Girl power, indeed. The legendary Nebraska Furniture Mart got its start in 1937 when Russian immigrant Rose Blumkin ("Mrs. B") began selling furniture at a slight markup from a shop basement. Her motto: "Sell cheap and tell the truth!" The famed 450,000-sq.-ft. Omaha location (called the Mart) was built in 1968 and rebuilt by Mrs. B and her son in 1975 after a tornado hit. Two decades later, an electronics and appliance store was added in Omaha; the 77-acre location boasts some 500,000 sq. ft. of retail space. The firm also operates stores in Des Moines, Iowa, and Kansas City, Missouri. Omaha investor Warren Buffett (owner of Berkshire Hathaway) bought a majority stake in Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1983.
Despite a lengthy downturn in the economy, the company is seeing signs that customers are willing to spend on furniture again. As part of the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting, stakeholders enjoy steep discounts at the furniture firm. Nebraska Furniture Mart sold $35 million worth of goods in 2010 during its shareholder discount period, marking an improvement, Buffett says, in sales of luxury goods. Buffett, who acquired the company for about $60 million, has appeared in Nebraska Furniture Mart's ad campaigns to boost sales and notoriety for the furniture retailer.
In recent years, Nebraska Furniture Mart has been focused on renovating its stores and upgrading its services, such as offering customers online bill payment. The company performed a major makeover of its Omaha store, which primarily peddles appliances and electronics, in 2007. Focusing on its online store, Nebraska Furniture Mart overhauled its website and added functionality to allow its customers to shop online. It has also expanded its Kansas City store to include a warehouse and distribution center, such as that at its Omaha location.
Nebraska Furniture Mart is run by brothers Ron and Irv Blumkin, Mrs. B's grandsons. Mrs. B died in 1998 at the age of 104. She worked at the store until she was 103 years old. – less