As Chattanooga area businesses shift, pivot and change, trying to adapt to a new normal, many are tapping into the passion that led them to open their business in the first place. Over the course of the next number of weeks, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce will profile some of these owners and share their inspirational stories on how they are doing it.
“I was so grateful we could remain open,” says Kim Campbell, owner of the Chattanooga Closet Company located on Broad Street near downtown Chattanooga. Considered part of new construction and an essential business during the height of the lockdown, Ms. Campbell got to work, making critical decisions and fast. She armed herself with a PPP loan and stepped back into the day-to-day workings of her business, full-time. Some of her staff took unemployment, some worked virtually and others stayed on.
“My designers stayed home and I kept working,” Ms. Campbell says. “We have been able to implement all of the safety guidelines from day one.”
With no new business coming in, Ms. Campbell’s smaller, restructured team kept the projects they had on the books moving forward following all of the CDC guidelines.
“I was able to continue to work and I don't take that for granted,” Ms. Campbell says. “So many people were climbing the walls and sweating over whether they would have a business to come back to. We worked through it, and yes it was different, lots of stressful moments. Like everyone else, we worried about everybody’s safety.”
When Phase I hit and things started opening up, Ms. Campbell saw the impact of people being home in lockdown right away.
"We are tied in with people at home, living and working in their space, and pretty much at the end of May, we had calls. It’s folks that want to make their lives easier and more efficient. They have looked at things for years and decided now is the time.”
With a flat March and April, the Chattanooga Closet Company’s business is now back on track - with closets, pantries and garage organization projects. Home offices could be next.
“I think we may be able to meet our goals for 2020. It’s not a budget thing for clients, it's more, what's in my life that could be better,” Ms. Campbell says. “Everyone is enjoying making the most of their space whether inside or out. And, that’s what we do every day is the minutiae of inches within space... ‘yay, we fit twice as much in your space!’...That’s problem-solving. It’s a big puzzle and we get to work it out. It’s very satisfying.”
While virtual work has been a helpful addition to some aspects of her business, Ms. Campbell didn’t find it to be a game-changer.
“When everything is virtual there is a huge void there,” she says. “There is not the volume of work when you are not out there doing it full-time. We are a relationship business.”
That’s what has carried the Chattanooga Closet Company. Now with her main designer and largest producer still having to work from home, Ms. Campbell is keeping her full-time hours to ensure her business continues to thrive.
“I am so thankful we have done this for 22 years. We have repeat business,” Ms. Campbell says. “People do five or six projects over four or five years. We have a huge width and depth of clientele, let alone a reputation of being in the marketplace this many years.”
Ms. Campbell got the idea to start her business after her sister-in-law moved to Nashville and put in all new closets.
“I went to look at her closets and, bingo, a light went off,” Ms. Campbell says.
From there, her mother, a longtime kindergarten teacher who kept up with many of her students over the years, made a huge connection for Ms. Campbell. Turns out, one of her former students had opened up her own closet company in St. Louis and was now eight years into the business. Ms. Campbell had a mentor.
“We talked and I loved it. I liked the hands-on, the interchange of ideas and how people do things, and so I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
She did her research, found a manufacturer, marketing materials, and landed her first job with some good friends. It was an 8x10 master closet.
“We were doing everything,” Ms. Campbell says. “It was hard work, the material, it’s heavy, there are drills. I am a project person. I was more than happy to do all of it. When you sell a product and service, the other thing you sell is your enthusiasm for that product and service and your belief in it.”
Ms. Campbell now has nine employees and a huge showroom displaying all the latest in home organization.
“I continue to be excited when customers walk through the doors. Every day I get to see the enthusiasm through them. It’s fun. It’s refreshing.”
It’s a reminder that she landed in the right field. With a degree in interior design, Ms. Campbell has always been interested in space planning. She is a very visual person and it has paid off.
“Being that way translates very easily to being in other people's space, looking at challenges and looking at opportunities of what you can do with it. In every space I am in, I am affected by it. That is who I am.”
She recognized this about herself as early as age 10.
“My sister was neat and I was sloppy, but when I would pick up, I would say I did a better job than she did,” Ms. Campbell says. “When I got organized, I went as far as taking the scalloped daisy wallpaper that was in my room and I would put it around my deodorant container. If mom needed her Tupperware cabinet cleaned out, I enjoyed that.”
Having that passion for her own spaces, she has been able to help others transform their homes. It starts with a simple question.
“What are your hopes and dreams for this space? Some people think that's funny, others think, ‘oh my gosh, this is great! She knows I have hopes and dreams for this space.’”
Always hopeful, Ms. Campbell’s best advice to other small business owners: keep the faith.
“Believe in what you have done…. and trust you can get on the other side of it. We live in a great, very supportive community. Just continue the conversations and maybe there is another product or service that may be more appropriate to the environment we are living in. As entrepreneurs, we are always willing to learn and take on new challenges."