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Closet Firm Reaches Tenth Anniversary

June 26, 1988|Dale Baldwin

It's a familiar story: Ambitious San Fernando Valley teen-ager starts a business in his garage, soon has his parents working for him, becomes a big success, with house in the hills, German luxury car.

Everyone knows the end, or will when the television mini-series comes out!

No, I'm not talking about the person everyone thinks about in this context, but rather 27-year-old Neil Balter, the founder, 10 years ago, of California Closet Co. Inc. He was featured in my Oct. 3, 1982, column, when the company had a Canoga Park showroom and another in Costa Mesa.

The Woodland Hills-based firm now has 86 locations in the United States, Canada and Australia and is expanding into Japan and Europe. Balter owns three showrooms: 18312 Oxnard St., Tarzana; Nassau County, Long Island, and Arlington Heights, Ill., a Chicago suburb. The other 83 are franchises.

"What we do today has little or no resemblance to what we did in 1982," Balter said as we toured the Tarzana showroom. He pointed out the three grades of particle board used in renovating closets, from economy sanded but unfinished to luxury fully laminated; mini-carrousels for walk-in closets, about $1,500 and up; modular drawers, shelves and wire baskets to instantly change the configuration of a closet.

"When we started out, everything was more or less fixed in place, with only limited adjustment," he said. "Today, everything is interchangable, so the closet can be changed by the customer as his or her needs change."

Despite the firm's name, California Closets is into more than closets these days, Balter insists: "It's a space utilization business that organizes laundry rooms, garages, basements and--of course--closets. We tapped a nerve, America's least talked-about problem, the kind you can literally close the door on--if the closet isn't too full!"

California Closets is represented in 31 states and all the major cities and does well everywhere, Balter said. Older houses, newer houses, condominiums, apartments and businesses are all candidates for closet and storage renovation, as the increasing number of competitors indicates.

"We have competitors, but we'll always be several steps ahead of them because of our innovative ideas," he added, with more than a little self-assurance. "Take this jewelry insert," he said, handing over a felt-lined, compartmented tray designed to fit into a storage drawer. "It solves the problem of organizing your jewelry, cuff links, watches--if you use it!"

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