Clutter Busters

From closets to cabinets to garages, Americans' clutter is piling up like never before. Find out how you can clean up in this growing industry.

The organization industry, it seems, is more relevant today than ever before. Just take a look around: Closets are bursting with stored clothes. Offices are overflowing in rivers of paper. Living rooms and kitchens everywhere have been swallowed up by clutter.

In fact, the demand for managing the piles of stuff people accumulate in their daily lives is growing--and businesses have sprouted to meet every possible need. Some entrepreneurs become professional organizers; others manufacture organizing products.

According to Barry Izsak, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) board of directors, membership has doubled over the past two years--of both professional organizer members and associate members (like organization product manufacturers). "Public awareness is increasing," says Izsak. "We're becoming more visible."

Certainly, the glut of home-improvement and home-makeover shows has helped raise the industry's profile. Shows like Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and TLC's Clean Sweep dedicate hours each week to improving people's living spaces and eliminating clutter. Organization is all the rage, and we've found a range of entrepreneurs getting in on the action--one entrepreneur sells organization and space-saving supplies at his chain of stores; another shares her professional organizing expertise with her big-city clients. We even found one company launched by entrepreneurs who designed a whole document-organizing system. So rest your feet on that pile of magazines on your coffee table, and settle in--it's time for some serious organizing lessons.

Contain the Excitement

With a retail background under his belt, Abner Wright III decided to parlay his interest in organizing into a serious business in 1991. Says Wright, 46, "Everyone likes to get organized. Some are always organized; some get organized every few minutes, some once a week or once a year." Because he felt that organization was an ongoing struggle for people, Wright saw an opportunity to offer products that would help consumers get their things in order.

He researched the product offerings in his area and realized that, although some people sold a few basic organization and storage pieces here and there, there really wasn't any one-stop shop in his Winston-Salem, North Carolina, area that customers could go to for all their organizing needs. He opened his first Space Savers store, selling, in his words, "things that don't go out of style." Stocking everything from closet organizers to kitchen storage supplies, Wright says there's a constant demand for these types of products. If someone comes in to buy a closet organizer one month, and it serves his or her needs, Wright says that person will often come in later to shop for the garage, the home office, the living room and so on. "They're always looking for the final answer," he explains.

Still, since customers are always looking for that definitive organizing product, Wright confesses it was difficult at first to decide what products to carry. "Trying to pick out items that everyone likes was a big challenge," he says. "But that's always a challenge in retailing." To combat the hit-and-miss nature of buying, Wright listened closely to input from all sides--family, friends, customers, employees--to see what products sold well and were requested by consumers.

Once he got underway, Wright really started getting a feel for what types of organization products customers wanted, and within one year, he opened another Space Savers location in his area. The rapid growth continued, says Wright, as he opened three more locations in six years. Though it was challenging to train a new staff for each store while adapting the store to the local flavor of that particular area, Wright says it's the customer service that sets his company apart. His employees, for instance, know to give customers advice and ideas on organization projects--they don't just point to the "office storage" aisle.

With the success of his retail stores, Wright decided in 2002 to branch out into e-commerce to harness the trend toward online buying and expand his organization niche nationwide. Wright expects Space Savers to gross 2004 sales well into the seven figures.

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This article was originally published in the September 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Clutter Busters.

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