In the late 1980s the closet industry as we know it was just beginning to burst onto the scene. The concept of custom closets and home organizational systems really began to take hold in the public consciousness with the founding of California Closets in 1985. It was the inception of the industry, essentially — a new concept, or a new branding for custom systems that prompted interest among woodworkers (as well as the media). Joseph Adelfio, owner of Closettec NJ, located in Manalapan, NJ, was one such woodworker whose interest was piqued when he ran across an article about California Closets in a trade magazine.
At the time Adelfio was operations manager for a large kitchen cabinet company — with approximately 105 employees and grossing nearly $10 million in sales annually. “I ran the whole factory,” he says. His brother, Michael, was one of his floor supervisors. Despite that success, the idea of starting a new closets business was something that really appealed to him, largely, because it was a product that he had never heard of branded in that way, he says. Plus, it seemed to be a cottage industry that was up-and-coming. “I wanted to get in on the ground floor.”
In 1988, after initial research on the custom closet and home organization industry, Adelfio says he decided to fly up to Boston to visit with a local Closettec franchise. That visit helped to seal the deal: He purchased a Closettec franchise in 1989 with the help of his parents who had registered some initial skepticism at the idea of a closets company. “I told my parents that I needed money to start a closets business, and they were like, 'Huh, what the hell is a closet company?'”
Because Adelfio recognized the industry potential, he was able to convince them that it would be a solid investment: They agreed, on the condition he take along his brother Michael — current operations manager for Closettec NJ.
“So, we took a chance. It was slow at the beginning,” he says. “My brother and I did everything: We sold, we manufactured and we installed.”
Their kitchen cabinetmaking experience helped them to develop a manufacturing plan that was went beyond the franchise concept of reselling product that they had purchased. “We bought our own materials and relied on our experience as cabinetmakers,” Adelfio says.
Diversification Drives Growth
Since 1989, the Adelfio brothers have continued to use their cabinetmaking experience to help them grow and diversify their closets business. They have managed to weather a number of obstacles. A fire in 2009 burned down their office and showroom. And the economic downturn, which hampered many cabinetmakers and closet designers and manufacturers, impacted them as well.
“When we started the closets business we just did closets because that was keeping us very busy. But in 2008 when the economy turned we had to reinvent ourselves,” Adelfio says. That reinvention involved showing their clientele that they could manufacture not only custom closets but custom cabinetry for kitchens, media centers and other residential and commercial projects.
Although the economy has been a drag on the industry, Closettec was fortunate in that it has seen significant growth over the past several years, in part because of its reinvention.
“We've been growing 10 to 15 percent per year. We really haven't been hit that hard with the economic downturn,” Adelfio says. “It's been tough and you have to work hard, but we are going in the right direction.”
That confidence emboldened the company to take a chance and purchase a new building and surrounding property, which was heavily-discounted with good interest rates due to the economy. Closettec purchased it in February of 2011 and moved in July.
The 9,000-square-foot building and 17-acre parcel of land is located in Manalapan, NJ. The 50-year old building was previously used as a sheet metal stamping shop.
Michael was in charge of gutting the entire building and bringing it up-to-date as a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and showroom that reflected the company's reinvention strategy, Adelfio says.
Approximately 3,000 square feet were allotted for the showroom and office, which was incorporated into the showroom displays. This emphasizes Closettec's ability to manufacture residential as well as commercial projects, which account for nearly 5 percent of the company's business — from existing clients who initially contracted for residential work and then requested work for their own small businesses. One such client was a car wash owner, a Closettec customer for years, who needed to renovate his car wash. “He gave us a shot and he loved it,” Adelfio says.
Approximately 14 vignettes are displayed in the showroom including a custom mudroom; an office/closet configuration with file cabinets and shelving; a functioning, custom kitchen; wine storage; pantry; hide-away bed from Hafele; garage system and media center.
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