By Brad Davidson, CEO
Nobody would have ever guessed that we’d end up owning one of the largest and most successful closet organization companies in the country.
Simply put, we’re a couple of nerds.
Our story starts right here in Memphis where both of us (Brad & Mark) were born and raised. We didn’t know each other back then, but we were both nerdy little kids who did nerdy little things; we enjoyed math & science more than we enjoyed girls & sports. We won more than our fair share of science fairs. And both of us could build just about anything if we were given the right materials and tools. So it was no wonder that we both ended up attending the University of Memphis and getting—you guessed it—degrees in engineering.
After school we both married (minor miracle!) and started working as engineers with various local companies. Our paths finally crossed in 1989 when we were both employed by a now-defunct company that was in the business of building hidden, built-in safes that people could use to hide guns, jewelry, money, etc. Mark ran the shop, and I somehow got put in charge of sales. Maybe that’s why the company folded in 1994.
By then we’d become close friends, and since we were both unemployed, we got the brilliant idea to try to continue the failed business; but instead of being employees, we’d own the company! It never dawned on us that the business had failed for a reason—mainly, that there just weren’t that many people who needed to hide safes in their house. Undaunted, we called our new company “INCOGNITO,” as in, stuff that’s hidden. You were probably wondering how our company got its most unusual name—now you know.
We quickly found out that in order to keep the doors open, we’d have to do more than hide safes. Since we both excelled at building things, we found ourselves doing lots of custom woodwork—cabinets, trim work, crown molding, etc. Then we noticed a trend—more and more people were asking us to build closet organizers for them. As engineers, this was very interesting… we decided to move out of “safe hiding” and into “closet organizing.”
Building closets would allow us to indulge all of our nerdiest passions: We could compute load tolerances, calculate dimensions, use heavy-duty materials, and build closets that would withstand Armageddon. We took our plan to the company who supplied the hinges, drawer glides, lumber and so forth, and got a bucket of cold water thrown on us.
According to this supplier, it turns out, the only way to compete in the closet organization business was to build the cheapest possible closets and compete on price. If we spent extra money on high-quality stuff, we were told, nobody would care, nobody would buy it, and we’d be out of business within the year. The supplier said he’d seen companies try to go the “high quality” route before, and they all inevitably failed. All of them.
So against our instincts, and against our better judgment, we took his advice and started building crappy closets. I’m sorry, but there’s really just no other way to describe it: Low quality drawer glides. Cheap wood. Flimsy hardware. If there was a corner that could be cut to save a buck, we cut it. We could under-bid just about any competitor; the supplier was right—we got plenty of sales.
But we also got plenty of complaints—and warranty calls. Even though we were installing crummy closets, we were still men of integrity: We responded to every complaint and fixed everything that wore out, broke down, or otherwise failed. It felt good to do the right thing, but it felt awful to watch all of our “profits” go down the drain in the form of warranty calls.
Then I got a call from my mother one day—and she was NOT happy. She said that one of her friends from church had bought a closet organization system from us at her suggestion. The friend was now complaining that here closet was a disaster—the drawers didn’t pull cleanly, some of the shelves had broken, and overall, it was just awful. My mom demanded to know how such a bright and talented engineer could be selling such schlock products. I was embarrassed and angry. Not at my mom—at myself—for ignoring our instincts and building THE BEST PRODUCTS.
We immediately changed tactics. We decided that we’d engineer and install ONLY the highest quality closet organizers, regardless of the sales consequences. We purchased ONLY the highest quality wood. We used the highest quality hardware, materials, and drawer glides. We engineered closets to withstand far more punishment than could ever realistically be expected to be endured by them. In short, we started engineering and installing the best closets—not just in Memphis—but probably in the country.
Funny thing: all of that extra quality and attention to detail only ended up costing about 10% to 15% more.
That’s right. Crap drawer glides that we used to use (and our competitors still use) cost only cost about $1 LESS each than the GREAT ones that we use. Upgrading to “furniture grade” industrial quality wood from the thinner, “generic grade” only adds about $120 to the average closet. But the closets look better, function better, and last WAY longer.
Moral of the story? Listen to Mama! She ALWAYS knows best. And our nerdy engineering intuitions also knew best. Turns out that people actually want HIGH QUALITY stuff, not garbage. They want it to work for YEARS, not months. They want it to look STUNNING, not pedestrian.
Our customers are happier because they get a great product at a great price. We’re happier because we’re not running all over town repairing stuff. And you know mama is proud now.