How to Compare Custom Walk-In Closet Companies (and get more bang for your buck)
You’re had it ‘up to here’ (as your mom used to say) with your walk-in closet. If you have to throw ANOTHER shoe against the wall in frustration because you can’t find what you need, things are gonna get UGLY!
You’ve told your partner this is THE YEAR you’re going to make sense of the mess which is your walk-in closet. However, in your initial research you’ve found it challenging figuring out which custom closet companies to invite into your home.
Some offer 50% discounts (supposedly). However, you’ve also heard from your friends they try to ‘high-pressure’ you into buying at the first appointment and their prices aren’t any better than the other companies anyway.
Other companies want to charge you a fee to design a closet.
And some companies web sites – while uber-elegant – make you as scared as your cat in a storm. You’re thinking there’s no way I’ll afford the closets they show on their site.
The question becomes how do you know which custom closet companies to invite to your home for a design consultation. How do you know which will have the options you want, and won’t ‘spend all of me-money’ (as SpongeBob would say)? How do you know you’ll get a ‘smart design,’ not just a ‘cheap design?’
In this article, it’s my goal to tackle these questions. I’m going to provide 15 questions to help you compare custom walk-in closet companies and make your best choice. So, let’s look at the 15 questions.
Question #1– How wide are the sections in their design?
It’s simple to make a closet design cheaper. As a designer just make the width of the hanging, shelving and drawer sections wider. And while this strategy will ‘cut costs’ – it can be a baaaaaad idea which makes your closet live poorly.
You see if hanging sections are greater than 36”, the chance of the rods bending over time increases dramatically.
Also, if the shelves are wider than 48” you may see them bowing as your closet ages.
And if you make the drawers bigger than 24” – you’ll likely not have enough room for hanging clothes or shelving.
The key (just like Mom used to tell you when you wanted more candy) is moderation. You need sections which are appropriately designed to last over the long run yet are wide enough to keep the lid on costs.
Question #2– How deep are the shelves in their design?
I’m going to share with you a ‘dirty little secret’ of the custom closet industry you’ll be a victim of IF you’re not a smart consumer. You see – to save money – some companies use shelves which are only 12” deep as their standard. And the problem with this is ….
- Your bulky sweaters will hang off the edge (making the closet look sloppy).
- Your spouses ‘big-dog’ 14” shoes will extend beyond the shelves and look funny.
- Your FAB-U-LOUS big purses will stick out -and not in a good way.
While 12” shelves can be fine for shoe shelves if you have small feet, all 12” shelves are seldom a smart way to build a closet.
Pay attention to the depth of closet shelving. Don’t be ‘dupped’ by a high-pressure closet company who uses cheaper products and tells you you’ve gotta sign tonight of their ‘deal of a lifetime’ will be gone forever only to find out they skimped to save themselves money!
Question #3– Are shelves and rods adjustable?
Your storage needs can AND WILL change over time. Mid-high boots are giving way now to thigh-high boots. Medium length dresses are way more popular (except for your teenage daughter) than minis. The height of your clothing and favorite shoes will evolve.
This is why an adjustable closet with ‘holes’ on the side are an essential for an effective functioning closet.
And while you’re comparing adjustable systems also look at the ‘pegs’ which hold up these shelves. Are they made from cheap plastic or durable metal?
No matter how nice a closet looks, if it isn’t adjustable, you’ll be sorry down the road when your clothes and shoes don’t fit in right.
Question #4– How high is the top shelf from the floor (or in closet industry lingo – what’s the ‘system height’)?
One of the biggest problems with cheap wire and painted fiberboard closets which are slapped in by the builder is the height of the top shelf (note this is called the system height if you’re talking to a professional closet designer) is set too low. This causes 2 problems
- Problem #1 – There’s not enough room to ‘double hang’ clothes.
- Problem #2 – There’s ‘dead space’ at the top AND at the bottom.
The uber-easy way a professional closet company solves this problem is to raise the top shelf – but not make it so high it’s impossible for you to reach.
Generally – a custom closet company will set the top shelf at 84” from the floor for an 8’ closet and sets the top shelf 90” up for a 9’ closet.
Setting the top shelf is critical to get the maximum storage volume for your limited square footage.
Question #5– Can you see the proposed closet in 3D? Is it functional and fun?
If your ‘custom closet company’ can’t show you a 3D design I’d suggest you run, run as fast as you can as the Gingerbread Man would say. In our ‘modern world’ it’s crazy to expect you to understand what a 2D hand-sketched drawing of a closet looks like (see below) and even crazier to expect you’ll be able to envision how it will live for you.
Assuming you’re seeing a 3D drawing then I’d tell you the primary goal of a custom closet design is for it to ‘function’ for you.
Make sure the design helps you ‘see’ your shoes, so they’re not buried on the floor like they are today.
Make sure the shelves are deep enough (see question 2) so bulky sweaters, sweatshirts and blankets won’t hang off the edge.
Make sure the design provides a place for socks and underwear since your spouse is already hogging the bedroom dresser drawers.
And to really fall in love with this closet, I’ll challenge you to ‘think beyond function’ and see if the design offers you some ‘eye-appealing’ fashion and fun so you can truly enjoy your space. I recommend putting the coolest elements of your custom walk-in closet on your ‘feature wall’ (this is the wall you see when you walk in).
You were told by Mom and Dad to put your best ‘foot forward,’ and there’s no reason this wisdom shouldn’t apply to your walk in closet as well.
Question #6– How sophisticated is the plant your closet will be manufactured in?
Here’s a factor few people think about which impacts your finished look and ultimate quality. That factor is where is your closet manufactured.
You see if you closet is made in a small local factory with outdated equipment and processes, you may have problems with parts being precisely cut and delamination of section separators and drawer fronts.
On the other hand, if your closet is made in a large state-of-the-art facility on CNC equipment it’ll stay in top notch shape for years to come.
Do you know anything about where your closet will be made?
Question #7– Who will be installing your custom closet?
Although the manufacturing process and factory are critical, so are the craftsmen and craftswomen installing the job. Ask your potential custom closet contractor about the experience of the crew. Are they employees or subcontractors?
Bottom line – experienced people deliver better quality closets.
Question #8– Is the closet designed to use every inch?
Maybe you have an ‘evil dormer-room closet’. Or your closet is super narrow or has an access door which creates a dead storage space. Well – a big reason to buy a custom closet is to work with people who know how to maximize your nooks, crannies and crazy ceiling and width variations.
They’ll know how to ‘step down’ shelving sections to get the most of an angled wall.
They’ll know how to work around access doors, yet still get storage on the wall.
When you’ve got a crazy closet – you need a designer with a crazy-good-mind (and experience) to make it work for you.
Question #9– Is the custom closet company using a ‘wall hung, floor based or ‘combo’ system?
There are 3 basic types of closet systems you need to know.
- Type #1 – Wall hung – A wall hung closet is 12” to 14” deep. The closet sections are attached to a rail which is tied into your studs. Wall hung systems are not built to the floor.
- Type #2 – Floor based – A floor-based closet looks like built-in furniture. It’s constructed to the floor. It can have sections which are deeper than a wall hung closet. Depths can range from 12” to 14” 16” to 19” to 23”.
- Type #3 – A combo wall hung and floor-based system – These designs use a combination of both wall hung and floor based to provide the depth where needed (for example in drawer sections or for storage of towels or large handbags) and wall hung for hanging sections.
If you’re comparing prices between closet companies, you’ll see wall hung sections are more cost-effective (since they use less material).
To learn how to compare wall hung and floor based closets read How to Choose between a wall hung and floor mounted closet organizer.
Question #10– How is the bottom of your floor-based system trimmed out?’
There are 2 ways to trim the bottom of a floor-based closet. One is to have ‘toe kicks’ – where the closet is indented. The second is to have finished molded base trim.
The molded trim is more expensive than the toe kicks – although IMHO it looks better AND you don’t have to worry about ‘dust bunnies’ collecting in the edges like you do with toe kicks.
Ask if your closet has toe kicks or molded base trim.
Question #11– How ‘transparent’ is each closet company about pricing?
If you’ve gotten an estimate for a custom closet and got a dose of ‘sticker shock’ I’m sure you’re not alone.
However, what most closet companies won’t let you learn is how much money you can save if you switch from a floor based to a wall hung system (at least in the hanging sections). Or they may not share how much the price goes down if you switched to white vs. a wood-textured laminate. Or you may not learn how costs change when you switch from ‘raised shoe shelves’ (which remind you of the shelves of Neiman Marcus) and go with flat adjustable shoe shelves.
You see knowing ‘where the value is’ makes you a smart consumer. You can then pick and choose what adds the most to your closet, and where you can cut costs.
Better custom closet companies have 3D design programs which make this ‘value analysis’ (as business school people would like to say) possible with the touch of a few buttons.
Is your closet company transparent about pricing?
Question #12– Has your closet designer sold over $1,000,000 of closet systems? Do they below to the ACSP (Association of Closet and Storage Professionals) or the CIA (and it’s not the CIA you’re thinking of)?
As an owner (and custom closet designer) I can tell you a designer gets better with age (and yes, I have the gray hairs to show for it!). They improve as they have more designs ‘under their belt’ (OK – sorry about this bad closet pun). You learn where to use deeper shelves or drawers or fancy moldings. You learn what to do for a cost-conscious customer to get a stylish look yet keep costs down.
And unfortunately – just like in life – there’s no better teacher than experience. So, even though you may schedule an appointment with the biggest (and oldest) closet company in town, this DOES NOT MEAN your designer knows what the heck they’re doing. It just means your designer works for the biggest (and oldest) closet company in town.
Ask your closet designer about their credentials. How long have they been in the business? How many closets have they designed? Do they get industry training though closet industry associations (which are the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals and the Closet Institute of America)?
Question #13– Is your closet designed so you can get ‘fully ready’?
I wake up at 3 AM (OK – you can say it …. yes, I’m crazy!). I get up early so I can run and write articles before most ‘normal people’s’ workday begins. And believe it or not, my closet helps me be thoughtful of my wife even with my crazy schedule.
You see when I wake up at 3 AM I can go into my closet (which not only has shelves and rods but also drawers) and get ‘fully ready’ because I have drawers which store my running shorts, socks, and shirts. This way I don’t have to turn on the light in the bedroom and scour through the dresser. I don’t have to wake up my wife.
An effective closet let’s people get ‘fully ready’ in their walk-in closet. This means not only having shelves and rods – but drawers. When comparing companies see if drawers are an element in your design. Yes – they are the most expensive part of the design, BUT they add tremendous function – and fashion as well.
Question #14– Does your closet designer ‘push’ or ‘show’ options?
The number one job of a closet designer – in my opinion – is to educate you about closet design and options. It’s their job to share 3D drawings which bring these ideas to ‘life’ so you can understand what you’re getting and make decisions accordingly.
And the options with closets can be endless. You can add jewelry trays for your bling, pull-down hampers to eliminate the ugly (and smelly plastic bins), valet rods, tie, scarf and belt racks to name just a few popular accessories.
However – it’s not the job of a closet designer to ‘push’ options on you. However, it is their responsibility to make you aware of them so you can get a closet which functions to the max for you.
Question #15– Does your closet company want to charge for a design or are they willing to share cost information BEFORE the appointment?
If I’m being honest (and even if I wasn’t being honest) when it comes right down to it a closet designer’s job is to sell projects (otherwise they won’t be working very long as a designer). And like most people in sales, they don’t want to ‘waste their time’ when a custom closet is out of a prospects budget.
So, what some custom closet companies do to minimize wasted time for their designers is charge for 3D drawings to ‘weed out’ the ‘rod-kickers’ (the closet industry term for tire-kickers). And while this is an approach, it’s one strategy I’m not a big fan of.
Instead of charging someone to learn how much things will cost – another idea is to educate them about cost. This way you’ll know before a custom closet wastes YOUR TIME – what the job will cost. This is the reason I wrote this article titled How Much Does an Installed Custom Closet Cost (including 5 ideas to save you money).
Bottom line – I’d rather you become knowledgeable about the cost of a custom closet so neither you – nor I (or a member of my team) invest time if the project doesn’t fit your budget right now. Learn about costs BEFORE the initial design consultation.
So, are you better prepared to choose a custom closet company?
My goal in this article – whether you’re looking for a custom closet company in Columbus Ohio or anywhere in the country – is to help you determine what differentiates closet companies and their designs and how to find the right company for your job.
I hope these 15 questions have given you things to think about when interviewing closet companies in your area.
And if you’re in Columbus Ohio – and looking to have a professionally installed closet – I’d be honored if you contacted my business – Innovate Home Org. Call 614-545-6888 or click for a Free 3D Design Consultation. And if you’re not in Columbus, comment below and I’ll see if I can refer you to a friend of mine in the biz.
Thanks for reading.
If you’d like more information on garage, pantry, entryway or custom closet design follow me on LinkedIn @MikeFotiLinkedIn.
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Mike, you’ve written a very informative article! Custom walk-in closets are a terrific way to make your room look more inviting. Before finishing the design, consider several crucial parameters such as the depth of the shelves, adjustable rods, the height of the closet from the ground, and, most importantly, whether it utilizes every inch of available space. You can also request a 3D design to have a better idea of what you’re getting before you buy.