Jobless after the dot-com bust, friends Gillett Cole and Jim Myers pooled energies and earnings from a summer job to create their company, Twin Cities Closet Co., which provides creative ways to use storage space.
Deposit check in hand, Twin Cities Closet Co. founders Jim Myers and Gillett Cole celebrated their first order -- until they realized they weren't quite officially in business. Not without an office, a workshop or even a single tool to their name.
The high-fives stopped and the work began, not on their first custom closet project, but on the company they had talked for months about starting. They checked out potential office sites, and ordered a big table saw and other tools. Asked where they would take delivery, they gave the address of a building they liked -- but where they had yet to lease any space.
As luck would have it, they were inside signing the paperwork on what would be their showroom just as a flatbed truck pulled up with their table saw. After a month of scrambling, they were in business.
Cole and Myers now concede, almost seven years later, that theirs might not have been a textbook case. Without deep pockets or even jobs to fall back on, thanks to the dot-com bust, they didn't have time to go by the book.
"We were unemployed," Cole said. "I had a newborn. I had to put food on the table. We didn't have the time to do all this market research. People have homes, they have closets, that's all we needed to know. Sometimes you've just got to have the willingness to take the risk."
"Those are the chances you take as an entrepreneur," Myers said. "If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. At the time we were like, 'Just make it happen.' Failure was not an option."
Today, Cole and Myers have a new, larger Minneapolis showroom and 10 employees who design, build and install storage products for pantries, garages, media rooms, mud rooms and walk-in, reach-in and kids' closets.
They will take on projects in almost any room but the kitchen, although Myers and Cole point out that features typical of high-end kitchen and family rooms have begun to find a place in custom closets. Those include glazed and other style-conscious finishes, crown and base molding, dresser-like drawers and such accessories as hampers and brushed nickel baskets with leather fronts.
An 8-foot-wide reach-in closet likely would range from $750 to $1,500 in the company's standard or traditional line. A premium system, with drawers and other higher-end accessories, likely would cost $4,500 to $9,000. A walk-in closet measuring 7 feet by 8 feet by 7 feet could cost $2,100 to $4,200 in the traditional line. The premium systems, again with a number of accessories, would likely cost $11,200 to $23,000.
Myers, who had worked for his brother's closet company in St. Louis, was installing office furniture for dot-com companies when he lost his job in 2001. His longtime friend Cole, working in Internet sales, got laid off a few weeks later.
The two spent the summer installing office furniture and talking about going into the closet business. One big project earned them $40,000, which they used as seed money to get started in August 2001.
Sales have grown each year. Last year's $1.2 million in revenue marked an 18 percent increase over the year before despite the housing market slowdown, Cole said.
Revenue so far this year is 33 percent ahead of the same period in 2007, Cole said, though the company could begin to feel the pinch of the slowdown. In response, Cole said, the company will seek more work with builders, whose downtown condo projects gave the company an early boost and had accounted for half its sales.
More recently, the retail side of the business has taken off as marketing efforts have drawn homeowners to the company's showroom, Cole said.
The luxury segment of the custom closet market has stayed fairly strong. Myers and Cole believe they can boost that part of their business with two high-end storage system lines made from sustainable materials in green production facilities. Both also have no added formaldehyde, which can trigger allergies.
"Customers who are building green homes, they don't want to stop with the living room or the construction materials," Cole said. "They want to continue it through every room of the house, including the closet."
Lisa Lardy, an interior designer who has worked on condo projects with Twin Cities Closet, said the company produced a range of designs that were easy for clients to choose from and popular because they made the most of the available space.
"The buyers were quite pleased about being able to have more space in their closets," Lardy said. "Their designs were creative, they added new products and had great ideas."
Tom Henjum of Boyer Building, a Minnetonka-based home builder and remodeling company, said he liked knowing that he was working with the company's owners.
"They give personal service, and they know what's going on with the projects," Henjum said. "If I have an issue, I can call Gillett."
He said he has referred a number of homeowners to Twin Cities Closet, "and virtually every time I do that, the homeowner comes back and compliments them on how good a job they did. I'm not a closet fiend, but I like what they offer from a functional standpoint. It's a lot more effective to have closet systems than not."