Table stylists |

Table stylists

John Seelmeyer

The big corporate special events that create much of the demand for specialized tablecloths, napkins and chair covers came to a screeching halt with the recession.

The downturn provided a clear signal to Christian Nobis and Robin Brockelsby, whose Sparks-based Creative Coverings provides linen rentals for special events from coast to coast.

The company this autumn muscled up its sales effort, adding Marketing Director Nancy Stoltz and National Sales Executive Kate Kovalick to its staff.

That frees Brockelsby do undertake more presentations at trade shows and more relationship-building with potential customers.

Reno-based sales consultant Alice Heiman was hired to review the company’s sales processes.

Creative Coverings is rolling out a new Web site, and Nobis and Brockelsby are thinking seriously of a second location with convenient ground transportation to East Coast markets.

“If we’re going to reach our goals, we need to be aggressive,” says Brockelsby. “Now we have an A team in place.”

On the face of it, Creative Coverings’ business is the height of simplicity:

A customer a corporate event planner, say, or a wedding planner calls Creative Coverings for specialized linens. Maybe tablecloths in an emerald lame fabric for an elegant affair. Or linens in a red check for a theme party.

With luck, Creative Coverings has the linens in stock in its Sparks distribution center and ships them out.

Often, however, the company’s in-house manufacturing crew cuts and sews tablecloths, chair coverings and other linens sometimes with notice of only a couple of days to fill a specialized order.

When the linens return, they’re run through a laundry operation that handles 40,000 pounds a month, pressed and carefully hung to await the next order.

Creative Coverings, Brockelsby says, fills a niche in the middle of the linen-rental market. Big competitors operate vast warehouses filled with linens.

“But big companies are big companies,” she says. “We are owner-operated. We’re here every day.”

At the same time, Creative Coverings competes with a multitude of small, largely local, party rental companies. Some of them, in fact, become customers of Creative Coverings when they land an order they can’t handle themselves.

The sew-to-order approach that Creative Coverings takes with many of its orders has allowed the company to slowly build its inventory without significant debt since it got into national markets in 2000.

Brockelsby figures it costs the company $48 to manufacture a tablecloth. In most instances, the company tries to recoup that cost within two rentals.

But a flashy 1,000-person corporate banquet is likely to require 125 tablecloths, at least 1,000 chair covers and at least 1,000 napkins a lot of fabric to be purchased and made into linens.

“This is a very expensive business to be in,” Brockelsby says.

Changing fashions can leave inventory on the hangar for years before an event planner calls for it. The ever-expanding American banquet-goer, meanwhile, has led to ever-expanding chair sizes a major headache for Nobis and Brockelsby, who have created hundreds of covers for smaller-sized chairs.

While corporate special events dried up during the recession, Creative Coverings’ staff of approximately 20 saw little slowdown in the weddings business.

“Most people come to us because it’s a happy occasion,” Brockelsby says.

Now that the corporate events business is beginning to stir back to life, Brockelsby and Nobis look to kick the company’s revenue growth to about 25 percent a year.

A key element in that planning, Brockelsby says, is development of distribution to better serve East Coast customers.

UPS ground shipments from the company’s Sparks warehouse reach customers in the West within two days, but shipments to the East Coast are on the truck for four days.

That’s too long for some of Creative Coverings’ customers. And it’s too long for the company, which doesn’t make money on its linens while they’re on a truck.