New career, by design

After years of climbing the corporate ladder, Eric VanSickle decided he'd gone high enough.

VanSickle left his job as vice president of e-commerce at Wachovia and has since spent his time getting his new life, and the homes of customers, organized.

As the owner of Closets by Design of Charlotte, VanSickle and his employees have designed and installed custom storage and organization systems in hundreds of area homes. Four years into his new endeavor, VanSickle's efforts yielded sales of more than $3 million last year.

VanSickle discussed life after “corporate America” and how the skills he learned there have helped him along the way.

Comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. What sparked your interested in leaving your job at Wachovia for the home organization industry?

I have a close family friend who was involved in this industry who had made mention about this industry and how much it was growing.

Then there were a few deaths of people close to me and when something like that happens it really makes you take stock of your life. I started evaluating: What am I doing, and do I like what I am doing?

For me, it was obvious that it was time to move on to something new.

With Closets by Design, you're dealing with the whole business cycle, and I've used the same disciplines that I learned in corporate America and applied them here. It also looked to make a lot of sense since Charlotte is a growing market.

To now be in a job where I know every single day that my company is making an impact on someone's life and being able to see that – that's really rewarding.

Q. What were the biggest changes in making the transition from a job in the corporate world to opening a Closets by Design franchise?

Everything starts and ends with myself. You can't just walk away at the end of the day and turn it off. Now you're responsible for the people who work for you and you're making sure that these people have a job on a day-in-day-out basis. That's a big change.

I actually like it – although you're responsible 24-7 for your business it also gives you some latitude and flexibility in what I do day-to-day.

Q. Were there any skills that you learned in your time with Wachovia that have helped you succeed with Closets by Design?

I would say just project management and being customer-focused and customer-driven. Wachovia is so focused on customer service that it was hard for me not to take that with me.

You need to know before you put something out in the marketplace that it is wanted and you can't go out and promise something that you can't deliver.

I've just seen what can happen when you focus on the customer and make them the first priority.

Q. Has the housing crisis affected your business at all?

No. Actually, we're still growing, especially thanks to repeat customers. It's really an addictive product.

We're seeing now people who have already re-done their kitchens or their bathrooms and are now looking at less urgent projects like organizing a garage or a home office.

Once you've seen your life organized, it's hard to be comfortable any other way.