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Nebraska Furniture Mart Stretches Into Kansas

9/01/2003 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Nebraska Furniture Mart's long-awaited Kansas City superstore opened its doors last month to throngs of curious Kansans and kudos from the vendor community.

The destination site is located 30 minutes west of town in a new development district that it shares with a NASCAR raceway, a minor league baseball stadium, a hotel and a regionally popular sporting goods emporium.

The mart itself features 10 acres of selling space for high-end, mid-priced and promotional furniture, flooring, consumer electronics and appliances, and also boasts such amenities as a leased café and a See's candy shop. (See's, like Nebraska Furniture, is owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.) With its two fully fixtured floors and central escalators, the megastore recalls a Sears Great Indoors that's been trebled in size.

"It's our version of shock and awe," said VP Bob Batt, whose grandmother Rose "Mrs. B" Blumkin founded the company in nearby Omaha, Neb., in 1937. Kansas City was selected for its first ever foray away from home base because the market is severely under-served, consumers are familiar with the franchise, and its population of 1.8 million is larger than all of Nebraska's, he said.

Batt concedes that launching the project nearly three years ago at the start of the recession was a gamble, but one that is apparently paying off. "We were doing full-capacity business the week of the soft opening without running a single ad," he said. "People came running. There was a lot of pent-up demand."

Buffett, who was on hand for the formal opening, which included a vendor appreciation party and charity gala, said he was "blown away" by the store, which he described as "an incredible success."

In a nod to California's recall election and his advisory role to candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, Buffet quipped, "To all of our competitors I have just one thing to say: Hasta la vista, baby."

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