Closet-Tec: Boom Times to Survival

From 2005 to 2007 my business Closet.Tec thrived in Sarasota, FL. Like most companies in the burgeoning home storage and organization industry, we grew at a rapid rate, in tandem with the housing boom, at approximately 25 percent a year. We hired more installers, more shop workers and more designers to cope with the rapid growth and the increase of customer demands.

During the economic downturn, one of Closet.Tec’s strategic decisions was to implement 3-D design software and automated pricing.

In 2005, our company had two people in manufacturing, two designers, two office personnel, and two installers. In the years following Closet.Tec grew to five in manufacturing, five designers, six installers and two in the office, with demand for even more personnel. But we only added staff as a last resort. What a great story: a small company growing without significant debt, very good returns to the bottom line, and annual sales in the multi-million dollar range.

We added new equipment, including a Biesse beam saw, smaller table saws, more trucks with full equipment capable of 100 percent on-the-job-site installation, repair, and even re-configurations.

During the early years of all our designs were done manually in 3-D. Each new designer had to be trained and educated in the art of 3-D design. A model for pricing had to be developed and refined to insure consistent pricing of all projects by each different designer. With our great success we decided to expanded beyond closets into fine custom media centers, home offices and custom furniture pieces, all of which increased the complexity of the design and pricing.

Recognizing that we had begun to shift into a more automated world for design, pricing and production, we decided to hire a computer experienced person capable of placing the 3-D design onto a 3-D CAD system. This ensured accurate manufacturing, exact angle calculations and produced a blue print for the installers so the project could be properly installed on the customer premise.

In hindsight, this was a super decision. Now installations were more accurate and manufacturing was not constantly re-doing cuts, re-drilling and redoing edgebanding for each job. Secondly, the installation team was assured it had all the required parts to install the job before they left the plant for some remote sites, often a hundred miles or more from the manufacturing site.

Then the world changed. Southwest Florida, like other regions, went from a peak of 35 percent housing growth to zero growth. Companies began losing business at a rate they could not imagine. Home building halted, developers crashed, projects ended abruptly, and unemployment soared. The demand for custom closets stopped almost overnight. Closet.Tec, like other companies in the area, was faced with layoffs and the spectre of having to halt operations.

Closet.Tec evolved from a simple closet manufacturer to a producer of additional storage solutions for the home and commercial office.However, we had made one smart decision back in 2005 that was key to our survival. We had purchased a Biesse panel saw to complement our Altendorf sliding table saw. This allowed fewer workers to produce the goods required for installation of the sold products. Secondly, we had evolved from a simple closet manufacturer to a successful producer of fine home offices, media centers, custom accent pieces and commercial office solutions in medical, small legal and travel offices. Also, we had taken the 32mm closet system and developed 32mm solutions for these other markets. We developed solutions to use melamine desktops in place of traditional Formica or solid surfaces. This gave us the advantage of not just building closets, but providing a complete solution to market needs. This strategy resulted in the company producing a balance sale of closets, media centers, home office and yes even garages and pantries.

Next, we had to move from hand designs to the world of automated designs and pricing.

I had a successful 35-year career in the high tech market, so I began the search for the right solution for Closet.Tec to design in 3-D. After nearly a year of evaluating current offerings and cost, we selected Planit Software’s Solid design solution.

The software was installed in 2006 and for the next 18 months modules were developed that matched our needs in the design of closets, home offices, wall beds, garages, media centers, pantries and custom furniture pieces. All designers were trained on the final solution and then custom development began for output directly to manufacturing for the production needs of the company. This was key in the coming years when designs had to be completed quickly and with fewer designers to meet those market demands. (Closet.Tec’s 13 additional steps for success.)

Looking Toward Expansion
At the height of the economic downturn, survival was key. Designers were let go or kept on a commission-only basis. Installers, manufacturing and expenses were reduced to the absolute minimum to ensure our company’s survival.

But as good luck and good planning would have it, Closet.Tec survived by making strategic business decisions. We remain a vibrant business looking forward to expanding once again with even more bottomline profit and increased employment. It is clear that with the actions taken in the past difficult years have equipped the company to grow with the market demands.

Every employee of this family-owned business has had to extend his work commitment to the company while maintaining the company position of excellence. This was proven by our 2010 selection as the “First Place Closet Company” in Sarasota by the Herald Tribune’s annual survey of BEST companies. In addition, we received two Top Shelf Design Awards from CLOSETS, plus we were recently listed on Wood & Wood Products’ WOOD 100 list of the fastest growing woodworking companies.