A truck rolled into Encore Upholstery & Design at 3 p.m. on a recent Wednesday delivering a $20,000 leather couch punctured with holes and other furniture marred by tears and burns caused during a night of partying on the Strip.
“See that hole? That’s from a stiletto heel,” Encore owner Audrey Gregory pointed out.
The furniture came from a three-story bungalow overlooking the Marquee Day Club Pool at the Cosmopolitan.
Gregory had 29 hours to fix and return it so it could accommodate the next high roller to stay in the $15,000-per-night suite.
“We see everything — the stiletto heels, the cigarette burns,” Gregory said. “And we’ll fix it.”
In just three years, Gregory has become the go-to businesswoman for building and repairing the furniture that decorates some of Las Vegas’ finest resorts. The 33-year-old has built a company that started in the back of a garage and transformed it into a business that employs more than 20 carpenters, upholsterers and refinishing experts and occupies 10,000 square feet of space just blocks from the Strip.
In addition to fixing trashed items, Encore Upholstery constructs restaurant booths, acrylic bar stools, slot machine chairs and lobby benches for gaming companies and resorts.
Gregory’s shop has made poolside cushions and cabana drapes for Tao Beach, the Aria and Golden Nugget. She has built furniture for the baccarat salon at the Venetian. She is currently working on furniture for Treasure Island and the Downtown Grand.
“It’s unbelievable how much pressure there is,” Gregory said. “You work whenever the casino can close a room or shut down a floor for us. And they’re open 24 hours.”
During renovations, casinos typically shut down a few floors of a hotel for a few days or a week to refurbish rooms. Gregory must work within that time frame. For repairs, her turnaround time can be as short as a day.
Gregory’s rush orders help resorts keep their customers happy.
“To be a five-diamond rated resort, we have to constantly make sure everything is perfect,” said Darren VanGieson, the Venetian and Palazzo’s manager of furniture, fixture and equipment procurement. “We don’t always have the staff, especially in this economy, to keep up the service level and appearance. So we’ll go to Audrey, sometimes in a crisis, and Encore will fix it and get it back to us the same day.”
Gregory’s company also covers casino tables with felt and creates padded bumpers for gaming tables. Those wear out every few months because people lean on them almost constantly.
“The rings around the gaming tables are the hardest,” she said. “We probably do about 200 a month.”
Gregory flung open an overhead door to reveal a 38-square-foot storage room packed with furniture about 10 feet high.
“This is a week’s work for us,” she said.
She walked between three warehouse buildings where her crew fashions furniture for a growing number of resorts. Her stiletto heels clicked on the pavement.
“Being blond and having brains can sometimes hurt your credibility,” said Gregory, who holds a business degree from the University of Houston. “This is an industry run by men who have had upholstery shops for 20 or 30 years. We’ve kind of snuck in the back door.”
Gregory did what many women and minority business owners do to get noticed: She sought accreditation from groups such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Large corporations, including MGM Resorts International, use the lists to select vendors to ensure they do business with a diverse group.
“We want to make sure we’re providing opportunities for everyone, especially within our local communities,” said Kenyatta Lewis, MGM’s executive director of supplier diversity. “We want a diverse pool of suppliers of goods and services to make sure we’re not always pulling out of the same pot.”
MGM officials recently toured Encore to see whether the company could provide more services for other casinos.
Gregory landed her first large job at a strip club. She spent four months in 2010 building and covering furniture for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club.
That contract helped Gregory move her business out of the garage of a man who had taught her how to upholster. She met him when her Vespa broke down one afternoon near the Palms. At the time, Gregory was struggling to establish an interior design business that staged homes for sale.
“I had the design knowledge, and he taught me the back end about building furniture and upholstery,” she said. “We were working out of the back of his garage at the time. I went to the Strip looking for sales. All these casinos have all this furniture, and I thought, ‘Why should they go somewhere else to buy it? Why not get it right here in Las Vegas?’”
“During this economy, a lot of places don’t want to buy new,” Gregory continued. “And in my business, there’s no tax on labor, so we’re saving them a lot of money.”
VanGieson said Gregory visits the Venetian often to check on her work.
The day the torn leather couch arrived, Gregory’s team hammered, stapled and sewed late into the night to fix the damage. They broke for a few hours to sleep, then reconvened at 4 a.m. to meet their deadline.
They returned the furniture a few hours later to its spot in the Cosmopolitan, ready for its next guests.
A week later, Gregory got another call from the resort — more stiletto heels in a couch. She prepared her truck.