Meet our Founder
Pulling into work is a self-affirming experience for Debbi Somers. Commandeering the northeast corner of a commercial complex about a javelin’s throw west of the Las Vegas Strip is where you’ll find a 57,000 square foot facility with her surname displayed in huge signage on the exterior. Driving through the parking lot to the office, you pass a fleet of semi-trucks; each has “Somers” emblazoned on the front of its hull. As you traverse the stairs leading to her second floor office, look left-the wall is a mini shrine of reverential newspaper and magazine stories detailing her success as proprietor of multimillion-dollar Somers Convention Furniture Rental Inc. (SCFR) and Somers Furniture, as the only woman in the nation to own and operate such an enterprise, as a major niche player in Vegas’ billion-dollar convention/hotel industry. Stand in the door in her office and you can see what she does: Employees bedecked in “Somers” t-shirts load furniture destined for convention, a hospitality suite, and a restaurant, nightclub, and pool lounge or luxury neighborhood.
SCFR not only has the capacity to service the local conventions and special events but also servicing customer needs in the most major centers across the country. My inventory of more than 3 million makes me the largest independent supplier of available furniture under in the Western United States. SCFR started in 1989 with a 10,000 square foot warehouse and two employees. Now, 3 decades later, she currently has 20 employees and owns a state of the art facility. The business has grown to be a multimillion dollar a year status and has set many new innovative procedures within the industry that has landed the most prestigious contracts in the field.
It’s been quite an ascent for the West Chicago, Illinois transplant…. here is her story told by her:
I inherited my entrepreneurial spirit from my father who had his own business in our hometown. It seemed easy on that I was destined to work in a male-dominated industry when I got my first sales job selling commercial water softeners. I would go out on the job site with the installers so I could understand the installation and I wanted to know how everything worked.
When I moved to Las Vegas with my then six year old daughter, I was a single mom seeking a fresh start in life and answered an ad for a position at Breuners Furniture Store. I thought I’m finally going to get a girl’s job selling furniture; I was excited about the prospect of working in a female-oriented industry.
Instead the job Breuners offered me was to work in their convention furniture rental division, Breuners Rents. As the convention service manager, it was up to me to design a tracking system for all the merchandise that was coming in and going out and this was before computers, when we had to do everything manually. Breuners was a large west coast home furnishing department store. Furniture Rental was not a high priority for Breuners. I quickly reorganized the department, initiated new inventory control procedures and customer contact. The business flourished, and the cash flow was significantly increased in the five years that I ran that department.
Breuners management took note of my success and proposed changing my position from salary plus commission to straight salary thousands below what I was currently making. I demanded a meeting with the current president of the company and outlined the steady increase in business and after a short 30 seconds, he put up his hand to stop me and said “You are good but not that good”. Looking at both my district and regional managers, who also made commission on my sales and they were mute. It was at this point that I made a life-changing decision to start up my own business, offering stylish rental furniture that was durable, truck packable, well maintained and delivered in an efficient and reliable manner.
After writing a business plan, I approached three banks for a $100,000 Small Business Administration loan and was turned down each time. That didn’t stop me and on my fourth attempt to get a loan I was successful and in six months SCFR exceeded their first year projections.
As we gained our reputation in the industry, we were able to obtain a multi-year contract with the major service contractor in the convention business. This allowed us to expand to a larger warehouse, increase the number of employees and increase our inventory, as well as add our own fleet of trucks.
Success does not come without problems…in the short term rental business to conventions and trade shows it is custom to deliver furniture to a large marshalling area where it is sorted and delivered to individual booths by union workers. I hired Bekins Moving Company to train my employees to pack a truck by booth, like the company packed rooms, separating by cardboard. The Local Teamsters did not like the loss of business and punctured all the tires on all of my moving vans trailers, another time they scattered the furniture to all ends of the 1.1 million square foot convention center instead of delivering to booths as they were instructed.
The year 2001 was the most challenging year. In August of 2001 we chose not to renew our contract with the convention general contractor because we could not agree on pricing which would be mutually advantageous. This represented 90% of our cash flow.
Then came 9/11, and the convention and tourism industry in Las Vegas took a direct hit. Our challenge was to ensure our cash flow by looking for internal savings, i.e. employee layoffs or find a new business. We made the decision to expand and diversify our business to ensure our survival. The staff we had repairing furniture we bought from others came to us and said they can manufacture furniture; it was a Friday and working through the weekend, manufactured a line of modern furniture in white leatherette, benches, armless sofas and chairs, accent and cocktail tables. On Monday, we took digital pictures, it was when digital cameras first came out and scheduled appointment with our hotel special event departments showed them our pictures which was different from anything else on the market for rental furniture. We extended our services to building special event furniture so we could better serve our clientele. Because of the uniqueness of this new line, we were approached by several hotels and restaurants to manufacture furniture.
Who else was spending money in 2001? The bar and club scene had become a top attraction in Las Vegas as well as the “in” place to be seen and entertained. Those venues have become significant profit centers for management. From there the night clubs took over hotel pools that were a money pit and made them into day clubs and every hotel was converting at least one of their pools. At one time all we did was topless pools!
Somers Furniture was started as a woman-owned Las Vegas furniture manufacturing company building furniture for Las Vegas Nightclubs and Day clubs. With the increasing competition in the nightclub/day club industry, it will be a benefit to be able to have specialty furniture manufactured right here in Las Vegas. This division has the ability to design, manufacture and install furniture to the local market with minimum lead time and, because it is all accomplished locally, at considerable savings. We reinvented the company in eighteen months.
And then the recession hit, we figured we have reinvented ourselves so this would be easy. But there were no books to read, no articles that said what companies should do so again we said what do we do better than anyone? Build outdoor furniture for the partiers in Vegas, we can build it for the residential market. Our outdoor retail line is showcased twice a year at the Furniture Market at the Las Vegas World Market Center and orders are shipped all over the United States not to mention some of the best neighborhoods in Vegas for some of the most famous people calling Las Vegas their home. Somers was featured on HGTV Property Brothers at Home TV show with Jonathon and Drew Scott featuring their custom built outdoor furniture.
I am very grateful for the success Somers has accomplished in the Las Vegas community. As a corporate citizen we have a responsibility to give back to the community and we enthusiastically support charity events such as Goodie Two Shoes Foundation, Nathan Adelson Hospice, AFAN, The Center Honorarium, Cronin’s Disease Marathon, and Walk for MS and ALS Walk.
Somers’s success can be attributed to the dedication and talents of its employees as well as keeping its focus on its mission statement. To provide quality merchandise and superior service at competitive prices.