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Warren Buffett hands out a Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookie Blizzard at a Dairy Queen in Omaha, Neb. (Nati Harnik/Nati Harnik/AP)
Warren Buffett hands out a Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookie Blizzard at a Dairy Queen in Omaha, Neb. (Nati Harnik/Nati Harnik/AP)

Value: John Warrillow

Unapologetic salesmanship: Never stop plugging Add to ...

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders reads like a treasure trove of insights for business owners.

Yesterday, I highlighted one piece of wisdom contained in this year’s letter: the importance of having a reserve fund. Here is the second of three lessons I will point out this week.

Always be plugging

Mr. Buffett runs a sprawling empire encompassing 76 distinctive businesses – and he is always in selling mode.

His letter includes a strong plug to attend the upcoming April 30 annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb., which Mr. Buffett himself describes as “Woodstock for Capitalism.”

Instead of hosting the kind of sterilized shareholders meeting typical of most public companies, Mr. Buffett sets his up as part trade show for the various businesses that his shareholders own through their positions in Berkshire Hathaway.

And how well does that do? Mr. Buffett’s letter brags about last year’s annual meeting, when, in a nine-hour period, 8,800 Dairy Queen Blizzards, 1,053 pairs of Justin boots, 12,416 pounds of See’s candies and 8,800 Quikut knives – “that’s 16 knives per minute,” he notes – flew off shelves. And he urges this year’s flock to do even better.

“The best reason to exit (the annual meeting) . . . is to shop,” writes one of the world’s richest people. “Anyone who says money can’t buy happiness simply hasn’t learned where to shop.”

Other holdings get similar treatment. Mr. Buffett promises to show up across town at a Borsheims jewellery store to demonstrate his sales skills, and encourages shareholders to bring their car insurance contracts to see if Geico can save them money.

“For at least half of you,” Mr. Buffett writes, “I believe we can.”

Mr. Buffett is unapologetic about being a salesman for his companies, and has never forgotten that his wealth and influence rest on the daily purchase decisions of millions of people.

Tomorrow: Why you need to write your “hit-by-a-bus” letter.

Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, which will be released in April.

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