By Craig Shaw
Richard Schulman isn’t just the co-owner of White Rabbit Garage Organizers. He’s also a customer.
In fact, Schulman was his own very first customer. Whipping his garage into shape back in 1992 gave him the idea to start a business performing the same service for others.
“I went into the garage to look for something and it was like stumbling into a cavern,” said the Deerfield resident. “It was dark and cluttered and 1 couldn’t find anything.”
A strong dose of shelving, cabinets, and heavy-duty pegboard solved that problem. Bikes, skis and golf clubs went on the walls. Boots and skates went into cabinets. Balls went into sliding wire baskets.
Today, the Schulman garage remains the company prototype, and Schulman and wife Sally oversee a staff of 13. Both left corporate jobs Richard was an attorney, Sally was in marketing – to run the business. The result: more than 1,200 happy customers.
Sue Jacobson turned last month to a garage organizing firm because the clutter was getting out of hand, making it hard for her husband to even open his car door.
“With four kids, we have a tremendous amount of sports equipment, bikes, toys – you name it, we have it,” she said.
The levin’s garage was unorganized before the clutter pros took over. So she called Storage Doctor, a Wheeling firm that performs surgery on garages as well as closets, basements and utility rooms.
In Jacobson’s garage, they installed cabinets, bike racks, and a work station.
“It looks very good,” she said.
Terry Strayhorn, co-owner of Storage’ Doctor along with Sue Gordon,- began designing storage cabinets in California, then moved his operation here in 1994. “You don’t have basements in California, so the garage becomes a major storage facility,” he said.
Garage organizers face a double sales pitch: convincing people they need to get organized, then convincing them to spend money for it. But that’s nothing compared to convincing pack rats to throw things away.
“We find people have so much difficulty purging,” said Barbara Schmit; owner of Northbrook-based Room By Room. “They need support and guidance to decide what to keep, what to throw out, and what to donate.”
The maxim goes, if anything hangs in your closet for a year without being worn, get rid of it.
Schmit goes a step further: after the first year, move the item to a box in the garage or basement. If you still don’t touch it for six or nine months, then dump it.
So how much will it cost to get some organization into your life?
Prices vary widely, from several hundred dollars for a simple garage cleaning to several thousand for a full set of cabinets and shelves.
Many decide it’s worth it. Riverwoods resident Judy Levin has no basement in her house, because of its proximity to the Des Plaines River. She could have used an extra bedroom for storage, but she and husband Stephen wanted it for a recreation room instead.
So she called White Rabbit.
“It’s ideal for me,” Levin said. “I don’t like clutter.”
Before, that clutter was stored everywhere from metal utility shelves in the garage to the top shelf of the kitchen pantry.
Now, the family’s ice skates, rollerblades, holiday decorations, deck chairs, and rarely used dishes, along with plenty of other stuff, is tucked away in laminated ceiling-size cabinets that keep them dry and dust-free.
White Rabbit even built her a small cabinet to cover up the garage’s electrical outlets and panels.
It’s enough to make a homeowner want to leave the garage door open all- day, instead of sneaking the car in by night and hoping neighbors won’t see. Or worse, parking in the street because the car won’t fit inside.
“People have called us and said they have a two-car garage and can’t even get their cars inside,” said Gordon.
Of course, it’s the car that creates the space crunch in the first place. “You’re confined to using the wall and ceiling for storage,” said Schmit.
Garage organizers will even install a parking guide, like you’d see in the grocery store lot, so you don’t hit the wall with your bumper.
Custom work is also part of the bargain.
For a customer who kept horses, White Rabbit built a closet to hold saddles, with multiple cubbyholes for related gear.
For an artist, a customized drying cabinet was designed to hold canvases. And for avid bridge players, closets were created large enough to tuck card tables and folding chairs out of sight, yet within easy reach.
The Storage Doctor builds individual storage lockers for kids, so hats, mittens and schoolbooks can go behind closed doors, instead of on the hallway floor. Garage organizers agree the garage is seen more and more as ‘an extension of the house, rather than just a place for cars and bikes. Schulman says one customer uses her garage as a back-up summer party area in case it rains.
“Instead of a messy storage space, it makes it a real part of the home,” said Strayhorn.
And organizing your garage has another benefit, one everyone can appreciate: boosting the home’s resale value.
“It becomes a very distinctive feature,” Schulman said. “It separates you from the rest of the pack.”