Owner of Somers Furniture survives Super Bowl Sunday adversity

On Super Bowl Sunday, after the game was over, Debbi Somers got the call. One of her big tractor trailer trucks had broken down.

Ordinarily, the owner of Somers Furniture could have just called a tow truck and garage the next day. But she had to remove the rental furniture she placed in several local hotels for their Super Bowl parties immediately.

“How do you find somebody on a Sunday night after the Super Bowl?” Somers said.

In recent years, several local hot spots have had Somers bring an average 300 couches per location into meeting rooms for the festivities. After the game, Somers’ crews would remove them so the meeting rooms could be converted back.

But this year, one of the two tractor trailers she had on duty broke a drive shaft at The Mirage. Her 50-worker crew could not complete its mission. But The Mirage and other hotels needed their rooms restored. Life and business resume after the game.

Somers’ business has survived adversity and even thrived because of her and her staff’s ability to adapt.

Somers Furniture started in 1989 to serve the rental needs of local hotels, casinos and the convention business. Since then, the company has experienced major growth.

In 1989, the company had a 10,000-square-foot warehouse and two employees. By 1991 it had a 20,000-square-foot facility and 10 employees. Today, at its current location, the company has a 57,000-square-foot warehouse, 20 employees and more than $3 million in inventory.

When Somers started her business, it was essentially a warehouse where customers could come and pick up what they needed. But some patrons wanted delivery. So she went to a local truck dealer and bought a 24-foot van.

“I didn’t know anything about trucks,” Somers said. “They had to teach me about lift gates and other things.”

As the business grew, Somers needed bigger rigs that could tow large moving-van-sized trailers. She and her husband found two in Phoenix and drove them to the city.

“I didn’t know you needed a license, Somers said. “I know how to drive a stick (shift), and thought it was no big deal.”

For six years in the period from 1989 to 2001, Somers Furniture was the largest privately owned service contractor for Greyhound Exhibition Services and handled such shows as Comdex, World Shoe Association, Men’s Apparel Guild in California, World of Concrete, and International Council of Shopping Centers.

“We could move in 11 semis of furniture in four hours,” Somers said.

Today the company deals directly with exhibitors.

The company’s first reinvention came after Sept. 11, 2001.

“The tourist business was declining. So we decided to find a niche that no one else was in, that our customers needed,” Somers said. “We decided that providing furniture in different colors and styles than were already available was the spot for us.”

The company started manufacturing its own designs in 2001 and by 2003 was manufacturing for restaurants, nightclubs and adult pools for most of the city’s major hotels.

In 2002, Somers started to rent furniture to the corporate event industry and doing short-term rentals to hotels, country clubs and anyplace licensed to hold meetings.

She builds furniture to suit clients’ needs and tastes.

About this time last year, Somers had to again change her business model.

Her husband was in the flooring industry, and when construction began to decline, Somers instituted her own “beat the recession” plan.

“We had already been redesigning furniture for our own purposes and decided to do it for our customers,” Somers said.

In so doing, Somers can help local establishments change their looks for a fraction of the cost of buying new furniture and help the environment at the same time. Furniture that might have ended up at the dump has been given a new life and the need to buy new pieces has been eliminated.

“It’s a win for the customer and the environment,” Somers said.

The company is expanding its client base and recently worked with a designer to refurbish two upper-end hair salons.

“We have never done this before, but that is what makes it interesting,” Somers said.

All in all, things have been going well. But then the truck tanked.

Somers made frantic calls to find a tow truck and finally reached someone willing to help. But then she got a call from her crew. One worker had decided to weld the drive shaft on the spot.

“I said to the guy, ‘You’re not doing that at The Mirage are you?’ He said ‘Yeah.’ He didn’t understand what was wrong with that,” Somers said, ever mindful of her clients’ needs.

The truck limped back, the furniture was removed, and peace was restored.

“I love what I do; It’s never boring,” Somers said. “But in my next life, I’ll think I’ll sell gift baskets. I can just stick them in the trunk and be done with it.”

Danek S. Kaus is a California-based freelance business writer. Send questions or comments to mward@lvbusinesspress.com

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