Welcome to the first installment of Furniture Retail Innovators, a series honoring the trailblazing entrepreneurs and industry pioneers who have left indelible marks on the furniture industry. You may even know a few of them personally! Either way, you’ve definitely heard their names, been to their stores, or at least taken a seat in one of their chairs.

Among these tales of inspiration, one stands out – Rose Blumkin. From talking her way past a border guard to owning the highest-grossing store in the country, read on to learn more about her career journey.

Rose Blumkin

Rose Blumkin at the Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1977

According to a Medium article written by Russell Kyncl, Rose Blumkin came from a family that was desperately poor. During times when their family lacked food, her mother resorted to boiling water, creating the illusion of steam on the window to give passersby the appearance that they were enjoying a warm cup of soup. At thirteen, Rose walked barefoot 18 miles to the nearest town in pursuit of employment. She was rejected 25 times before a Jewish family who owned a dry goods store hired her as a clerk and took her in. Within a few years, she was managing the store. *

In 1917, at just 23 years old, Belarus-born Mrs. B immigrated from Russia to the U.S.

After she arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, she rented an old shack for $15 a month, put a couple of sofas and rolls of carpet, and started to sell out of the store’s basement. The store – Nebraska Furniture Mart – eventually outgrew the basement. The business boomed in the 1950s and 60s, reaching annual sales of $125 million by 1983.

Rose did everything, She was the buyer, the seller, and kept the books. She put ads in the paper showing the merchandise and sold out her stock. Her average work week would total up to 70 hours!

When big retailers realized they could not compete with Mrs. B’s prices, they pressured manufacturers not to sell to her. Despite their best efforts, Mrs. B continued to source and sell products at low prices.

“Sell cheap, tell the truth, don’t cheat nobody.” – Rose Blumkin

During the Depression, everybody was poor. To make ends meet, Rose would sell anything a customer would ask for, for cheap.

Rose remembered her customers. She said they were like mothers to her. When times were tough, they came from all over the city to look out for her and loan her money even if it was hard for them. She said the American people, the middle class, were wonderful to her.

The store’s success had caught the attention of legendary investor Warren Buffett.

In 1983, his company, Berkshire Hathaway, decided to acquire a 90% share of Nebraska Furniture Mart on a handshake deal for $60 million.

“Students from 40 universities visit me every year….if they absorbed Mrs. B’s lessons, they need none from me.” – Warren Buffett *

Although Mrs. Blumkin retired shortly after this sale, she was not gone for long.

Missing the thrill of entrepreneurship, Rose decided to start a new hustle at 96. She opened a competing store, Mrs. B’s Clearance and Factory Outlet, directly across the street from Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1989.

Buffett watched Mrs. B’s new store thrive and had to decide if he wanted to compete with the 96-year-old business dynamo.

The decision was easy.

Warren Buffett on Nebraska Furniture Mart founder Rose Blumkin

Warren Buffett on Nebraska Furniture Mart founder Rose Blumkin

Mr. Buffett acquired the new company in 1992 and merged it into Nebraska Furniture Mart. Blumkin continued to manage the store’s day-to-day operations for the next seven years until passing away at the age of 104.

Rose Blumkin prioritized giving back to those in need as others had helped her when she first arrived in America. From helping others after natural disasters with discounted carpets and furniture to giving jobs to Holocaust survivors, she always aimed to help.

She received the Israel Peace Medal for humanitarianism, funded an assisted living facility, and, in 1986, she received the Distinguished Nebraskan Award. These were amongst the many other awards and honors Blumkin received before she passed away.

Photograph courtesy of Nebraska Jewish Historical Society

Photograph courtesy of Nebraska Jewish Historical Society

Rose Blumkin is among the few women to achieve this level of success as an entrepreneur in the furniture industry. She started out from humble beginnings and achieved success through tenacity, passion, and perseverance. That is why we consider her a trailblazer in the furniture industry. Her ambition and generosity inspire us all.

Rose Blumkin’s life story is a testament to her philosophy, which aimed to provide people with the best deal possible. Her dedication to offering affordable and honest products left a mark on the industry, reminding us all that commitment to customers can lead to success.

At 3D Cloud™, our passion for innovation has led us to follow these furniture pioneers’ footsteps. Their creative entrepreneurship and dedication have shaped the industry, pushing boundaries and inspiring others. Join us as we uncover these furniture innovators’ stories, insights, and inspirations.

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If you wish to submit a nomination for a furniture industry legend or innovator, please get in touch with us.

Sources

* Mrs. B’s Work at 103 

* Interview with Rose Blumkin – Nebraska Furniture Mart – American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame

*Warren Buffett’s model for aspiring business managers – a retail legend known as ‘Mrs. B’

*Rose Blumkin in 1977 image

*Rose Blumkin, Jewish Immigrant and Businesswoman

 

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