Saturday, August 1, 2009

Buffett shines at Iowa gala

Forty-five minutes later, while still answering questions, Buffett had touched on various topics, including:

President Barack Obama's first six months in office: “He's got a tough job. He inherited a tough situation .... I think in three or four years, everyone will owe President Obama a big thanks.”

How a 16-year-old should invest $1,000: “In general, you need to buy equities over time. It's not going to pay off the next day, the next week or next month. But if you buy a piece of America, and not just once, but continuing to invest over time, you'll do well for yourself.”

Cap-and-trade, which refers to the federal program under consideration that would control the release of greenhouse gases by capping emissions and allowing companies to trade allowances for how much they can emit: “I don't know all the details, but I do know we ought to start reducing the carbon emissions in the atmosphere today. ... We led the world into this, so I think we should lead the world out of it.”

Government spending: “Shortly after World War II, government spending, as a percentage of gross domestic product, was 120 percent. Today, it's about 52 percent. So while the spending is certainly greater than it has been for a while, we're really not in really dangerous waters yet.”

Contraction in home prices: “Sure, it's bad to sell a house for $250,000 that was bought just a few years ago for $500,000, for the people who overextended themselves and couldn't make the payments. But it's good for the people who were more prudent and waited to purchase a house when they could afford it.”

In response to a question from the president of a Canadian furniture manufacturer about what Buffett thought of the company's chairs and tables, which were used on the stage, Buffett delivered a resounding endorsement.

“I've never been more comfortable in my life,” he said to roaring applause from the audience. “I am in awe of this furniture.”

Dave Mershman, president of the Homemakers store, opened the event by recognizing guests representing furniture vendors from Canada, South Africa and across the United States. He also thanked the company's employees.

“We are truly blessed with fabulous people on our team, and over the 35 years, they have helped build this business,” he said. Mershman said his late father, Carl, wanted to have the largest furniture store in Iowa. It took a buyout by Nebraska Furniture Mart to “get to that next step,” Mershman said.

Carl Mershman's parents started Mershman Furniture in 1940 in St. Paul, Iowa. In 1974, Carl and Ina Mershman bought the former Gray's Furniture store in Des Moines and established Homemakers Furniture.

The original store had 31,000 square feet and employed 10. Four years later, the Mershmans expanded with a larger warehouse and showroom.

In 1985, the current store opened in Urbandale. Ten years later, the owners expanded the showroom and moved the warehouse to an adjacent building. Homemakers underwent another expansion three years later, and eventually the business employed more than 200 people.

Nebraska Furniture Mart bought Homemakers in 2000, but the Mershman family continued to run it. The company began the current remodeling project in 2007.
“It took us 35 years to get to this point,” Mershman said. “One person I would have loved to have standing by my side tonight is my dad. He was involved in all of the plans and goals we had set. I think tonight Dad is smiling.”

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