Neil Balter’s foray into the home organization industry has proven successful, but his first initial steps were rather lonely.
“When I started California Closets in 1978 I was an 18-year-old kid right out of high school,” says Balter. “There was no closet industry at that point; we created it.”
In just under a decade, Balter expanded California Closets until it encompassed over 700 employees and 100 franchises in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Spain, with annual sales of $66 million. In 1990, Balter sold the company to Williams-Sonoma Inc. for a reported $11 million. After that, Balter signed on with ClosetMaid to grow its dealer network.
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Balter launched Organizers Direct in 1995. Based in Scottsdale, AZ, the company’s basic target is independent closets businesses in need of marketing and manufacturing support, as well as people wanting to get started in the business. Organizers Direct offers assistance to help owners grow their business and margins.
Balter says the biggest key to his success has been having a series of mentors to consult, and he adds that some of the best advice he was ever given was “Enthusiasm is contagious. Catch it.” This has helped guide his business techniques and is something he looks for in partners and employees. With a business mantra of “work hard, have fun,” Balter says he sometimes feels he is the “CEO of Happiness.”
“The smartest thing our company has ever done and continues to do is to hire people that have the same level of enthusiasm and commitment for the job and keeping them for the long haul,” he says.
Supporting the community is important to Balter. He and his wife Lynn helped start the Arizona Walk Now for Autism Speaks event seven years ago. Since its inception, the Walk has raised $6-7 million for autism research, programs and awareness.
Balter has been recognized in Entrepreneur Magazine with an Outstanding Entrepreneur Achievement Award and featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and People. He was a regular guest on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and other home talk shows. Balter published a book, “The Closet Entrepreneur: 337 Ways to Start Your Successful Business With Little or No Money,” in 1994, and is also featured in a current book by business author Ken McElroy, “The Sleeping Giant: Take Charge of Your Future,” examining the stories of 20 entrepreneurs. He is also a founding member of the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
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• Education: High School
• Number of years at the company: 18
• Number of years in the industry: 35
• Word or phrase that describes you? I see “no” as a definite maybe.
• Who is the one person you’ve tried to emulate in business and why? Nobody. I’m my own person but I learn from other people’s experiences.”
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