What Nebraska Furniture Mart chairman Irv Blumkin thinks about inflation and the supply chain

Nebraska Furniture Mart chairman Irv Blumkin said Friday that sales continue to trend above pre-pandemic levels even with supply chain issues, inflation and consumers getting out more and spending on experiences.

He called consumer demand “incredible” even going up against the strong numbers of 2020 and 2021 when home stores had a captive audience as people improved their surroundings, he said. Demand “is still fantastic” and “much better than 2019.”

Upholstered pieces and imported case goods such as bedroom and living room furniture are still a challenge to get, he said. About 70% of the retailer’s goods come from overseas, and even domestic product depends on imported components, he said.

“Fortunately, we have such a broad vendor source. We just have to pivot and go where we can get supply so we take care of our customers,” Blumkin said.

In a file photo from the Cancer Support Community North Texas benefit at Nebraska Furniture...
In a file photo from the Cancer Support Community North Texas benefit at Nebraska Furniture Mart in The Colony in 2015, Mirchelle Louis (top left), CEO of Cancer Support Community North Texas, and Deanna Dewberry (top right), an NBC 5 consumer investigative reporter, take a selfie with Warren Buffett (bottom left), the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and Irv Blumkin (bottom right), CEO of Nebraska Furniture Mart. (Andy Jacobsohn / Staff Photographer)

Blumkin made his comments during a morning interview with CNBC Squawk Box. The network is broadcasting from Omaha, Neb., ahead of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting Saturday. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns Nebraska Furniture Mart and other regional furniture stores, including Star Furniture in Houston.

NFM is building its second Texas store outside of Austin in Cedar Park. That store will open in 2024.

NFM opened its first Texas store in The Colony in 2015, and the giant store kicked off the $1.5 billion Grandscape development that Berkshire Hathaway has been building in phases.

On inflation, Blumkin said, so far consumers are paying higher prices, but, he said, “I believe it’s getting to the point, though, where it could be a challenge because there’s just a point where even I look at it and say, ‘You know, I can’t believe some of the prices that are going on,’ but for the most part, the consumer understands it.”

Prices have followed demand, he said. “Over the last couple of years, they just wanted the goods.”

But over the past couple of months, he is seeing “a slight shift” and attributed it to consumers getting out and traveling and not being as much of a “captive audience.”

NFM is also a major electronics retailer and sells Apple products. On the heels of Apple’s earnings report Thursday and its warning that supply chain challenges could hurt current quarter sales, Blumkin said consumer demand is still strong for Apple products. Apple supplies its own stores first, and he said, supply can be “inconsistent.”

What’s been toughest to get?

“iPads for sure have been a real challenge for us,” he said.

Twitter: @MariaHalkias

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