Southern Nevada’s very own Debbi Somers has the distinction of being the only female who owns and operates a furniture rental company, Somers Convention Furniture Rental (SCFR), that specializes in servicing the convention and short-term rental industry in the country!
The 1997-1998 convention season is destined to be the most successful year in SCFR’s eight-year history. This coincides with the company’s expansion plan to move into the Southern California market, targeting the Los Angeles, Orange County, Anaheim and San Diego Convention Centers. SCFR services many conventions nationwide, taking furniture in “Somers’ Semis” to areas such as Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and Orlando. Her vision for Southern California is to be the largest independent contractor supplying the convention furniture rental needs for that area with the same quality and service that has allowed her to dominate the Southern Nevada market. Here in Las Vegas, with the exception of the show contractor, SCFR has more furniture at any given convention than all the other independent contractors combined!
The firm’s phenomenal growth in its first three years enabled Somers to purchase and move into her current 20,000 square-foot facility at 3926 W. Ponderosa Way in Las Vegas. It consists of a 15,000-square-foot warehouse, which includes a full-service repair and upholstery shop and a state-of-the-art paint booth, 5,000 square feet of executive offices and two showrooms. She has four semis, two bob-tails, and a fenced-in storage yard which provides a secured location for the storage of pre-packed semi-trailers waiting for “move-in day” of the convention.
Somers has been affiliated with the convention industry for the past 13 years, originally serving as convention services manager for the entire northern region of Breuner’s Rents.
Under her direction and expertise she advanced her department from several thousand dollars a month in rentals to an average of $40,000 monthly. Upon achieving her goals at Breuner’s, she realized that a decision had to be made about her future. Her options were to stay on board with a corporation whose main interest was its Residential Division rather than its Convention Rental Division, select one of the multiple exhibit houses she previously serviced, or finally to open her own business. After several meetings with the Small Business Administration and the Nevada Development Authority, she developed a business and marketing plan and approached several banks. Being turned down by three banks, the fourth one finally granted Somers a business loan allowing her to go into business for herself She was determined that her experience, quality furniture and service would help her attain her share of this niche market within the massive nationwide convention industry. On March 1, 1989 a dream was realized and a new company emerged … Somers Convention Furniture Rental, Inc!
SCFR not only has the capability to service the local conventions and special events, but is servicing customer needs in most major centers across the country Her inventory of over one million dollars makes her the largest supplier of available furniture under one roof the western United States.
Ms. Somers’ feels her most valued asset is her employees and she strives to achieve harmony and efficiency in her staff by providing open communication and a spirit of cooperation. If a task has to be done, she is there to help out. She works side by side with her employees and has earned their respect and loyalty.
Somers said her reason for opening her own business was, “I wanted to do for my employees what many of my employers never did for me.
She opened her business with two employees. One employee was the warehouse manager, and she was all else, including the second warehouse person! She now employs fifteen and hires additional part-time employees during major conventions.
During the first year of operation, inventory and trucks were purchased and even with those initial expenditures a small profit was realized. With the awarding of two exclusive multi-year contracts by show contractors in 1991, Somers was able to exceed one million dollars in 1992. The company continued to flourish through July 1994, at which time the exclusive contracts ended. This meant the company revenues would be cut by 90 percent. Ironically, at what she felt was the pinnacle of her career, receiving the 1994 Small Business Person of the Year Award for Las Vegas, her business faced certain death. Rather than sit back and take what business life had dealt her, Somers fought to gain new clients. Not only was she able to gain new clients, she surpassed her prior year’s revenues in the face of disaster … astounding her competitors, her banker and her accountant. She has continued to sustain her annual revenues over the million-dollar mark, capturing 90 percent of the independent contractors’ Southern Nevada’s convention furniture business.
The convention furniture industry seems very basic: bring furniture in, take furniture out, but that is not the case. Over the years, Ms. Somers has recognized this and understands that efficiency is the key element. The “Somers System” is unique and innovative with procedures that have become the distinction of SCFR’s success.
1) Somers establishes double shifts during conventions providing exhibitors with extended service hours. This system accommodates quick pick-up and deliveries on last minute change orders and/or furniture repairs. An on-site repair shop means damaged pieces are repaired and returned to the convention floor within hours.
2) During down times, the shop performs maintenance on the inventory which reduces the cost of outside labor.
3) Rather than load trucks with bulk lots of single items, she was the first furniture supplier to sort furniture by booth at her warehouse and deliver the goods by booth. This assures accuracy and minimizes worker expense for the exhibitors.
4) Her stock is cleaned, wrapped, strapped and stored upon return to the warehouse, minimizing her response time on future orders. Cleaning, strapping and bagging the furniture gives it the appearance of being “new’; increases the longevity of the inventory and reduces replacement costs.
5) Ms. Somers was also unique in the way she produced her brochures. Other companies in the industry printed their brochures with names for individual pieces, such as a black leather sofa being called a “Merlin’ She decided to keep it simple and call a black leather sofa by what it is, “a black leather sofa”, making it easier for the client while ordering, and creating fewer mistakes at the warehouse and show site.
The quality of her furniture is still one of the most important features Somers has to offer. The furniture she selects is geared for convention colors, needs and durability. Sofas, chairs, conference tables, office and occasional tables are purchased to withstand the abuse of trucking and constant handling. Since the business is so specialized, the employees are hired for their ambition and then trained to meet the needs of the company.
The future holds countless opportunities for Somers and her company as she ventures into the national marketplace. She has made her mark in the local convention business and is determined to do so on the national forefront, focusing initially on the Southern California market.
In spite of the high demands of owning and running her own business, she serves as Vice President of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWB0) and remains an active member of the Women’s Convention Services Association (WCSA) and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. In 1993 she was awarded the Blue Chip Enterprise Designee, which recognizes exceptional management in meeting adversity, and was selected for Most Distinguished Woman of Southern Nevada for 1995 and 1997.
Somers feels strongly about the community and takes every opportunity to contribute her time and talents. She has been involved with Clark County School Districts Career Day Program targeting career goals for at risk junior high school students. She served on the GALA Committee for the Festival of Trees which raises money to combat Downs Syndrome. She has been instrumental in establishing a job pool through WCSA, creating a structure to allow networking on a daily basis to advance members in their respective careers. Somers has a company policy where she and her staff vote for one large, charitable company project each year. She heads the project by being behind it 100 percent, financially and physically encouraging the staff to participate. Past endeavors include assembling Christmas gift bags for the children at St. Judes Ranch, and donating and delivering furniture to a needy family The most recent project involved the Agassi Foundation to benefit children’s charities. She donated her top of the line furniture while her staff delivered and set up all the dressing rooms for the stars scheduled to perform at the charity function.
Somers adds that her services also range outside the convention world. She supplies furniture to new businesses moving to town while either waiting for their furniture to arrive or before they settle in and purchase their own as well as for functions at private residences, and/or hotels, weddings, etc.