Omaha, Neb. — Nebraska Furniture Mart has been a regional institution pretty much since 1937, when, as the company tells it, “a tiny Russian immigrant” — Mrs. Rose Blumkin — founded the home furnishings emporium.
Building her business on the simple premise of “Sell cheap and tell the truth,” the beloved “Mrs. B” became a local legend by providing a wide selection and sharp pricing to an underserved market.
Her celebrity grew to national proportions in 1983, when billionaire investor Warren Buffet bought a 90 percent stake in the business, making it the first home furnishings addition to his Berkshire Hathaway holding company.
“Most home furnishings retailers are not attractive investments,” Buffett told TWICE last year. “The return is not very good. It takes good execution, great managers and a lot of people willing to work very hard. The Blumkins showed the way.”
Media attention followed the acquisition, including a profile on the CBS-TV news magazine “60 Minutes” in which correspondent Morley Safer followed the elderly but still hands-on Mrs. B as she raced around the 430,000-square-foot retail complex on a motorized scooter.
Rose continued working at the store until she was 103, but her grandchildren, including CEO Irv Blumkin, president Ron Blumkin and VP Bob Batt, have ably carried on the company’s tradition in her wake.
Following its entry into the Kansas City market in August 2003 with a second, 700,000 square-foot facility, Nebraska Furniture Mart now lays claim to the title of largest volume home furnishings store in the United States. Indeed, the stores now offer an even greater selection of competitively priced furniture, flooring, appliances, consumer electronics and computers, and provide delivery to thousands of communities in the Midwest. “Our goal is to excite, entertain and exceed customer expectations on a daily basis,” the company says.
Management exceeded its own expectations with the Kansas City store, which 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. “We were doing full-capacity business the week of the soft opening without running a single ad,” Batt said. “People came running. There was a lot of pent-up demand.”
The store itself features 10 acres of selling space for high-end, midpriced and promotional goods, and also boasts such amenities as a leased café and a See’s candy shop, which is also owned by Buffett.
“It’s our version of shock and awe,” said Batt. Apparently it’s working. Buffett said he was “blown away” by the store, and within seven months, local six-unit A/V specialty chain BrandsMart Midwest closed up shop. Apparently Buffet once again forecasted correctly when he quipped at the store opening, “To all of our competitors I have just one thing to say: Hasta la vista, baby.”
The Nominees: Best Regional Retailer
Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City
Nebraska Furniture Mart
P.C. Richard & Son