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Ikea: Match Made in Heaven

By Asli Omur
Posted August 23, 2008



     When I first stepped into the maze that is IKEA almost 6 years ago, I had no idea what to expect. I had never even heard of IKEA and now almost 80 percent of my home is comprised of IKEA labeled products. It started out as a little crush, with easy on the eyes price tags, now a full-blown marriage. I am sure you have been there. IKEA is not a one hit wonder.

     IKEA’s name is as inventive as its flat pack furniture. IKEA are the initials of the original founders’ name, Ingvar Kamprad. Kamprad grew up on a farm in South Sweden called Elmtaryd, comprising the E. Elmtaryd is in the town of Agunnaryd, completing the initials with the final A. IKEA began in Sweden and now encompasses 36 countries with over 278 chain stores that operate largely like franchises.

     Bjorn Bailey and Anders Berglund were co-owners of the IKEA in Renton, the only one in Washington State, until 2007. They retired and returned the store to the control of the IKEA holding company. According to Laurie Helm, the IKEA Renton’s new store manager, little has changed since then. “We miss them, their personalities. But the concepts and IKEA culture remain the same,” she said during a recent telephone interview. Helm notes that the Renton location of IKEA is a bit different from those you might see in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and even the European store locations she has visited in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. “Our store and warehouse are actually an old Boeing building. So the layout does not resemble the traditional IKEA store,” she explained, “In Europe, the IKEA name is more household and people are so familiar with the products and how to shop the store. There is definitely a long history in Europe with IKEA.”

     Despite the history in Europe, IKEA has some bragging rights stateside, as well. IKEA is a global movement that can now be seen in Turkey, Italy and Israel. It has gotten plenty of air play and was touted as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For according to Forbes Magazine. Helm feels this is the best business opportunity she has ever been given. “Here we have no hierarchy. No job is more important than the other. This mentality allows it to feel more like a team,” she said.

     IKEA, not unlike other powerhouse companies, has had its fair share of lawsuits, complaints and negative media attention. When IKEA opened its first store in Netanya, Israel, Israeli media questioned Kamprad’s active membership to the pro-Nazi party New Swedish Movement called Nysvenska Rörelsen in Swedish. Kamprad declared his Nazi activities as a youth as his “biggest mistake.” IKEA has also been called “imperialist” and “anti-British,” because one ad insinuated British people were uptight because of their furniture. It has also progressively been one of the first companies to use gay couples and a transgendered woman in its advertisement campaigns. It currently bans plastic bags and is on the “Green” bandwagon, providing recycling receptacles and reusable cutlery in the restaurant.

     But why does Swedish furniture translate so well in places like the U.S or Turkey? “It is clean and simple, multifunctional. A little bit of something to appeal to each country. It is modern, Scandinavian. Plus, houses are getting smaller. IKEA furniture construction is efficient with use of space,” said Helm.

     I think that IKEA furniture allows a bit of European simplicity and style for every size home. Plus, much of it is lightweight, easily built and there are more options of funky colors that many U.S companies don’t offer, unless for children’s rooms. European furniture and fashion has always pushed the envelope.

     Now going to IKEA six years later, I know how to shop the store and have discovered that some less expensive items, if not carefully cared for, will get beat up and flimsy. If you have a nice amount to spend, you can come out looking like you went to Sweden for your furniture. I prefer the Beddinge Sofa-Bed in Sandvik green and the bedsheets and pillow choices according to how you sleep.





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