News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Chris Jones, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 11, 2004 - Though the businesses she oversees are largely known for the Desperado roller coaster and its signature 225-foot drop, life at work has largely been on an upswing in recent years for Renee West.
Since December 2002, the 45-year-old executive has served as president and chief operating officer of Primm Valley Resorts, a multicasino resort destination in Primm owned by Las Vegas-based gaming giant MGM Mirage.
In her roughly 17 months at the helm, West has worked to strengthen the customer loyalty programs she believes are vital to Primm's success in light of increased competition from Indian gaming in California.
Closer to home, she's also labored to make life easier for many of the 2,700 workers she oversees. She's helped advance her company's efforts to build an approximately $22 million on-site housing development that will welcome the first of its potential 680 employee tenants next month.
Though at its core Primm remains a border-town gambling center, West said the erstwhile truck stop has come a long way since she first visited in the mid-1990s.
"I still remember how surprised I was to see how much was out here," West said of that visit, which was centered around a Desperado ride with her youngest son. "Unless they're regulars, I think people underestimate how much there is to do here."
QUESTION: What businesses make up Primm Valley Resorts?
ANSWER: Most people don't realize it, but this is really a little city. We have Whiskey Pete's, Buffalo Bill's and the Primm Valley Resort, with all that you would expect there: gaming, hotels, restaurants.
We've got the 6,000-seat Star of the Desert arena (at Buffalo Bill's); Desperado and other rides; a movie theater; two golf courses designed by Tom Fazio; the No. 1 lotto store in North America in terms of tickets sold; and Primm Center, which has Starbucks and (Chevron) gasoline.
Q: How much of your customer base comes from Southern California?
A: I'd say it's in the neighborhood of 95 percent. We're fortunate to sit on one of the busiest highways in North America and a main gateway to Las Vegas.
Q: What makes those customers stop in Primm rather than continuing the 45 miles or so to Las Vegas?
A: One, it's their first opportunity to gamble in Nevada, but that's become less of a driver now that gaming has been legalized (at Indian casinos) in California. We find that our customers come here because they like the way they're treated, so one of our primary goals has been to create a loyalty component that makes customers choose us over the competition, whether that's California or Las Vegas.
Q: What does that loyalty program entail?
A: A lot of guest events: slot tournaments, headlining entertainment, parties and special giveaways. ... This really isn't anything new; what makes a difference is how people feel when they walk into a building, so for us, loyalty is critical.
Indian casino operators have invested a lot of money into their properties and have in many ways modeled themselves after Las Vegas, but my experience has been that they have not yet built the kinds of relationships with their customers that Nevada has for a long time.
Q: Do you feel like you're marketing against Las Vegas or as a complement to it?
A: It's a little bit of both, but as Vegas continues to grow and develop with new properties, it increases traffic on the highway.
As Las Vegas grows and develops, that serves as one of our best marketing tools against competition in California -- it gives people a reason to get on the road and drive to Vegas, and there's a pretty good chance they'll stop here for a while.
Q: Is there much cross-marketing between your casinos and its sister MGM Mirage casinos?
A: We're on a separate system. The (MGM Mirage) property we had the most in common with was the Golden Nugget (which was sold last year to Las Vegas businessmen Tim Poster and Tom Breitling), so we're kind of in a position all our own.
Q: You worked for Primm Valley's human resources department before taking your current job. Is it harder to get employees to work so far from the city?
A: We've been very successful in recruiting people to come out here, and one of the things we do that's different is our willingness to train people. In many cases we hire people who haven't had previous experience in this industry, which can be tougher to do in Las Vegas. And we find that the vast majority of our workers want to stay because this feels like home.
Q: How important to your labor needs is the new housing development your company will open in Primm?
A: A great deal. The initial plans called for dormitory-style accommodations, but early on we felt we should ask our workers if that was what they wanted. The majority said no, so we'll also offer two- and four-bedroom units, studio and one-bedroom apartments. It will also include a convenience store, recreation center, workout rooms, a pool, soccer fields and barbecue pits -- a real community.
Q: How many of your 2,700 workers now live in Primm?
A: About 400 live in a trailer complex that will be replaced by our new housing project. We also subsidize a charter bus to help our employees get back and forth because it makes their commute easier.
Q: What caused you to work in the casino business?
A: When I was growing up in Las Vegas, it seemed like the only industry in town. Later I lived in Lake Tahoe and I wanted to work for the premier company in that area, which at the time was Caesars Tahoe. There I realized it was a fun, exciting and fast-paced business, and I was hooked.
Name: Renee West.
Position: President and chief operating officer, Primm Valley Resorts.
Family: Daughter, Autumn; sons, Travis and Drew.
Education: Rancho High School, class of 1976; attended classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Work history: Foster Farms, 1990-92; Caesars Palace, 1992-94; West & Associates Consulting, 1994-96; Station Casinos, 1996-98; Rapport Leadership International, 1998-2000; Primm Valley Resorts, 2000-present.
Hobbies: Snowboarding, running, boating and family time.
Favorite book: "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader," by John Maxwell.
Hometown: Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas since: 1972.
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(c) 2004, Las Vegas Review-Journal. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. MGG,