Dream Closets of Sophia, North Carolina, sits on the most beautiful landscape of rolling green meadows and farmland. Ironically the site was supposed to be the setting for a golf course, notes one of the company’s founders, Phill Hunt. A golf pro for over 30 years, Hunt says the owner of the pastoral property, Terry Farlow, wanted him to design and build a golf course on the land.
“He ran a dairy farm for 50 years. The dairy business fell by the wayside. It was a small dairy farm – they were, I think, milking like 250 cows or something,” Hunt explains. “He decided to build a golf course on this land, so he hired me to help accomplish that. I had two projects going on at that time. This one and then one for the city of Rockingham to build golf courses.”
But sometimes things don’t go as planned – both projects stalled and Hunt was left trying to decided how to move forward. As luck would have it, he had an acquaintance who was working with The Stow Company. Hunt and Farlow, who had become friends, decided to team up again and help him with a project.
“We helped him out a couple of times,” Hunt says, “and then we just decided, ‘Well, you know, we don’t have anything else to do.’ The golf industry was slow as could be and he had sold all of his cows and all that, so we decided to start a closet company and that’s kind of what we did. We started out with ORG.”
Building the business
Hunt and Farlow founded Dream Closets in 2004 and business was going so well that after three years they decided to take things to the next level and manufacture product on-site.
“We decided that for us to purchase from ORG, we were spending an exorbitant amount of money in shipping. So, we decided to take the plunge,” Hunt says. “We had an 1,800-square-foot building here, very small. We added on 3,000 square feet, bought our CNC and started manufacturing.”
That was in June 2008. “Then of course the market/economy collapsed in October 2008. But we managed to get through it somehow – though I still don’t know how myself,” he says.
“Well, the CNC was a smart buy,” interrupts Joni Hunt, Phill’s wife, “because he ended up getting manufacturing business from other closet companies and cabinet companies.”
With the additional work of cutting panel for other shops and an unexpected job from a local builder in 2010, they were able to pay off the first CNC router and make it through the worst of the economic downturn.
“It really is astounding how many shops closed,” Joni reflects. “The payment on that machine was a killer and Phill was terrified when he bought it. Then the bottom fell out, but with everybody else closing, [the manufacturing business] saved us.”
They started getting more requests from custom closet and kitchen cabinet companies for material, Phill Hunt says, and they decided to purchase another CNC machine to keep up with the orders.
He adds that one of the advantages of cutting for local companies is that the wholesale work keeps them busy, even when they don’t have their own closet or cabinet project in the shop. Plus, it has allowed him to develop relationships with numerous woodworking shops in the area.
“It’s great,” he says. “I’m very open with the other companies. I share information with them. They’ll call and ask me how would I build this or do that, which is amazing that somebody’s calling me to ask a question such as that.”
The calls often come from small independent closet companies from nearby cities such as Greensboro and Hickory, North Carolina. Hunt says they initially viewed him as the competition, but he was able to convince them of the value of working with a local wholesale closet components company.
“They were buying from other entities and having the materials shipped in,” he explains. “It’s funny, when I first approached them about letting me manufacture, they would say, ‘Well you’re our competitor.’ I said, ‘Well, I understand that, but I can save you money and I can manufacture for you. I’m right down the street. If there’s an issue, I’m right here. I can save you money so that you can keep your margins and get better quotes, and you’re going to be getting a better product that you’re offering to the customer than what you were offering.
“They also had purchasing minimums, so if they needed a side panel they had to buy 10 side panels. Me, you need a side panel, call me, I’ll cut you a side panel,” Hunt says with a laugh.
Besides its own closet and cabinet projects, Dream Closets supplies material for approximately four local closet firms as well as a few cabinet companies.
Dream Closets has completed thousands of projects over the years. From custom closets to a host of additional projects, including home offices, media centers, garages, wall beds, mud rooms, pantries, laundry rooms and commercial offices, the company serves North Carolina from the mountains to the coast as well as areas in South Carolina and Virginia. And now the company is getting requests from furniture firms to build spec and modular furniture components.
“Now we’re just getting into some furniture manufacturing,” Hunt notes.
“As a matter of fact, we make furniture frames. We’re exploring it – just getting into that side of it. I’ve got a couple of furniture companies that want me to manufacture for them and we’re working that out right now.”
Hunt says he’s received these requests because of word-of-mouth referrals, plus it doesn’t hurt the company is located close to High Point, North Carolina, one of the largest furniture manufacturing and design regions in the country.
“We’ve been cutting furniture frames for a company called Precision Frames,” he says. “We’ve cut some sofas for Kate Spade, which is so cool,” he adds, though he admits to never having seen the end product.
“We will cut the frame pieces for them. We’ve actually constructed a few, but [the furniture manufacturer] generally will construct their own. Through that connection, that’s where I met the company for the modular pieces that we are building. Then a furniture company contacted another cabinet company to see if they could build hospital cabinetry; he said that wasn’t in his realm and suggested they call us. They’re looking at doing 20 to 30 pieces every quarter for three to four years, so that’s a lot.”
Despite the new furniture business as well as some commercial work, Hunt says closets still make up the majority of work for Dream Closets. However, while it used to be 95 percent of the projects, it is now closer to 60 percent.
Hunt attributes his success over the years to his business philosophy of exploring every opportunity presented to him. “We may not always pursue it all the way to the end, but we’re willing to look and see,” he says. They’ll constantly ask, “Why can’t we do that?”
For more information about Dream Closets, visit www.dreamclosets.org.