Reclaiming the Garage

Homeowners are looking to make the most of their home and the space it contains. Basements, for example, are no longer looked at as dank storage areas, but areas for potential living space. Now garages are in homeowners’ sights. Whether all the basement storage has been taken over from redevelopment into entertainment areas or because the home lacks any real storage space, the focus on the garage has become the next big thing to hit the home.

“Garages are mainly used for storage these days and not for cars,” says Michele Savalox, senior marketing manager for Gladiator GarageWorks. “Garages have not only become the junk drawers of the home, but also the main entryway, which is increasing the need to organize the space.”

According to NAHB research, only 17 percent of homes built in 2005 didn’t include a garage. Sixty percent of homes built in that same year included a two-car garage and 15 percent included a three-or-more car garage. These figures give an idea of the potential pool of customers remodelers can look forward to that may be interested in some sort of garage organization system right now or in the near future.

“Garages are getting bigger,” says Gopal Ahluwalia, NAHB’s staff vice president for research. “The garage standard used to be 20 by 20 ft. and now tends to be 24 by 24 ft. because home-owners want the extra space. Primarily they want the extra space for storage.”

Out of the 72.2 million owner-occupied homes in the United States, 54.7 million or 76 percent of those homes contain a garage. But what home-owners are doing with their garages is a different story.

“We are becoming a more and more casual society,” says Jim Schlimpert, owner of Garage Storage Cabinets. “People are coming and going through their garage and need them to look better because of this.”

Organized mess
“People are moving toward organizing,” says Schlimpert. “If you look back to the ’20s and ’30s there really weren’t any cabinets in kitchens. But look at kitchens now, homeowners are trying to get the most out of their space.”

Schlimpert suggests these three steps to get started in organizing the garage. First, take the measurements. This physical analysis of the space helps the homeowner understand what they’re working with and what will be possible for them to do. Second, the psychological profile of the inhabitants should be worked up. This involves figuring out their likes and dislikes, hobbies, sports and what they are trying to accomplish with the organization.

“There’s one key question to ask a homeowner,” says Schlimpert. “What treasures do you want to get off the floor and behind the door?”

Lastly, a remodeler should combine the first two evaluations and look at the options available to make up a plan for the space that will accomplish the homeowner’s goals.

“Homeowners are using garages mainly for storage and not for cars,” says Savalox. “They want an organized look that includes work space, crafting/project stations, kids stations and a still have room to park the car.”

Tools of organization
Several companies have been leading the way in garage organization solutions. These companies have products that range from movable wall-mounted systems to products built in place. Of course the key to making the homeowner happy is finding out what they want and need for their space.

“Educating John P. Public about what is available in storage options is key,” says Schlimpert. “Not enough people know about garage storage systems.”

While some garage organization systems started with cabinetmakers moving into garage systems, one company started around a freezer. Gladiator GarageWorks began when an innovation team at Whirlpool got together to decide how to attract a larger male audience to their products. What they found was that many homeowners were moving older inefficient refrigerators to their garages where they were exposed to extreme temperatures. So they decided to create a freezer and refrigerator system that could withstand these extremes and what followed was an entire organization system.

Gladiator GarageWorks carries three lines of products. Their premium line is made of welded steel, 24-in. deep cabinets and comes completely assembled. Gladiator’s base line is a laminated system that requires assembly, but the key to all their lines is the options for mounting the products. Gladiator begins with either a GearTrack Channel or GearWall Panel system. Hooks and cabinets are then hung from these systems and can be expanded upon or moved as the homeowner’s needs change.

Rubbermaid and Knope & Vogt are two companies that have similar product systems to Gladiator’s GearTrack system. Rubbermaid’s FastTrack System is a modular hook-and-rail system that has a variety of accessories, shelves and cabinets that hang from the rail. Their FastTrack 88-in. rail can hold up to 2,000 lbs. Knope & Vogt has a slatwall kit that creates a 4x4-ft. finished section. Knope & Vogt also sells the hooks, wire baskets, shelving and other accessories to go along with its slatwall system.

Craftsman carries a series of systems that focus on the projects that the homeowners want to engage in. The Craftsman products customize for people such as the home woodworker, the family with many outdoor play toys or even the home auto mechanic.

“Homeowners tend to tackle their projects in steps,” says Larry Costello, director of product public relations with Sears Holding Corp. “Many start with a workbench for work space and a pegboard for tools.”

GarageTek concentrates on a complete garage system. Their Tek panel is applied to the wall and everything mounts to it. The line includes tall and short cabinets that can be clipped into the Tek panel, shelving, activity racks for a variety of sporting equipment, workbenches, flooring, lighting and a ceiling track system for bikes, baskets and bins.

“The garage organization product category has gained credibility as large companies like Whirlpool enter the market,” says Schlimpert. “Interest is at an all-time high for this $2.5 billion industry.”

Remodelers’ options
“Garage organization is the fastest growing segment of the organization market,” says Marc Shuman, president of GarageTek. “Homeowners are using it for many things and are even heating and air conditioning them for comfortable year- round use.”

There are a few options for remodelers looking for a way to make money in the garage organization market. First, they can organize the space themselves and go to any number of stores to purchase systems off the shelf and install them for the home-owner as an added service.

Another option would be to become a dealer for one of the companies offering garage organization solutions. Companies like GarageTek and Garage Storage Cabinets offer this option, but generally only if they have an opening in any given market. Garage Storage Cabinets has a two-day training session they make their dealers go through — 400 people have completed this program. Currently Garage Storage Cabinets has dealers in 44 states.

A third option to remodelers would be to refer clients to a garage organization company or dealer. GarageTek offers a referral bonus to remodelers who refer clients; allowing them to make some money without the added time and expense of installing the system themselves.

“Our referral program is designed to not only help us, but also help out remodelers,” says Barbara Butensky, director of marketing at GarageTek. “This allows them to meet their customers’ needs and hand their clients off to someone that can be trusted.”

What’s next
The future of garage organization is only getting brighter. Companies that have some focus on the garage have seen real growth as homeowners look to utilize their space and redesign the way they use it.

“With a 30 percent annual growth rate for the last five years, we’re growing significantly,” says Shuman. “We’re launching 20 new products a year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

Thinking outside the box, Gladiator is looking at the items that homeowners keep in their garage. Their concept GatorPak is a tailgating kit that includes refrigerator, grill, speakers, LCD display, radio, warming drawer, storage and a beer tapper. The GaterPak will be able to be attached to a trailer hitch and easily stored under a workbench in the garage.

Companies fixated on garage organization continue to add innovative products to their offering to help homeowners manage their time and space. Ceiling track and lift systems to store products “off the ground” will be making a bigger appearance.

“Garage organization is a relatively new revolutionary idea,” says Schlimpert. “It’s the final frontier of the home.”