Ingvar Kamprad grew up on a farm called Elmtaryd in the parish of Agunnaryd, Småland, in the south of Sweden, where, in 1943 at the age of 17, he opened a mail order business selling pencils, postcards and other small merchandise that he named IKEA, an acronym using the first letters of his name and home place. From that humble beginning, IKEA has now grown to be the largest furniture retailer in the world with 385 giant stores in 48 countries, employing 172,000 people around the globe.
IKEA’s Kungens Kurva store is in the Stockholm suburbs about 12 miles away from the city center. Until December 2013, when it was surpassed by an even bigger store in Korea, the Kunga Kurva store was IKEA’s largest.
Recognizing that there’s a big market for customers from the city center, IKEA operates a free bus service that runs hourly from Vasagatan near Stockholm’s central train station to its Kungens Kurva store. We just made the 2:00 bus. I didn’t really see much on the drive out to the store because I was so involved trying to figure out why they would post a tide table in the bus.
Although there are now 42 IKEA stores in the USA, including IKEA’s most recent store in Las Vegas, none of them come to within a football field of the size of the store here in Stockholm which covers 14 acres under one roof.
IKEA is to furniture what Apple is to tech: they both focus on design and control from their respective home countries, with manufacturing taking place primarily in China in order to hold down costs. For IKEA, that control and low cost format extends to the customer, as well: first, by steering the customer through the store in a specific way; and, second, by involving the customer in the manufacturing process itself.
Most IKEA stores, like this one, have a defined, one-way flow for customers. Upon entering the store, a customer can drop off the kids at a free day care and grab a free cup of coffee before boarding the elevator to the top. Here’s the view from the escalator looking back down toward the front door and then up to the landing at the top.
When you get off the escalator, you can go straight in to the cafeteria (all stores feature reasonably priced Swedish dishes) or you can proceed around the floor, following the signs hanging from the ceiling and arrows on the floor, through the furniture showrooms, most of which is laid out in coordinated, full room displays.