Louie Blumkin remembered
Clint Engel -- Furniture Today, March 4, 2013
OMAHA, Neb. - Louie Blumkin was a retail visionary with a brilliant mind for names and numbers, a deeply philanthropic leader and a man who always put his family first.
That's how family and friends are remembering the chairman emeritus of Nebraska Furniture Mart, son of founder Rose Blumkin, who died at his home last week, surrounded by his family. He was 93.
Blumkin's "life's work was his family's well-being, Nebraska Furniture Mart and giving back to the community," nephew Bob Batt, NFM executive vice president, said in a statement.
For more than 75 years, he served generations of customers, developed a keen knack for sensing customers' wants and worked with his mother, "Mrs. B," in developing Nebraska Furniture Mart.
NFM was the first acquisition of what is now Berkshire Hathaway's furniture division, a collection of some of the nation's top furniture retailers, ranked No. 5 on Furniture/Today's Top 100 with an estimated $1.22 billion in furniture, bedding and accessories sales in 2011.
"He was the smartest guy I ever saw at a market," Batt said, recalling a trip to the Dallas Market years ago, when Blumkin would walk into a showroom, rattle off the items and quantities he wanted and remember it all without taking a single note.
"Blumkin worked all the major markets, never took notes and made a lot of great deals for his customers," Batt said. "His handshake was his bond; his reputation and word were solid gold."
Blumkin also remembered generations of customers by name, by what they bought and when they made the purchase.
In a report by the Omaha World-Herald, Berkshire Chairman Warren Buffett called Blumkin "a great friend, a great partner in business and a great merchant."
Blumkin served in the Army in Europe during World War II. "The liberation of Dachau concentration camp was his most important emotional experience," Batt wrote.
Industry consultant and longtime friend Norman Waxman called Blumkin "the best of the best" and a visionary. "Great heart, sensitive, caring, concerned with his fellow man, extremely philanthropic and a great thinker," Waxman said.
Dale Ward, president of casual dining supplier Bernards, said NFM has been a customer since the company was launched in 1982. He remembered dinners with Blumkin, who was cordial and open with advice.
"When you're that young and dealing with someone of that magnitude - to mentor you, to ask you questions and talk about your business and their business, meant a lot," Ward said. "He made you feel like a major vendor regardless."
Batt said Blumkin was proud of his induction into the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 2000 along with his mother, the only mother and- son duo among the elite group.
Blumkin was a benefactor of many organizations including the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home and the Ronald McDonald House and was a longtime supporter of Creighton University. Through the Louie and Frances Blumkin Foundation, he supported Jewish and arts organizations.
He is survived by his wife, Frances Blumkin; three sons, including Ron and Irv Blumkin of NFM; two sisters, eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Memorial donations may be made to The Rose Theater, Attn: Omaha Theater Co., Julie Walker, 2001 Farnam St., Omaha, Neb. 68102; and University of Nebraska Foundation, Nebraska Neuroscience Alliance, 2285 S. 67th St. Suite 200, Omaha, Neb. 68106.