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Just as quickly as some shareholders raced inside to find their seats for the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting, others sprinted in the other direction to start shopping for deals at the shareholders expo.
Lines formed quickly at Fruit of the Loom, See's Candies and Borsheims just minutes after shareholders were allowed in at 7 a.m.
“We don't even attend the meeting,” said Judy Cain, 70, of Cheyenne, Wyo. “It's all about shopping.”
In fact, Cain didn't waste any time when she drove to Omaha on Thursday, traveling “straight to Nebraska Furniture Mart.”
She was after new flooring, kitchen knives and possibly some other goodies.
It's a vacation every time Cain and her family come to Omaha, she said. She lived in Omaha 40 years ago and still has family in the area.
Others were interested in hearing from Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett.
“I'm definitely here for the meeting,” said Cynthia Ong of Bountiful, Utah. Still, she managed to nab a chocolate Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen for a buck just after 7 a.m. and she said she might check out a pair of Brooks cross-training shoes and some See's candy for her mother in Honolulu.
Whether it was leather work gloves from Wells Lamont for $10, Peanut brittle in a commemorative box with Buffett on it from See's Candies for $8.50 or Hanaita four-piece steak knives sets for $120, shareholders want the brands Buffett prefers, said Helga Nicholson of Rapid City, S.D.
“The truth is you just get caught up in the moment,” she said.
Phil and Jaime Maddern of Lincoln agreed.
“Everyone is running around because you want to buy it before they run out,” Jaime Maddern said as she maneuvered through a long line at Fruit of the Loom.
Phil Maddern added: “It's almost like you get involved in this feeding frenzy. It's about the experience and getting something with Berkshire Hathaway on it.”
Whatever the reasons may be, the merchants love it.
Chuck Schmalbach, vice president of sales administration for Justin Brands, said as of 9 a.m., sales were up 50 percent over last year. He said the company expanded from one booth last year to two this year to have more space. He said the company brought 3,600 pairs of boots to the expo.
His experience was echoed by other vendors.
“Our sales were $65,000 last year at the meeting and we expect to exceed that this year,” said Kimberly James, director of sales and marketing for Douglas Quikut.
James said she also had to increase the booth size this year to accommodate 15,000 items, including Quikut knives and American Angler gloves.
“This is the Super Bowl of corporate America,” she said. “This is capitalism at its best.”
And items do sell out.
Elisabetta Debole, marketing manager of M&M's World and Mars Retail Group, said she sold out of M&M dispensers around 9 a.m.
“We expect to sell out of mostly everything by the end of the day,” she said. “It's amazing. This is very good for the visibility of the brand.”
It's easy to sell out of products when shareholders don't have to worry about traveling with their purchases.
A pack-and-ship booth had a steady line for most of the morning. One shareholder shipped a package of books from the Bookworm and a pair of Justin boots to South Africa.
Some shareholders, even if shopping instead of participating in the meeting, showed a Buffett tendency to look for bargains and take a long-term view.
That's what Carla Faulk of Omaha did. She knocked out some of her major holiday shopping at the meeting. She got candy for Mother's Day, gloves for Father's Day, a birthday gift for her granddaughter and even some stuff for Christmas.
She had time to kill until Nebraska Furniture Mart opened. Then she planned to head there for a new dishwasher for herself. Probably one of her favorite purchases: the special edition Berkshire running shoe with Berkshire's BRK stock symbol on the tongue and a cartoon of Buffett etched inside.
Faulk, who is running a 5K later this year, said the shoes are comfortable so she decided to wear them for the rest of her shopping. “I got Warren on our team now.”
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