed a good working relationship and defied the stereotype of third-generation family business owners, recited by Branden as follows: "The first generation makes it, the second generation maintains it, the third generation loses it."

Under their leadership, Fisher-Griffin Co. has grown 6 percent to 7 percent a year, with revenues last year ranging between $750,000 and $1 million.

Some of the growth is attributed to a new segment of the business: upholstery of office furniture, kitchen chairs, medical exam tables, exercise equipment and restaurant seating.

The Fisher brothers diversified their upholstery work beyond the automotive industry to increase profits enough to pay both of their salaries. 

Some noteworthy jobs they've done in recent years include some of the Army's armor plated Chevy Suburbans in Iraq, club-level seating at Great American Ball Park; goal post padding at Paul Brown Stadium; and booth cushions for Skyline Chili restaurants.

"I take my cars to them, my brothers take their cars to them, and we've used them quite often to do our booth seating and stools," Cam Misleh, a Skyline franchise owner.

Misleh said the Fisher brothers are "honest, efficient and provide a good service at a fair price."

Auto expert Steve Overbeck - a self proclaimed "quality-control freak" - said he does nearly everything but upholstering at his collision and mechanical repair shop in Madisonville.

"The only thing I ship out for is upholstering, and sometimes glass," Overbeck said.

Fisher-Griffin's work is done right the first time and "looks like it's from the factory," he said.

Covertible top restoration is the single largest component of Fisher-Griffin's business. 

Fisher brothers said their goal is to expand this facet of the business even more, and they don't expect it will be difficult since convertible cars sales in the United States are on the rise.

Auto Trim & Restyling News, a Torrance, Calif., trade publication, in its June issue cited statistics from R.L. Polk & Co. that convertible car sales grew 6.3 percent nationwide between 2003 and 2004, a rate faster than the light vehicle market, which grew only 1.4 percent (based on vehicle registrations), editor Greg Basich said.

Basich said the report also noted the introduction of nearly a dozen new convertible models in recent years.

The Fishers say the economy - regardless of its state - is always on the side of their niche business.

"It's recession, proof," Whit Fisher said.

When the economy is down, customers come in for repairs on vehicles they can't afford to sell. And when the economy is up, customers come in for repairs because they can afford to sell. 

Customer Steve Grace of Hyde Park stopped in last month for a repair of his 1979 Porsche.

"I brought it here to have it fixed properly," Grace said. "But I also like the rapport."

Learn more about why Fisher-Griffin Co. is the auto upholstery company for you by contacting us today at (513)961-2110 in Cincinnati, Ohio