Auto Pro Interiors: Speed and quality work on any vehicle


The basic design of people's posteriors have not changed since Adam and Eve discovered the need for fig leaves. At least that's what I've heard.

Even thousands of years of bouncing around on the backs of horses didn't cause our buttocks to change their basic design.

Where we put that portion of our anatomy has changed a great deal, however, especially in the past few decades.

Just ask Chuck Bench, owner of Automotive Professional Interiors, 4000 Old Camden Road in Dalzell.

An early 1990s-era back seat from a General Motors SUV sitting in his shop is made from some metal framing and springs, some padding and a vinyl covering. The seatbelts were likely bolted to the floor.

Nearby, a look at the bottom of a 2017 seat his shop has upgraded to leather may come from a General Motors SUV, but a few things are different.

There are plugs for heating, cooling and adjusting the seat. Wires detect if the seatbelt, or "restraint system," is fastened.

And air bags located along the side of the seatbacks take it to a whole other level.

"The stitching over the bags can only be done on a $30,000 sewing machine," Bench said.

They must be ordered pre-stitched from the factory, he said.

As far as anything else having to do with auto upholstery, Bench is ready.

Bench and his wife, Laura, opened the shop at its current location in 2010, and he said the business is thriving.

Bench grew up in a Navy family, he said, and was born in Japan. While his father was in the service, he lived in such places as Guam, San Diego and Charleston. After his dad took a post which did not require much travel, they spent most of his teenage years in Charleston, he said.

The mother of a friend of his had an upholstery shop in Charleston, and after a lunch conversation, she hired him to work in her shop, which did all kinds of upholstery, including furniture, boats and cars.

Bench then followed his father into the Navy and spent four years as an aviation electronic technician.

After leaving the service, Bench worked at several upholstery shops in Charleston before taking a job at a shop in Sumter in 2007.

Once he and his wife had some money saved up, they opened Auto Pro Interiors.

"Me and my wife homeschool the kids; that was a main reason to start my own business," he said.

The couple wanted to be different from many auto upholstery shops, he said, so they made sure they had a clean, modern-looking waiting area.

Instead of having cars sit around waiting to be worked on, Auto Pro Interiors checks what the vehicle will need in terms of parts and matching fabric, takes a deposit and puts the customer on its schedule. When the scheduled time arrives, the customer brings in the car, and Bench is ready to do the work.

"Our customers feel safe leaving cars with us," he said.

Nothing is left out overnight, he said, and customers can even stream a video of the work being done, he said.

"It's an old iPad with a wide-angle lens," he said.

Bench is a big believer in having the right tools to do the job, even if the tools are expensive.

He pointed to his $3,000 juke sewing machine.

"It can do one stitch at a time and can readjust the needle automatically," he said.

Better tools allow Bench to do the work much faster.

"My labor rate might be higher, but we get stuff done quicker," Bench said. "I am always trying to think of ways to do the job faster and still beat everyone on quality."

Bench's time doing electronics in the Navy has come in handy for Bench.

The shop not only does upholstery, but also installs back-up cameras entertainment systems and navigation systems.

"A wrench-and-socket set doesn't cut it no more," he said.

Bench said doing custom motorcycle seats, leather seats and headliners are some of the shop's main lines of business, but they can do custom work on classic cars, as well.

He said he has worked on a $160,000 street rod, Maseratis, old Jaguars and classic Mercedes.

He and his wife have hit their business goals, he said.

"I wanted a car in a magazine, and now I have framed pictures all over," he said.