In honor of Women’s History Month, we are introducing our Women in Furniture series, which celebrates women who are experienced leaders in the furniture industry. Gender diversity in the furniture workplace is still far behind other industries. At 3D Cloud™ by Marxent, we continue to advocate and support outstanding women who push the industry forward. So, grab yourself a coffee, pull up a chair, and meet —-
Nora Gomez’s career took an unexpected turn in 2009 when she was part of a senior executive layoff during one of the worst economic times. However, instead of letting this setback defeat her, she saw it as an opportunity to try something new. That’s when she landed her first role as an SVP GMM at Pier One, leading her into the world of the home industry, furniture, fragrance, and decorative accessories. With her extensive experience in the women’s fashion business and a newfound passion for home decor, she was able to travel to over a hundred countries. In this article, Nora shares her journey and insights into the furniture industry.
Nora, what steps did you take to become the Chief Merchandising Officer at Nebraska Furniture Mart?
NG: That is an interesting story. I really did not know what Nebraska Furniture Mart was until they started to build their store in Texas. That was where I was living at the time, and I would drive by it going to work, and I said, “You know, I am going to work for them someday. “ What a story, founded 85 years ago by Rose Blumkin, an immigrant from Belarus. Think about that. What an incredible trailblazer! Through networking on LinkedIn, NFM found me, and the rest is history.
What I loved about the whole interview experience with NFM was that they really took the time to get to know me as a person and what my values were, what my leadership style was, and what kind of emphasis I put on relationships and getting work done through others. The tactical parts of the job were never really a question mark, but keep in mind; we don’t just sell furniture. We sell electronics, appliances, flooring cabinets, and more. So, these were all categories of business that I had to learn. The Chief Merchandising Officer was a brand new role. So, I wasn’t walking into a box on an org chart that was already defined. I got to really develop in the role as the role was developing.
Was there a pivotal decision that led you into the leadership position?
NG: I’ve always been incredibly driven and competitive. Being the consummate student helped me become the leader I am today. Leadership to me is a privilege, and at the end of the day, it’s not about me; it’s about the people that I serve, the people that I lead. It’s not about the title; it’s not about how high you go. It’s what you’re doing along that journey and how you’re making people feel, and how you’re helping them to develop. Along the leadership journey, you learn a lot about yourself. I don’t know if there was a particular pivotal decision other than the fact that I have a very high work ethic that was instilled in me by my mother. She is a divorced mother of two. She worked 24/7/365 to keep my brother enrolled at Princeton and me enrolled at Syracuse. She never thought twice about dedicating herself to us. Because of her relentless focus and determination, I am who I am and where I am because of her. Being able to get work done through others is probably that master plan, right? Mentoring others to bring the best out of them brings the best out in yourself!
“Leadership to me is a privilege, and at the end of the day, it’s not about me; it’s about the people that I serve, the people that I lead.” – Nora Gomez, Chief Merchandising Officer, Nebraska Furniture Mart
I like that you mentioned leadership because we value leadership here at Marxent, and we always say, “To be a good leader is to care about the success of others.”
NG: Absolutely, it’s interesting. I feel that the level that I’m at now is the level I’m supposed to be at because of the fact that I love leading people so much and helping them to be successful. We’ve got some great leadership programs here at NFM, like our women-led program. I’m also an NFM career coach and a mentor to a few people in the furniture industry. It’s just a passion of mine. I am incredibly committed to assisting other women on their path to professional growth. That’s your legacy, right? How you help people believe in themselves to reach their true potential?
That is very well said. So, why furniture?
NG: I think it all started for me the first time I traveled overseas to visit furniture factories and really got into how things are made. The smell of the wood, the designs, and the finishes, all of those things, just put me on sensory overload. I love fabric and helping people create their own unique spaces. When I was traveling, it was interesting because you would be in very highly automated factories in China, then in a very authentic artisan factory in India. Everybody’s specialty was different. I think that’s what I really fell in love with. In the US, their excitement with many of the furniture manufacturers investing in production, too. So, what do I love about working in the furniture industry? I love the product, and I love the people. There’s such a rich heritage in our industry, and we now have five generations involved. There’s a lot of heart and soul in this industry.
That’s awesome your career has taken you to so many places. What are some of the unique challenges of a career in furniture?
NG: Well, let’s be honest. It is a very male-dominated industry, and I was very forthcoming in speaking about this on the Furniture Today Leadership Conference panel. Women make up more than half of the US population and control or influence 85% of consumer spending. We have some really great women trailblazers in the business, like Rose Blumkin, but just not enough of them. What the industry is not used to is seeing women in leadership positions and their impact. Women leaders approach challenges and opportunities holistically. In my mind, it’s not about if you’re male or female, it’s about the right person in the role. I think that the unique challenge is the acceptance of that type of thinking. Bringing that talent to the forefront and being an ambassador for that talent is really the opportunity, not the challenge.
“Bringing that talent to the forefront and being an ambassador for that talent is really the opportunity, not the challenge.” – Nora Gomez, Chief Merchandising Officer, Nebraska Furniture Mart
What advice would you give to younger women considering a career in the furniture industry today?
NG: I believe in the importance of having career ambassadors for your professional goals and aspirations. Most importantly, be true to yourself by being yourself.
How important is it to have a network of other women as you grow?
NG: I think it’s incredibly important because we learn from each other. There are experiences people have been through and have learned from that can be shared. I’ve been really gravitating towards these networks of professional women because there are different experiences and learnings to share. WithIt is a multi-faceted organization focusing on education, networking, philanthropy, and leadership. This is an incredible group of women at different stages of their professional and personal journeys. Each person you meet is a connection in some way.
Speaking of having many connections, do you have a mentor today?
NG: Throughout my career, I’ve built my own personal Board of Directors. This is a group of leaders, coaches, mentors, and friends that have a special purpose. I am incredibly grateful for their commitment to investing their time, wisdom, and belief in me.
If you could offer yourself one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
NG: If I could offer my younger self one piece of advice, it would be not to take ‘no’ so hard. What I mean by that is to use ‘no’ as a motivation to ‘yes.’ I think so often we’re defined by ‘no’ that we forget that the ‘no’s’ are teaching moments. If I could tell my younger self that and be my younger self, again, I feel like I would have gotten more confident and stronger faster and would have been able to handle different situations in a more confident way.
What values are most important to you as a leader?
NG: Honesty and integrity, hands down. I don’t believe that’s something that you teach people. I think that you can make those values important in your culture and be a walking example of what that looks like.
Lastly, what keeps you grounded and energized?
NG: Well, there are a lot of things that definitely keep me grounded. One of them is practicing gratitude. I have this lovely gratitude jar on my desk, and inside are little reminders of positivity. These little pieces of paper are always going to be in here, and I can pull them out and look at them and say, “You know what? You’re okay, Nora.” Some days are going to be better than others. People really energize me, and a great challenge also feeds my energy level! I love being around people, whether family, friends, my team or my Board of Directors. Why? Because they always challenge me in different ways. They help me grow!
Nora Gomez is an inspiring figure in the world of furniture whose passion, creativity, and commitment to excellence have made her a true leader in the industry. She has paved the way for other women to follow in her footsteps and achieve success in this traditionally male-dominated field. Nora’s story is a testament to the power of perseverance, hard work, and determination. We are honored to have had the opportunity to learn from her as part of our Women in Furniture series.
Thank you, Nora, for sharing your career journey with us.