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In the Closet

July 31, 1989|MARTHA GROVES

Companies in the closet business are finding a growing market overseas, where they occasionally get hung up on language problems.

Clairson International in Ocala, Fla., for years has been manufacturing the Closet Maid brand of organizers, made of coated steel rods and wire and sold in 30 countries. But when the company began marketing its product in England, a name change was in order. To the British, after all, closet means bathroom.

"In England, we use Clairson Organizers," said Judith Miley, a spokeswoman.

California Closet Co. of Woodland Hills plans to enter the British market soon as California Wardrobe.

In other overseas dealings, California Closet a year and a half ago sold a master franchise to a Tokyo-based company called Daido Worsted Mills that is establishing franchises throughout densely populated Japan, where storage space--or any space--is at a premium.

When California Closet executives first learned that they would be meeting with Daido representatives to explain the business, they took courses in Japanese culture and learned, among other things, to bow when being introduced. The Japanese, meanwhile, were brushing up on U.S. customs, such as shaking hands.

When they met at Los Angeles International Airport, both sides tried to practice their newly mastered skills, with amusing results. "We were quite a group," said Mike Pedersen, California Closet's director of franchise development.

During frequent trips to Europe, Charles E. Williams, the 73-year-old founder of kitchen outfitter Williams-Sonoma, would see clever household storage and organization items that he simply couldn't squeeze into his company's catalogue for cooks. So he started another mail order brochure, called Hold Everything, filled with items designed to bring order to chaos--ranging from personal diaries to hat boxes to umbrella stands to wine racks to custom-cut cabinets.

That was in 1983. In 1985, the success of that catalogue spawned a retail chain of so-called container stores. The firm now has six Hold Everything outlets and plans to open five more by year-end.

Why did Hold Everything strike such a responsive chord? "People have so many things," said Anne Kupper, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma. "They need things to put their things in."

For the do-it-yourself set, bookstores carry an array of volumes on home remodeling, including some that deal specifically with how to make the most of storage space.

Hold Everything in Century City Shopping Center sells "Closets: Designing and Organizing the Personalized Closet," by Patricia Coen and Bryan Milford (Michael Friedman Publishing Group, New York: $12.95), and "Storage: Great Ideas for Closets, Kitchens, Kids' Rooms, Bathrooms, and Every Room in the House" (HP Books, a division of Price Stern Sloan, Los Angeles: $9.95).

Both list sources for storage products and services that can help clients get organized.

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