Fourth generation of Blumkins making its mark
Did you know that when you browse for bedroom furniture at the Nebraska Furniture Mart, the late Rose Blumkin's great-granddaughter has had a hand in choosing what's available?
Becca Sudbeck, 29, is a senior furniture buyer, selecting the furniture her family-run business will sell.
She, her brother Ryan Blumkin and her cousin Matt Blumkin, are the fourth generation of Blumkins to work for the retail store founded 75 years ago this year by Mrs. B. And they are proud to carry on their great-grandmother's traditions.
“I have a little bit of her in me,” said Becca Sudbeck, who was 15 when Mrs. B died at age 104. “She loved to make a deal. ... I don't think I've ever met a more hard-working person than her.
Click here to read more about the Blumkin family's ties to NFM.
“It's definitely inspirational to know that a female can make it in a male-dominated business. She was extremely successful and respected. I know if she can do it, I can do it too.”
Sudbeck started working at Nebraska Furniture Mart when she was just 8 years old. Well, sort of.
On Sundays, she and her brother would tag along to work with their father, Irv Blumkin, and he'd send them running around to straighten all of the pillows on the couches before the store opened.
She joined the payroll when she was in high school, working as a part-time cashier and salesperson in the music department.
After high school, she told herself she would never work for the family business again because she wanted to “branch out.”
But after graduating with a degree in business administration and economics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she was unsure of what she wanted to do. A position in the merchandising department was open.
“My dad told me to just try it out and see if I like it,” she said. “And I loved it.”
Sudbeck eventually became an accessories buyer and now she helps select all of the mattresses, baby furniture, bedroom furniture sets and youth furniture for the store.
“I was hesitant to work in the family business because there are additional challenges,” she said. “But I've loved it ever since. It is a family business, but everyone that works here is treated like family. I'm really proud to work here.”
Her brother Ryan, 26, works for the mart as a real estate development manager and her cousin Matt, 38, is a strategic project analyst.
Bob Batt, executive vice president of Nebraska Furniture Mart and uncle to the fourth generation, said he thinks it's great that three of the more than 20 fourth-generation Blumkins chose to work at the store.
“The retail business is tough and these kids have learned the business. They've earned it.”
75 things to know about "The Mart"
1. The founder of Nebraska Furniture Mart is the late Rose Blumkin, also known as Mrs. B.
2. The store today counts 40,890 items in stock, with 263,388 available by special order.
3. In 1937, Mrs. B used $500 to start Nebraska Furniture Mart in the basement of her husband's downtown Omaha shop.
4. The average monthly electrical bill per store is close to $100,000, and not all areas are air-conditioned.
5. Rose Blumkin raised four children in addition to building a national reputation as a retailer.
6. The Omaha and Kansas City, Kan., stores each average more than 1,000 deliveries a day.
7. Mrs. B celebrated her 100th birthday at the store, her favorite place to be.
8. During one tough time, Mrs. B. sold all the furniture and appliances in her own home to pay suppliers.
9. Today's most expensive items for sale?
• Electronics: 90” Sharp TV at $9,999.99.
• Appliances: Hybrid built-in grill at $16,995.
• Furniture: Freemark table with two chairs and six side chairs for $16,999.99.
• Flooring: Hand-knotted 8-by-10-foot Amici rug for $11,000.
10. A family rift caused Mrs. B to retire for three months at age 95, then open a competing factory outlet business next door. After a reconciliation, it became part of the Mart.
11. Mrs. B's belief in selling at tiny margins once prompted local competitors to urge a manufacturers boycott. So, traveling by train to Kansas City, Chicago and New York, she bought from large furniture stores at 5 percent over their cost and still made a profit.
12. Rose Blumkin worked 60 hours a week most of her career.
13. The furniture stores are open 74 hours a week.
14. Son Louie Blumkin and sons-in-law Norman Batt and Jerry Cohn joined the business after World War II.
15. The third generation of Mrs. B's family — grandsons Irv Blumkin, Ron Blumkin and Bob Batt — joined the business in the early 1970s. They still hold executive positions.
16. After both knees were replaced, Mrs. B used a motorized cart to navigate the store.
17. The Mart didn't close for Mrs. B's funeral because relatives didn't think she would want that.
18. NFM trucks deliver to more than 2,500 cities in five states.
19. Electronics and appliances were added to the furniture store's inventory in the 1950s.
20. The most popular electronics items sold today are tablets, specifically the iPad.
21. In June 1970, the company opened a store on South 72nd Street.
22. In 1975, an F4 tornado wiped out the 72nd Street store. Mrs. B and son Louie Blumkin rebuilt bigger and better.
23. In 1980, the downtown store closed, leaving only the 72nd Street store.
24. More than 200 of the NFM staff members have been there for more than 20 years. The longest-tenured currently? Forty-six years.
25. Mrs. B sold her interest in the company to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in a $60 million deal in 1983.
26. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns 80 percent of NFM.
27. The Mart averages more than 2.5 million transactions a year.
28. The late Mrs. B sold her interest when she was 89 but worked selling carpet until she was 103.
29. The Omaha store's campus covers more than 77 acres.
30. The company first expanded outside of Nebraska in 1993 with a Des Moines store.
31. The Omaha NFM is in the process of replacing the Burger King restaurant with a Subway, a move to offer customers healthier options.
32. The Mart has an estimated 2,800 employees in Omaha and Kansas City, with more than 1,600 in Omaha. Staff members range from 16 to 83 years old.
33. A 90-year-old furniture salesman, Jack Diamond, right, retired in July after a 58-year career at the Mart.
34. Thanks to exposure from Berkshire Hathaway, the Mart has customers from Italy, France, Saudi Arabia and Greece.
35. The Mega Mart, added to house electronics and appliances in 1994, now features stores-within-a-store for Apple, Sony and Bose products.
36. Nebraska's leading furniture retailer became Iowa's, too, when NFM bought Homemakers Furniture in Des Moines in 2001.
37. In 2001, an Omaha warehouse and distribution center opened along with an updated Mrs. B's Clearance Center and Factory Outlet Store.
38. A third store with more than 1 million square feet of retail and distribution space opened in Kansas City, Kan., in 2003.
39. The Kansas City store is part of a development that includes another Nebraska-based business, Cabela's.
40. Mrs. B always said her philosophy was to “sell cheap and tell the truth.”
41. In the Kansas City area, the furniture store is surrounded by tourist attractions, including the Kansas Speedway, Nebraska-based Cabela's, hotels, a casino and a water park.
42. NFM.com launched in 1998 and, beginning in 2006, allowed customers to shop and pay bills online.
43. The Omaha appliance and electronics store got a makeover in 2007.
44. More renovations for the Kansas City and Omaha stores were completed in 2010.
45. The Mart recently implemented a buyback program for used, working electronics.
46. Louis Blumkin, who helped liberate Dachau and other camps as a U.S. soldier, combined with Sam Fried of Omaha, a survivor of Auschwitz, their wives and the University of Nebraska at Omaha last year to establish the Blumkin Professorship of Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
47. On busy shopping days, employees park off campus and are shuttled in, freeing up the Omaha store's 1,800 parking spaces.
48. The Furniture Mart plans to build a $1.5 billion, 433-acre development in suburban Dallas anchored by its newest, largest retail store.
49. The company's next store is set to open in the spring of 2015 in Dallas-Fort Worth.
50. More than 4,000 shoppers have been known to line up in the wee hours to nab Black Friday deals.
51. All employees are required to work on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that the Mart calls “Green Friday.”
52. Store buyers start looking for Black Friday deals in April.
53. China is the Mart's largest importer.
54. Nebraska Furniture Mart sold $35 million worth of goods during the week of the 2012 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, about 10 percent more than last year.
55. Nebraska Furniture Mart is the country's largest single home furnishings store selling furniture, flooring, appliances and electronics.
56. The Furniture Mart will ship coast to coast by special arrangement and has shipped furniture across oceans and in private cargo planes.
57. Merchandisers and buyers regularly look over competitors' ads to make sure Mart prices are lower.
58. Last year, NFM had 1.9 million visitors to the store, making it one of Nebraska's top tourist attractions.
59. The new Dallas-area project in The Colony will include 1.2 million square feet of warehouse space.
60. The Texas store's retail space, at 546,000 square feet, will be 9 percent larger than Omaha's.
61. The Texas warehouse will be twice as large as Omaha's.
62. Everyone who works in the warehouses has to do stretching exercises each morning to prevent injury.
63. The Mart has a “playbook,” a binder that details for employees what happens during big shopping events.
64. The Mart has purchased a two-story building at 808 S. 74th Plaza to renovate for its new corporate headquarters.
65. The Furniture Mart will spend $7.4 million on a renovation for a new corporate office to be completed next summer in Omaha.
66. At least 176 new employees will be hired over the next three years for a new headquarters.
67. To combat shoplifting, the Mart has camera systems, security staffers and its own fraud investigators.
68. Three of Mrs. B's great-grandchildren now are the fourth generation to work at the store.
69. The company was offered “huge incentives” to move its headquarters to the Dallas area.
70. Rose Blumkin gave $1 million to build the nursing home that bears her name next to the Jewish Community Center, 333 S. 132nd St.
71. The Rose children's theater is officially the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center.
72. The Blumkins and Warren Buffett each donated $1 million and Susan Buffett led a $9 million fund drive for renovations to the Rose.
73. Louis Blumkin gets credit for seeing the company through natural disasters, such as the floods of 1953, a huge fire in 1961 and the 1975 tornado.
74. Louis Blumkin joined his mother in the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 2000, winning praise for innovating in-store manufacturers' galleries.
75. The Nebraska Furniture Mart's estimated sales total this year is more than $800 million for all stores.