It's 30 days of sales and business crammed into just seven days at Nebraska Furniture Mart. It's often called “Christmas in May” at Borsheims Fine Jewelry. At Peak Performance Fitness Gear and the Bookworm, it's the best sales weekend of the year.
The Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual meeting — this Saturday in Omaha — is as well-known for the shopping that goes on as the economic nuggets shared by its chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett.
It's Berkshire week. Click here for a list of shareholder events and to upcoming World-Herald coverage.
The Saturday event, which typically draws about 35,000 people, might as well be code for “shopping trip in Omaha,” said Diana Abbott, manager of the Bookworm, the locally owned, independent book store near 87th and Pacific Streets.
“There are some shareholders who are strictly here to shop and get a bargain,” she said.
More vendors exhibit each year, new products are unveiled and, as Buffett said in his recent letter to shareholders, most locations racked up record sales last year.
This year, shoppers can expect:
>> Nebraska Furniture Mart will unveil a handcrafted queen size bed that retails for $12,000, but sells for about $7,500 at the Mart and is even less for shareholders.
>> Borsheims will showcase a variety of new commemorative items as well as fine jewelry and rare pieces, such as gold coins with Buffett's and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger's pictures on them.
>> See's Candies will have 7,800 commemorative boxes of peanut brittle with Buffett's face on them.
But if you aren't a shareholder, don't fret. Nebraska Furniture Mart, Borsheims, Peak Performance Fitness Gear and the Bookworm all sell the same products at their stores to nonshareholders. Though most offer discounts only to shareholders, Peak Performance's 78th and Cass Streets location is offering a 20 percent discount on Berkshire-owned Brooks running shoes and apparel to all customers Friday through Saturday.
Local retailers typically start seeing shareholders shopping with their Berkshire badges the Wednesday before the meeting. But both Nebraska Furniture Mart and Borsheims start the discounts earlier for local shareholders who want to avoid the crowds.
The Bookworm is the only non-Berkshire-owned retailer inside the Century Link Center, selling books recommended by Buffett. But they'll be just as busy on Saturday and Sunday at their Countryside Village store.
Borsheims and Nebraska Furniture Mart, Berkshire's two large Omaha stores, also expect crowds.
Peak Performance Fitness Gear is not owned by Berkshire but is a locally owned seller of Brooks.
“This is our Christmas,” said Robin Dann, a buyer for Peak Performance. “Shareholders definitely support the brands that are Berkshire.”
Buffett may have something to do with that.
In his letter to shareholders, he urged them to outdo last year's spending.
“You can do better,” Buffett wrote. “Anyone who says money can't buy happiness simply hasn't shopped at our meeting.”
He said that during the nine hours when the convention center was open last year, shareholders bought 1,249 pairs of Justin boots, 11,254 pounds of See's candy, 8,000 Quikut knives and 6,126 pairs of Wells Lamont gloves.
That doesn't count shareholder-discounted purchases at Nebraska Furniture Mart, Borsheims and Peak Performance.
And those added up, too. Last year, Buffett said, the Mart did $32.7 million of business during the annual meeting sale, “a volume that exceeds the yearly sales of most furniture stores.”
In its first year participating last year, Peak Performance at 78th and Cass more than tripled its normal sales for the weekend.
“We had no idea what to expect and we were packed,” Dann said.
This year, representatives from Brooks and Moving Comfort, a sports bra and apparel line owned by Brooks, reorganized the store layout to focus only on the Brooks brands. There will be a full lineup of Brooks shoes and apparel, plus on Sunday any Buffett-model limited edition shoes that didn't sell at the meeting.
Dann started some of the ordering in February, buying four times the amount of Brooks shoes normally in stock. And she brought in styles the store normally doesn't carry. The store added a second cash register and three temporary dressing rooms to the existing two.
“Brooks is taking over our store for the weekend,” she said.
Bob Batt, executive vice president of Nebraska Furniture Mart, knows about being prepared. “We have a debriefing the day after last year's Berkshire weekend. We follow a playbook. It's an all-hands-on-deck event. Pre-planning is the key.”
Batt said the Berkshire event is all about “taking care of the customer,” which is why they are hosting a barbecue and dueling pianos as entertainment for shareholders on Saturday afternoon. They've also spring- cleaned and painted. “We put our best face forward,” he said. “It's showtime.”
He said shareholders are always after electronics. This year he expects them to be after televisions such as the Sanyo 70-inch flat screen and the iPad3.
The iPads will go perfect with the black leather iPad cover with “BRK” embossed on it offered from Borhsheims. Marketing director Adrienne Fay expects that to sell out.
The Berkshire Hathaway memorabilia is always popular, she said. Last year, the magic answers ball with Buffett and Munger's faces on it sold out.
Finished diamond fashion jewelry, including diamond stud earrings, Roberto Coin diamond jewelry and diamond pendants, are also top sellers.
New this year, Borsheims at Regency Court is selling a 400-pound eagle sculpture created by Omaha master sculptor Matthew Placzek for $62,000. The price for a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder will be less.
Also new, a 35.80-carat rough diamond is for sale. The customer who purchases the diamond will go to Ontario, Canada, to work with a master diamantaire to determine the final polished shape of the diamond, making it the largest diamond ever mined, cut and polished in Canada.
Though it retails for $2 million, it will be discounted for a shareholder.
It will be the peanut brittle, fudge and lollipops that will sell quickly for See's Candies this weekend.
Courtney Cohen, national sales director for See's, said every year the line gets longer for See's Candies. This year, Cohen and her staff will lay out about 25,000 butterscotch lollipops on the chairs of shareholders. She said the goal is to get a photo of the most people eating a lollipop.
Nebraska Furniture Mart is a See's licensee and sells the candy in its stores. Cohen said to be prepared for demand at the Omaha store, two shipments were sent — one was 1,800 pounds of candy, and a semi-truck full of See's candy left San Francisco for Omaha on Sunday. That's about 30 pallets of candy just for the meeting.
Brad Kintsler, the president of See's, said for many shareholders, it's their first chance to taste See's products.
Shareholder dollars spill over to retailers not owned by Berkshire, too.
Beth Weiss, a spokeswoman for Omaha Steaks, said the company's retail counter at Eppley Airfield sees at least double the sales on Berkshire weekend.
They have new signage welcoming shareholders, plan more frequent deliveries to stay stocked up and put together special shareholder packages with more luxurious steaks such as filet mignons and New York strips that are available for all Eppley customers.
“There's so much traffic at the airport,” Weiss said. “We make a game plan for it every year.”
Abbott, manager of the Bookworm, sees spillover into the store because “a lot of the experienced shareholders want to avoid the massive crowd down at the Century Link Center.”
She has the store staffed and ready.
“It's truly a remarkable experience to be a part of, especially for an independent bookstore,” Abbott said. “We have met some amazing people from all over and we still have Christmas cards from investors from all across the world.”
She said she has met shareholders who wait all year to come to Omaha to shop with shareholder discounts at Nebraska Furniture Mart to remodel their homes.
“The amount of money spent in Omaha during Berkshire is phenomenal,” she said. “It's a huge weekend for retail.”
World-Herald staff writer Steve Jordon contributed to this report.
The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1336, email@example.com, twitter.com/LeiaMendoza
World-Herald coverage of Berkshire week
Friday: Join an informal gathering of fellow Buffett-watchers with Jordon from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the lobby of The World-Herald, 1314 Douglas St.
Saturday: Pick up Saturday's World-Herald for a special section on Berkshire, Buffett and the meeting expected to draw as many as 35,000 shareholders. Join in a live chat with reporter Ross Boettcher, who will be providing live coverage of the meeting. Then from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., Jordon will join the chat to give his take and answer questions.
More: See full coverage of the meeting and related events online and in print Sunday, plus stories Monday on the final events of Berkshire weekend.
Friday, May 4
6 p.m. to 9 p.m. — Cocktail reception at Borsheims Fine Jewelry, 120 Regency Parkway
Saturday, May 5
7 a.m. — Doors open at CenturyLink Center Omaha, 455 N. 10th St., Buffett walk-through of convention hall, World-Herald newspaper-tossing competition
8:30 a.m. — Video in arena
9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. — Annual meeting
5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. — Berkshire Bar-B-Que at Nebraska Furniture Mart, 700 S. 72nd St.
Sunday, May 6
9 a.m. - 4 p.m. — Borsheims shopping day, with brunch at 9 a.m.
1 p.m. - 10 p.m. — Gorat's Steakhouse, 4917 Center St.
4 p.m. - 10 p.m. — Piccolo Pete's restaurant, 2202 S. 20th St.
Shareholder discount periods
Nebraska Furniture Mart: Tuesday through May 7
Borsheims: Monday through May 12
Other related events
Value investing conference, 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday, Creighton University's Harper Center, 602 N. 20th St., reception following; reservations at business.creighton.edu/vip.
Value investing lecture and book signing, 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Friday at the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Mammel Hall, 67th and Pine Streets. Reservations for lecture from firstname.lastname@example.org