Closet design is a really fun and fascinating career. One that most people aren't aware of as an option, nor are they aware that you can make great money designing and selling closets.
It's a field that has roots in California, with Neil Balter and Eric Marshall creating and installing the first "Double Hang", "Long Hang" and "Shoe Shelf" systems for what is now California Closets.
Yet it still has elements of a cottage industry. Eighty percent of closet companies in the US are small businesses that have revenues under a million dollars a year. Some manufacture and install their own components. Others buy from distributors and install.
But when it comes to the "design" part of closets - it's a very left brain and right brain discipline.
The left brain involves the measuring, math and space planning, along with the sense of how structure will fit into tight space and be able to function properly. And have structural integrity. There always has to be structural integrity.
The right brain is the connection to clients in one of the most intimate environments in the home - the bedroom closet. You have to develop trust, a great rapport, ask great questions, understand design and be able to convey that to a client. Woosh.
So what are your options if you're somehow led to a career in closet design?
What skills do you need?
How can you become successful?
Let's start with your options
You can approach a large closet company like California Closets or Closet Factory who has a local franchise/dealership in your market. Companies this size often have in-house training programs.
Should you go through the interview process and get a job offer, they will set up and coordinate training for you. They often have a sales/design/installation manual and will also set you up to shadow other design team members on sales calls. Some provide a mentor from the design team for a certain amount of time who you can access with questions.
A second option is to approach a smaller local company to see if they'd be interested in adding a member to their closet design and sales team.
These companies tend to have less formal training. You'll likely work alongside the owner, who will be pretty hands-on in teaching you their systems, design solution preferences and sales procedures.
With any luck, they've got at least some kind of design and procedure manual that you can start with. If not, consider enrolling in Closet Design 101
Left Brain/Right Brain Closet Design
The analytical side of your brain is as important as the emotional side of your brain when you're a closet designer.
Accurate measurements are a key to success. And you need to be able to measure very wide and very high spaces as well as all kinds of obstacles, including steam units, access panels, wall outlets and all kinds of other things that builders tend to put into closet space.
You also need an awareness of what will be involved to get the job installed. Things like will the materials fit into the building elevator or is special cutting or drilling required? They all affect price and customer satisfaction.
The more emotional, right brain side of you will need to be comfortable with discussing a range of things like where people put their underwear to how to incorporate the latest design trends into a closet space.
Sell! Sell! Sell!
The love of consultative selling is a big part of being a closet designer. The job involves much more than just figuring out an effectively designed space.
You need to be comfortable with communicating the benefits of this home improvement, which involves project pricing (more than one reach in closet) that typically starts at $1500 and quickly rises from there.
And it's a predominantly commission-based career. Designers receive a percentage of the job totals that they sell. Averages are around 10% but can include bonuses for high monthly sales or bringing in your own customers.
Most average closet designers end up with annual compensation in the $30,000 - $40,000 range in smaller markets. Higher in a place like Chicago if they're any good. Yet it's not unusual to build a client base over time that brings in over $100,000 per year. To reach that level you need time, consistency and the ability to ask, ask, ask.
Getting a handle on well-designed closet space is not as quick of a learning curve as it used to be. It's become much more complex in the last decade as awareness has increased (thank you Modern Family and Kardashian Family) as has the technology to create better-looking materials and accessories.
And requests from clients for custom things also continues to rise. My advice on this is to develop your expertise and don't over promise. As you learn more and more, you'll begin to understand what's involved in custom requests. And you'll start to see why they can quickly cost more than their return on the investment (or more than the client wants to invest in the project).
Anyone with melamine and a drill can install "custom closets". My goal is to elevate the professionalism in this industry so we're all creating effectively designed, functional and beautiful closet spaces. I invite you to join me. You can start here by getting my five favorite closet design tips - https://butchkoandcompany.lpages.co/5-closet-design-tips/
Denise Butchko is a festive, design-focused practitioner and teacher who works within the Design/Build niche'.As a collaborator with designers and architects, she merges design skills (designing closets and home offices) and marketing skills, for messaging and methodologies that are laser focused. Find out more at denisebutchko.com
To find out more about closet design training - here's some additional info on that: