Winners for the 6th Annual Top Shelf Design awards competition were announced earlier this year in Austin, TX, at the 2012 Closets Expo. Several closet designers were on hand to claim their awards, including first-time winner Susan Gelwicks Thompson of The Closet Designer in Stuart, FL.

After the ceremony at the opening night reception, Thompson said she could hardly believe her eyes: In her hands were three prestigious design awards. Appearing in her life all at once this past February, it was like special delivery valentines. They were the only national awards she’d ever won…not because she didn’t deserve them, she says, but because, in the course of her 30-year design career, she had never entered national competitions.

Awards weren’t that important to her, but a happy clientele was.

Now, not only has she gained peer recognition, but she also has a tool that can change her business forever, she says. In addition to winning awards in two design categories in Top Shelf Awards she was also named Overall Winner in the juried competition, for her "Caypso Palms' Laundry Room."

Cabinet and Closet Awards

To enter the 7th annual Top Shelf Design Awards, visit The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2013. Winners will be announced at the Cabinets & Closets Conference & Expo, February 27 - March 1, 2013 in Edison, NJ.

Winners from Custom Woodworking Business Design Portfolio will also be showcased at the Cabinet & Closets Conference & Expo. Deadline for entry is Nov. 1, 2012. For more information visit


Public Relation Tips

Once you have an award in hand, here are six quick tips for leveraging it, according to Pat Williams of Pat Williams and Associates in Stuart, Florida.

1. Immediately tweet or text the news to your client base and inner circle.

2. Have a 300 dpi (or better) photo taken of you at the ceremony or holding the award in your professional setting for immediate placement on your website and Facebook page.

3. Start using the phrase “award-winning” in all marketing.

4. Write or hire a writer to produce and distribute a professional media release to a target media list.

5. Forward all media coverage to your client base.

6. Develop a presentation you can make to groups based on your recognized “expertise.”

Prior to relocating to Stuart five years ago, Thompson had thriving commercial and residential design practices in Louisville, KY; the Turks and Caicos Islands; and Fort Lauderdale. Now settled on Florida’s Treasure Coast, she focuses solely on closets and custom storage projects. She has transformed more than 700 closets, pantries, laundry rooms and workspaces into customized, efficient spaces that are so inviting clients say they like to keep the doors open to show off her work. Susan and her husband Tom live on the St. Lucie River and enjoy sailing the Atlantic on their 46-foot sailboat.

A Seed of Doubt
A chance lecture Gelwicks Thompson attended a year earlier at a conference had planted a seed of doubt about her “no-awards-necessary” philosophy. The presenter had stressed how awards could be powerfully leveraged to gain credibility and increase business and had challenged attendees to give it a try.

Despite being a procrastinator and hating completing the online submissions, she decided to enter two projects in the competition. After she won, Thompson knew she had to make the most of it.

She immediately called public relations specialist Pat Williams of Pat Williams and Associates also in Stuart, FL. Impressed with the publicity Williams had done for the local Children’s Home Society Designer Showcase House in which Thompson's work had been featured, she decided to give her a call.

Williams went to work right away. “You know you can now call yourself ‘America’s Top Closet Designer,’ don’t you?” she asked.

Williams advised Thompson that before doing anything else she needed a website upgrade, new upscale business cards, a head shot and professional photos of her work. Once completed, Williams engineered several articles in local publications, as well as a radio interview, coverage valued in advertising terms at $17,500. Thompson then sent those articles to her email database to generate excitement among clients and potential clients.

The result: Thompson was asked to affiliate with a builder of multi-million dollar homes, and she was hired by several clients doing major home renovations. Also, the average dollar amount of her contracts quadrupled, she says.

With those results, Gelwicks Thompson decided to submit an entry for the Wood Diamond Award sponsored by the Cabinet Makers Association for a compact laundry room she designed. She won first place this past August and was immediately invited to speak at the Cabinets & Closets Conference & Expo, Feb. 27 - March 1, 2013 in Edison, NJ, on how to leverage awards.

Now that Thompson knows the marketing power of awards, she says she encourages others to go for it, too. “What do you have to lose? You’ve done the work. You have your reputation. Why not let your peers judge you? If you win, you will have something powerful to take you to the next level. It’s wonderful to be recognized by your peers. It’s validation.”

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