IKEA’s IDEA: Beauty and function for the masses

By Melissa Hirschl

Something big, bright, bold and beautiful will be making its debut on the Kyrene Corridor landscape this fall: a sparkling new IKEA home furnishings store, latest in a network of 198 locations worldwide.

The news couldn’t be better for those passionate IKEA devotees in the Valley who have had to travel to L.A. or San Diego to satisfy cravings for the company’s home-decor line with Scandinavian roots.

Once the store opens here, predictably just in time for the start of the holiday shopping season, customers will delight in discovering a wide range of affordable home furnishings—modern, country, traditional and everything in between.

The idea behind IKEA, say its founders, is beautiful, functional and affordable products that can be easily interchanged with complementary accessories.

The palatial, 342,000-square-foot store coming to Warner Road just east of I-10 will be the chain’s 22nd in the U.S., adding to existing locations in 32 countries. (Other U.S. stores are in California, Houston, Chicago and sprinkled around the East Coast). 

Inside these stores shoppers can find virtually everything needed to make a home livable and inviting. Living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, cutlery, textiles, bathrooms, lighting, rugs, bedding, utensils, cushions, shower curtains, children’s decor—even office furniture—are on display in themed sections. .

“You can spend two hours here or spend many hours driving all around trying to decorate your home,” says Lars Meyer, named last week as the new Tempe IKEA’s manager.

Meyer started his career with IKEA 20 years ago at the store in Tastrup, Denmark. He moved 11 years later to the chain’s first full-size store in the U.S., in Elizabeth, N.J., then on to various assignments with increasing responsibility at IKEA stores on the West Coast. He’ll now make the Valley his year-round home.

“Our products are all coordinated in terms of colors and fabrics so you can create a beautifully designed home without leaving our store.”

The store’s original concept was created in 1943, when business entrepreneur Ingvra Kamprad initiated his own catalog company. Born into a hard working, industrious Swedish family, Kamprad eventually opened a showroom in the 1950s. Soon, people were coming from destinations as far away as Stockholm, a six-hour drive.

The chain has continually evolved, but the fundamental idea has always remained the same—creating affordable, well-designed furniture for the masses, says Meyer.

The simple yet brilliant philosophy behind IKEA’s successful marketing is providing versatility and clever design solutions, according to Meyer.

Customers can purchase all or parts of a modular wall unit system, for example, and add instant coordinating accessories such as lamps, rugs, and window treatments. Many pieces can double up in use, such as a dining table that can fold into a desk during the day.

To save the customer money, the furniture can be loaded up the same day from the in-store warehouse and assembled at home. Having it put together by store personnel costs a bit more.

“This is how we keep our costs low,” explains Joseph Roth, IKEA director of public affairs.

“It’s also instant gratification for the customer, which is an important part of the IKEA concept. We do a little, the customer does a little, and that’s how we save a lot.”

Another shopper friendly facet of the IKEA concept is providing certified room designers, who help create vision and inspiration.

“If the customer has a layout and has identified certain needs, they just sit down with the designers to create their dream kitchen,” says Meyer.

“We have interior designers as well, so if you have three rooms you want to get furnished, you can set up a time to talk to one of our consultants, one with a broad knowledge of the entire assortment and some basic interior skills.”

Everything about IKEA reflects an attempt to totally satisfy customers. Inside each store lies not only a dizzying array of furnishings, but four model homes as well.

Outside each is a floor-plan map that illustrates the layout and the “habitants,” such as a student, a mother with two children, or other combinations. In addition to the models there are 62 home settings that depict various living areas of a home for various lifestyles. They depict different product ranges, styles and prices; as you move to different areas, the room settings will change with the theme.

“The whole home experience is very much brought alive here,” explains Meyer. “I could actually move into any one of the rooms; this is a very unique concept in the furniture industry.”

If you’re not already amazed at how close an IKEA shopping experience is to an art form, read on. Because the chain is a regional draw, customers can easily spend two to three hours browsing. Two or three hours spent shopping with children, however, can prove to be tiring. To entertain the little rascals while you’re swimming in possibilities, IKEA provides a supervised children’s play area, in addition to play stations throughout the store.

When you feel like a bite, there is even a Swedish-styled cafeteria to indulge your appetite for Swedish meatballs, salmon platters, sandwiches, salads and, of course, kids meals.

Interested shoppers (who are tired of driving to L.A. or San Diego to stock up on IKEA treasures) are advised to put off any such trips until November, when the local store is due to open.

 HIRING UPDATE: To register for an interview time at a special July 24 hiring event, applicants must visit www.onlinejobevents.com/ikea.