Clutter Busters

Binding It Up

Visual change is what it was all about for the founders of Russell + Hazel, an office supply manufacturer in Minneapolis. The founders envisioned organizational office and school supplies that would be both functional and fashionable. In fact, the goal of Chris Plantan, 44, and her co-founders--Barbara Giangrossi, 46; Cynthia Knox, 41; Darin Opperman, 44; and Kobe Suvongse, 44--was to get away from boring, manila-tinged organizational office supplies and move toward modern colors and styles.

Plantan, partner of Russell + Hazel, got the original idea while working as an architect. It was important in such a visually driven field to have an interesting and stylish binder, so she used to make her own. Seeing the potential, Plantan recruited her friends and acquaintances to help her build the business and secure funding. The quintet launched in 2002, bringing to the table combined backgrounds in architecture, retail merchandising and graphic design.

Plantan notes that a main difficulty Russell + Hazel faced was finding a manufacturer for their specialty products. "[Manufacturers] were so [set] on making commodity products and making [them] cheaper," she says. "We said, 'No, we want a nicely designed product--we don't care if it costs more.'" The company also focused on doing a smaller run of the items, to get them out into the marketplace faster, and did a sort of real-life focus group: They sent out 50 test kits composed of their newly designed products to young professionals in Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, and asked for their feedback.

Once they got the thumbs up from testers, Russell + Hazel's founders focused on getting the products into smaller boutique stores first. And because the products are meant to be fashionable, they also marketed them in the gift category. "A lot of our first customers were gift shops and smaller stationery stores," recalls Plantan. "We [even] had museum shops calling us."

With sales poised to hit about $1 million in 2004, the Russell + Hazel brand can be found in retailers like The Container Store and Urban Outfitters, and the company plans to expand its product line even further to help people organize both their work and home offices with style. "Being a young, fresh firm, we want to stay small and nimble. That way, we can stay a little bit ahead of the trend as far as design and colors," says Plantan. "It's been a lot of fun, finding out that these products that help you organize are really personal accessories, and people are buying them like they would footwear or handbags."

Whether you choose to guide others into organizing or to design and sell the products that will help them get organized, it's a field that's poised for growth, according to Izsak. "People are going to continue to struggle with this issue [of personal organization], and this need will continue to grow," he says. "I don't see the demands on people's time becoming fewer. [Organizing professionals] are here to stay--this is not a fad."

Organized Labor

If starting an organizing business from scratch doesn't appeal to you, then check out these opportunities in the industry:

California Closet Company
(800) 241-3222/(415) 256-8500

Closet & Storage Concepts
(856) 627-5700

The Closet Factory
(310) 715-1000

Closets By Design Franchising
(310) 965-2040

The Complete Garage
(866) 892-0200

GarageTek Inc.
(516) 621-4300

(616) 399-3311

(866) 483-4272/(480) 483-3030

Listing compiled by Maria Anton

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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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