Luxury Closets the Affordable Wayby RICH CHRISTIANSON
Affordable Closets Plus thrives on decluttering homes, organizing lifestyles with a passion and flair for custom design
Don’t let the name Affordable Closets Plus fool you. It belies the high-end custom nature of the Bangor, PA-based home organization manufacturer, a fact backed by a wall’s worth of framed design awards and dozens of five-star customer reviews on Houzz.com, many for projects priced in the five-figures.
So why then did this upscale business come to be called Affordable Closets Plus? Founder DeVoe Martin, who had previously helped manage a Closet Factory, said he chose the name for the 1993 start-up for two major reasons. First, he wanted to make a statement that his company could design, manufacture and install custom products at a competitive price. Second, Affordable would be at the top of the Yellow Page listings, a huge marketing advantage in the pre-Internet days.
The “Plus” kicker of the company’s moniker alludes to Affordable’s ability to service any area of the home that could benefit from professional space-saving organization. This includes everything from garages and pantries to mudrooms and laundries. On occasion. it also includes libraries with bookcases that double as entries to secret rooms.
Closet Industry Then and Now
The closet industry was in its infancy and dominated by an oligopoly of franchises when Affordable opened its doors. Consumers lacked information resources, and product options were slim. Independent closet companies such as Affordable lacked an organization to rally around.
Flash forward nearly 25 years. The closet and home storage industry has greatly grown. The competitive landscape is a mix of franchises, big box stores, independent closet professionals, cabinet manufacturers and custom woodworkers. The Association of Storage and Closet Professionals is in its 12th year. Wire management products and basic white thermally fused laminate (TFL) closet systems, though viable, are far from the only choices available due to the explosion of TFL color and texture offerings, plethora of value-added hardware and components, and software specifically created for designing closet and other storage spaces.
Affordable has been swept up in this tidal wave of change. Martin’s wife, Angel, a business management professional, has helped Affordable meet these challenges and opportunities since joining the company in 2003. Combining her business acumen with her husband’s tutelage of home organization, she handles the bulk of sales and marketing, freeing DeVoe to design and run the day-to-day operations.
The Martins discussed how Affordable has adapted to five impactful trends.
Trend #1: Home Builder Acceptance
Convincing home builders to incorporate closet systems in their developments has taken time, but it is beginning to pay off, Angel said.
“Over the last couple of years, we have branched out with more custom builders, who are starting to realize that homeowners want more storage solutions than wire management and a shelf,” she said. “One of our most recent projects involved seven town homes that each sold for more than $2 million. The builder arranged for us to meet with each of the buyers individually to tailor organization solutions to meet their individual lifestyles, but it was still invoiced through the builder.”
Trend #2: Digital Buzz
The advent of cable networks such as HGTV and DIY and websites such as Houzz and Pinterest has had a dramatic impact on closet and home organization, Angel said.
“Our customers are much more savvy today. They go onto Pinterest, Houzz or other sites and create an idea book that captures their vision for each space of their home.”
Trend #3: ‘Sky’s the Limit’ with Decorative Surfaces
“I’d have to say that the biggest change has been that the sky’s the limit now for color and texture,” DeVoe said. “We’ve got customers who want their master bedroom closets to look better than their kitchens, and the TFL options including the high-end textured materials allow us to do that.“
“Textured woodgrain TFL is growing, but white is still number one, at least here in the Northeast,” Angel said. “I think people like white because they see it as very timeless. People who choose white also tend to go with upgraded packages so it looks less like a white box in their closet. They’ll elevate the design by choosing decorative door and drawer fronts and a trim package.”
Affordable has used many brands of TFL over the years but lately has taken a shine to Tafisa’s VIVA, a textured panel offered in two-sided embossed-in-register. VIVA is also used in 3D laminate doors that Affordable buys from JB Cutting for many of it projects.
In addition to fabricating TFL panels and components, Affordable makes its own drawer boxes, Shaker-style doors and glass inset doors. Its finishing department uses M.L. Campbell products to spray coat custom doors, moldings and other wood accents.
Trend #4: Value-Added Hardware and Accessories
DeVoe recalled adapting hardware designed for kitchen cabinets to work for closet built-ins. Over the past decade, manufacturers have eagerly filled the gap, bringing improved functional and value-added hardware and accessories geared specifically for closets and organization products.
Just as with kitchen cabinets, soft-close is becoming standard for closet drawer slides and door hinges, Angel said. Affordable mainly uses Dura-Close slides from Hardware Resources and Salice Silentia hinges.
While hinges and slides are the staples of most projects, the real fun is in browsing the huge catalog of accessories, everything from valet rods, tie and belt racks and keyless locks through pull-out shelves, jewelry drawers and built-in ironing centers.
LED lighting has become especially popular, Angel said.
“We use a lot of Loox LED flexible strip lights from Häfele that are available in different illuminations. We suggest adding LED lights mostly in spaces that can use additional lighting or for a decorative touch when used as accent lighting. We’ve used them in all applications, including closets, home offices, toe kicks, drawers and more.”
Affordable asks all customers to fill out a questionnaire, and it’s critical that they fill it out, Angel said.
“We ask things like how many pairs of shoes do you have? How do you hang your pants? We don’t want to be generic; we want to provide them with what fits their individual lifestyle,” she said.
Trend #5: Design Software
Affordable was an early adopter of using Cabinet Vision to design closets and other spaces; that was many years before the software company developer released its first closets module. DeVoe said Version 9 is not only an excellent tool for designing organized spaces, but it also is a great tool for closing sales.
“It’s amazing how showing customers the CAD rendering of their next closet just blows them away.”
Embracing a CNC Future
The Martins have kept Affordable’s doors open through good times and bad by taking a conservative approach to running their six-employee business
“Were a pretty basic but lean shop,” Angel said. “An Altendorf saw and a Brandt edgebander are two of our key pieces of equipment. We’ve always been careful not to bite off more than we can chew or try to grow too fast.”
DeVoe said he plans to go to the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas this July to shop for his first CNC router and take advantage of Cabinet Vision’s screen-to-machine capabilities.
“I’d like to take our shop to the next level, not only with CNC nesting but to be able to create different shape door patterns that we can’t get anywhere else,” DeVoe said.
“I’ve been looking at CNC for a long time, but it’s been overwhelming, and with the economy, I just wanted to be cautious with a few things and never pulled the trigger. But now we’re ready.”