Closets by Design Boston owner Jeff Mitchell wasn’t worried about being an “industry outsider” when he acquired a Closets by Design franchise in the fall of 2016. Mitchell had spent most of his 25-year career with Dun and Bradstreet in a variety of different roles. He is using his experiences from a business/financial background and a keen ability to identify areas that need tweaking to streamline and grow his business.
 
“My tenure at Dun & Bradstreet included roles in many disciplines including finance and accounting, consulting, product management, software development, and sales. I was involved in leveraging the world’s largest database of commercial business information and predictive analytics to drive policy and procedural improvements in risk management, whether it is customer credit risk or the viability of a supplier. Over the last 10 years, I was solely focused on Supply Chain Risk Management. It was this wide variety of experience that largely centered improving processes that gave me the confidence to acquire and run this business,” says Mitchell.
 
Closets by Design Boston worked with key vendors like Arauco and Premoule to add new colors and textures.
 
“We finalized the purchase of the company on January 9, 2017, and I essentially acquired all the employees at that time, which included a healthy team of managers who have been with the business a long time. I was able to count on them while I came in and got my feet wet.”
 
One challenge that he addressed almost immediately was the expansion of his design staff. Closets by Design generates all its leads through advertising. “We don’t do any direct to consumer selling per se,” Mitchell says. His solution was to instigate an aggressive hiring program, increasing his staff from 14 to 24 designers in three months. 
 
The company also made a commitment to increase its advertising. “There is virtually a linear correlation between advertising spend and expanded sales.  Literally, the more you spend on advertising, the more you are going to sell,” he notes. “We also knew we had to have staff in place to handle the expected demand.”
 
 
Next, Mitchell wanted to make changes to the actual location of the facility. The company is in an old rope factory in Shirley, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. “The factory actually made ropes for the Navy,” he says. “It is in a complex that houses more than 60 businesses. The challenge with our manufacturing space is that it is below ground level. The 12,400-square-foot-space only had one access door to the production area. You open the garage bay and travel down a ramp that is sunk 3-1/2 feet below ground level and that was our factory floor. That was the only door from a loading and unloading perspective, all deliveries and finished product had to go in or out the one door. There were other egresses for safety reasons but they weren’t functional for material handling.”
 
According to Closets by Design Boston owner Jeff Mitchell, the investment in a dust collection system has increased productivity for the company.
 
Also, all of the dust collection was in there. “We had one large dust collector in a closed off room and three or four times a week we had to stop production to unload dust collection bags, which created a massive cloud of dust in the factory, in order to facilitate the removal and replacement of those bags. One of the first things I did was to invest in a dust collection system located exterior to the building. That provided us with a much better operating environment from a health and safety perspective, breathability, and clean air and it also increased productivity because we didn’t have to shut down two hours a week just to manage dust collection. It was a hefty investment but we created a better work environment while freeing up manufacturing space. The increase to productivity was pretty significant. You have 10 people in the factory and you multiply that by two hours a week. Twenty hours a week is a lot of production time that we were able to fold back into producing production capacity.”
Closets by Design’s production equipment from its CNC to edgebander features conveyor belts for material handling.
 
Key production equipment for the company includes a SCM CNC machine equipped with an automatic loader and a conveyor belt at the other end. “Basically once a job is programmed and the go button is pushed, whether it is two or 12 sheets of material, it will automatically cycle through and cut the entire job, with no manual loading of material. The Homag edgebander, another key piece, is equipped with a return conveyor belt and is operated by a single individual.”
 
Mitchell’s research of other possible locations for the business led him to realize the location was good, but the space still had physical handicaps that needed to be addressed, such as one single entry and exit point for all the material. 
 
Taking completed work back across the plant was a challenge. After looking at options to build or relocate to another space to lease Mitchell decided to talk to his landlord. “I said, ‘These are my concerns. This is what I am looking at doing and I don’t see how I can grow the business in this space.’” 
 
Mitchell said the landlord was open to working with him on figuring out how to facilitate improvements with the ability to grow. “We leased some additional space in adjacent areas and cut a new material loading door through the wall at the opposite end of the factory so that all my material comes in one end and exits the other end.” Mitchell said it was a massive undertaking but a huge improvement for productivity.
 
 “Another key area of focus was to expand and modernize our product offerings,” Mitchell says. “We worked with key vendors to introduce new colors and textures to our line-up and significantly increased the number of drawer and door faces in our decorative program. We use melamine products from Arauco and doors and drawers from Premoule. We manufacture our own beveled or routed surfaces and have increased our door faces by a factor of 100.”
 
Mitchell added, “For context, the changes we made have resulted in a 15% annual growth rate, and the efficiency gains have allowed us to produce a third more with essentially the same number of production staff.” 
 
Learn more at closetsbydesign.com.

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