In Omaha, nothing is more synonymous with family-owned businesses than NFM. The fact that the company is not only expanding on a monumental level but also ushering in a fifth generation, stands testament to the furniture empire finding the right balance, 86 years strong.
Building the Legacy
Founded in 1937 by Rose Blumkin “Mrs. B” as Nebraska Furniture Mart, the furniture store has been a staple in the Omaha community ever since, with each following generation of the Blumkin family having a hand in the business. Now a fifth-generation family member is taking an interest in the business, 17-year-old AJ Shefsky.
“It feels special to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Shefsky said. “I’m thankful to have so many great role models to learn from.”
Grandson of Chairman Irv Blumkin, Shefsky was recently hired in sales.
Irv Blumkin is joined by his brother Ron Blumkin, who serves as vice chairman.
The hierarchy had generally remained the same since 1983, when the brothers took over the president and CEO roles. But in 2017, the grandchildren of Mrs. B, Ron and Irv took a unique approach and stepped down from their hands-on roles, appointing a non-family member as president, Tony Boldt.
The Blumkin brothers not only saw a need for someone to oversee the day-to-day operations, but to also create a structure that would foster a positive environment for the family members involved.
“Mrs. B always said every family needs a mother and every business needs a boss,” Ron Blumkin said.
The meaning behind that, he said, was that making decisions by consensus often creates hostility among family members.
“In many cases, for whatever reason, family members don’t get along, and they can’t always come up with a consensus and that creates hostility and bickering and fighting and that’s when the business doesn’t become the priority,” he said of case studies he’s read on family-owned businesses. “We learned that lesson and we have always decided that there has to be a final ultimate decision maker.”
Other family members in the business include Ron’s son Matt, Irv’s son Ryan and son-in-law Andy Shefsky, who is AJ’s father.
Redefining on a Bigger Scale
NFM has a long history of improving upon its business model, which it continues to do today. In 1995 the company opened a store in Des Moines, Iowa. Starting from scratch, this was the first foray outside of Omaha.
“We felt pretty confident after that, that we could do it on a bigger scale,” Ron Blumkin said.
The company then opened a store in Kansas City in 2003. Creating the ideal facility with a strong management team was an exciting project for the Blumkins.
“That store, I would just tell you, everything that could go wrong probably did go wrong,” Ron Blumkin said. “For two and a half years, it was fantastic learning lessons — As the best way to describe a rough situation. The store matured and grew and at that time, it was America’s single largest home furnishing store.”
NFM went on to build a larger store in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in 2015. But the company is not done there just yet. Upon purchasing 423 acres, 100 of those dedicated to the store, the Berkshire Hathaway-owned company went into the development business with a mixed-use development called Grandscape. With Ryan Blumkin leading the charge, the area includes Scheels as an additional anchor tenant with retail, restaurants, entertainment venues and hotels on the development.
“We now have another playbook that we’re going to try when we open up our next big store, which will be in Austin in 2026,” he said of the 1.2 million-square-foot facility expected to break ground in 2024.
Family Business Playbook
Along with NFM’s development playbook, the family also follows one to maintain its longevity.
“The biggest challenge always will be just finding the right people and putting them in the right position,” Ron Blumkin said.
Irv Blumkin noted the importance of the family members joining the business that actually want to be there and aren’t forced into it. He also recommends family members get outside experience to gain a different perspective.
“No matter how much people tell you that they’ll tell you like it is, in the end, you’re the boss, many times they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear,” he said. “When they don’t know you from Adam, and you’re in a different community and Nebraska Furniture doesn’t mean a thing to anybody, it’s a whole different experience. And both of us were blessed to have that experience.”
In the end, the brothers said there are many positives to running a business with family.
“It’s fun having family in the business and it’s great having youth and innovation and yet still have experience, and combining both,” Irv Blumkin said. “We’ve been blessed and grateful and lucky to survive. Now our fifth generation is involved in the business and it’s just a treat.”
Timeline of NFM
1937 – Rose Blumkin establishes Nebraska Furniture Mart in the basement of her husband Isadore’s shop.
1950 – NFM begins offering electronics and appliances at its flagship store at 2205 Farnam St.
1970 – A second location is added on 72nd Street.
1975 – After the May F4 tornado left a path of destruction on 72nd Street including the NFM’s 72nd Street location, the store was rebuilt.
1980 – The downtown location closes and the 72nd Street location becomes the main focus.
1983 – NFM is purchased by Berkshire Hathaway. Ron and Irv Blumkin take over.
1994 – Mega-Mart, focused on electronics and appliances is added to the NFM campus.
1995 – A store is opened Des Moines, Iowa.
1997 – Mrs. B retires at the age of 103.
1998 – Rose Blumkin passes away at the age of 104.
2003 – The Kansas City store opens.
2015 – The Dallas-Fort Worth store opens.
2019 – Nebraska Furniture Mart rebrands to NFM.
2026 – NFM’s fifth store is anticipated to open in Austin, Texas.