Making sense of the messWhen Brian Billman was preparing to launch his Realcloset company, he decided to think outside the box. Big box store, that is.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
When Brian Billman was preparing to launch his Realcloset company, he decided to think outside the box. Big box store, that is.
“Being a smaller corporation, we like to sell to smaller companies,” said the Realcloset president and product designer, explaining that his company sells its storage system through small independent businesses such as the Cloquet Home Center rather than the big do-it-yourself box stores such as Menards, Lowe’s and Home Depot.
“It’s those businesses that help communities thrive; it’s also those businesses where someone like Sharyn will take the time to wait on you too.”
Billman is referring to Sharyn Sundquist, who is a sales consultant at the Cloquet Home Center, located a mile north of Gordy’s just off Highway 33 and Stark Road, in the Cloquet Business Park.
Sundquist is happy to help the organizationally challenged find a solution that fits their budget and their home -- and she’s not one of those commission-only salespeople that tell a person they have to make up their mind immediately or lose the offer.
“We’re pretty low key here,” she says with a chuckle. “You can just come back when you’re ready.”
Sundquist is happy to walk a prospective customer through the two different closet storage systems on offer at Cloquet Home Center: Realcloset’s all wood furniture-look designs and the Schulte Freedom Rail system, which offers a combination of wire and melamine products.
Each system is fully interchangeable, easy to take apart and rearrange. Each involves minimal equipment on the homeowner’s part – a level and a drill – and not a lot of time invested either.
The differences come in the design and materials of the two systems.
With Schulte, the entire system hangs off a top bar that is made to mount right to the top rail (the top 2-by-4 on a wall). Upright metal rods hang off that top bar and the different components – wire mesh or wooden shelves, baskets, closet rails and drawers – hook into those uprights, which are also secured at the bottom, so they won’t move around once the system is in place.
Realcloset, on the other hand, sits on top of a foundation rail.
“Our partitions fit between two rails, on top of the bottom rail and into the top rail, to stop it from tilting,” Billman explained. “The idea is you change and adjust and accommodate whatever you want.”
Displays of each system stand back-to-back in the Cloquet store, Sundquist shows how the different pieces fit into each system.
Bob Goewey, who owns Cloquet Home Center with Tom Wallin, said he has the Schulte system in his closet at home, while his wife has installed the Realcloset shelving at her Blue Lake Gallery in Duluth.
“They’re nice because they’re modular,” Goewey said. “Once you have the basics of the systems, you can redesign whenever you want and you don’t have to go out and buy a whole new system.”
As well, points out Sundquist, you can easily dismantle the system if you want to paint the room a different color, a definite advantage over homemade storage systems.
While the nationally known Schulte has been around for close to 20 years, Realcloset is a relative newcomer to the closet market at two years old. Billman had worked with another Twin Ports closet company before he started Realcloset, and he made custom cabinetry for 20 years before that.
It wasn’t any great personal need at home that made him decide closets were the way to go.
“I wanted to make it look more like cabinetry, more like furniture,” Billman explained. “I wanted something that wouldn’t just go inside a closet, something that a person could use for bookshelves in a library or an office. Realcloset can go in a lot more places than just the closet or a garage.”
He also wanted a more environmentally friendly product than particle board held together with formaldehyde-based glue. Realcloset’s shelves are made with a plywood core, finished with real maple edging.
“Ninety percent of closet manufacturers use particle board with a melamine cover and the primary glue for that is fermaldehyde,” Billman said. “The first six months, it off-gasses. Some people won’t notice, others will get watery eyes, headaches and more. It’s kind of like food and modern preservatives. Some people are affected by it.”
The “real” part of his company’s name is an acronym, Billman explains, which stand for:
“We are forest stewardship council (FSC) certified and carbon 2 compliant, very healthy,” Billman said. “Good for the environment, healthy for homeowners and an affordable price.”
Compared to the Schulte system, Realcloset does cost approximately 25 to 30 percent more, Sundquist said.
“It’s a higher-end product,” Sundquist said. “It’s the kind of thing you’d want in a master closet, or it would be a wonderful piece to put in a laundry room. It’s laminate, like your kitchen counters, so it’s real durable. And with details like full maple end pieces,it’s more of a furniture-type of product.”
At the end of the day, it’s up to the buyers to decide what kind of investment and look they want from a storage system.
Peace of mind – which is more easily attained with less clutter – might be worth it.