California Closets takes cues from innovative retailers to launch its new showroom concept focused on what matters most—the customer
Photos by Chun Lai
An innovative company since its start in 1978, California Closets has paved the way for the custom closet category by elevating the market with its reputation as a leader in premium and luxury space management. The business model was originally based on in-home consultations and sales, with customer collaboration being a priority. While the business has evolved over the years to provide unparalleled service through a combination of in-home, online and showroom environments, the company has remained true to its roots by staying focused on the customer.
From 1978 into the 1990s, as the California Closets product offerings and material options increased, the company and its customers recognized the need for a showroom to have the ability to view the expansive offering outside of the home. This showroom experience has evolved from late-’90s factory locations toward co-location with complementary lifestyle retail spaces and design centers.
Always innovating—being the first to create a custom fit, introduce European finishes and add lighting solutions—California Closets’ customer strategy is focused on truly aligning the online, in-home and showroom experiences, as each plays a key role in the sales and relationship development process. And in order to accomplish this, California Closets President and CEO Bill Barton understood that the showrooms needed a fresh look.
For inspiration, he referenced innovators in other retail sectors, aspiring to create the “Apple experience” for the custom closet category. To revolutionize the California Closets showroom experience, Barton teamed up with Boston-based Bergmeyer Associates Inc., led by Senior Principal Joe Nevin. Bergmeyer spent six months digging into the brand, the company, and what the California Closets name means to the customer. While they remained focused on the storage solutions, the team took particular interest in uncovering the meaning behind the “California” part of the name. Descriptors such as “natural beauty,” “innovation,” “optimism” and “no boundaries” emerged to define the California Closets identity. As the team started to pull all of the concepts and research together, they knew the showrooms needed to have a modern look with a distinct residential feel. They needed to create a design that was recognizable, refined and transparent. These were some of the guidelines for developing what is now referred to as California Closets’ Showroom 2.0.
Channeling the brand’s credo of “Designing Better Lives,” the design team wanted all aspects of the showroom experience to engage the senses. While many of the existing showrooms welcome customers with a reception desk, the Bergmeyer team saw this element as a barrier. The goal was to open the space in a way that supports the full design services by creating an environment that facilitates design, idea generation and collaboration. Two key elements were developed to achieve these objectives and the impact can be clearly seen in the new nearly 3,000-sq.-ft. San Francisco showroom.
A new iconic element that was created for the showrooms is an angular wall finished in the exclusive California Closets Tesoro textural finish, Pietra. This design detail engages customers upon entry and invites them to move through the showroom. The striking finish application and subtle angle provide a wayfinding cue, an element that creates a natural flow that guides customers just like moving through a home. The wall serves as an organizational spine in the showroom with vignettes of areas of the home naturally positioned to flow like a typical house. Each space uses the angled wall as a reference point, providing continuity for customers as they move through the showroom. A drop ceiling supports this movement through the space, while the flow encourages customers to browse as they walk through in a way that makes sense.
“Due to the tremendous natural light and natural flow created by the angled wall, you always feel a part of the whole space,” Nevin says.
The strategically placed wall and natural flow of the space guide customers to the new Design Studio, the heart of the showroom. The white and neutral palette with high-gloss finishes creates a clean backdrop for collaboration. There are no distractions in this space, where it is all about the customer’s specific needs and project. The designer works with the customer at a high-top, high-gloss tech table with bar stools at the center of the room. All of the samples are tucked neatly away, allowing designers to pull out only the relevant finishes for a project and eliminating overwhelming options.
A full Corian-covered wall for projection allows the designer to share 3-D renderings as they walk together through the customer’s space. The showroom includes areas with whiteboard and magnetic displays for pin-up areas, as well as lighting displays.
“One of our core values is to collaborate with our customers to create the best possible outcome, so we wanted the showroom to be a collaborative environment,” Barton says. “Showroom 2.0 puts the Design Studio at the center of every store. It is the heartbeat of the showroom experience.”
The Showroom 2.0 design will continue to be applied to new showrooms across the country. In addition, older locations will be retrofitted with the new design as California Closets leaders continue to evolve and elevate the showroom experience. The iconic angled wall and Design Studio are two specific elements that will be integral to these upgrades.
California Closets currently has approximately 130 showrooms and more than 700 designers in North America. The company expects to roughly double those numbers in the next five years, through a combination of company stores and franchises. Showroom 2.0 has provided an environment that is more relaxing, where it is easier to collaborate with designers, and a setting that makes it easier to make decisions.
“Our goal was to create a backdrop for designers, a place to inspire customers and a huge assist to the sales people,” Nevin says.
So far the metrics are proving Showroom 2.0 to be a great success. The new design will allow California Closets to continue to go where their customers are, no matter the size of the footprint, with a consistent brand experience, an environment that continues their reputation as an innovator and leader in their market.
“It is a simplified and relaxed experience for our customers, a setting that makes them feel more confident in their decision-making,” Barton adds.
California Closets Showroom
CONTRACT DESIGN FIRM/ARCHITECT
Bergmeyer Associates Inc.
Yerba Buena Builders Inc.
Peter Sollogub- C7A, American Mechanical Inc., Zachary Nathan Architect
Collaborative Lighting LLC
Architectural Systems Inc., Procedo Flooring
California Closets, Corian
Rove Concepts, Gold Sparrow, Tribeca Home, CB2, Element Designs