Posted by: Chris | July 24, 2007

My Vacation-to IKEA. (Part I)

While it’s sad enough that I don’t live in the vicinity of a store like IKEA, the thing that’s even sadder is that I planned my one and only two-day “vacation” around visiting the home furnishings superstore with the Swedish heritage. Of course, the trip could hardly be called a vacation: an overnight stay less than four hours away from our front door. But in light of the fact that I am a teacher and I really do not get a vacation, since I (like most other teachers out there) also work during the summer months in order to compensate for the ridiculous salary teachers receive (don’t be fooled-summers are not “off” for most of us), this is about as big as it gets.

My 1½-year old daughter enabled us to go to IKEA two times in the two days we were visiting the Dallas area. Let’s just say, she got hungry and tired our first evening there, so we made a quick exit without having fully experienced the store. The obligatory second-day was fine because I enjoyed the store, and I was able to take a lot away from it in the way of branding ideas-and in the way of furniture. Obviously, IKEA is a very unique place. Below are just a few of my personal observations of things done right at IKEA:

1. Consideration of Shoppers’ Children

“Let’s go furniture shopping:” four words that would instill terror in any Webkins-savvy boy or girl. But not if the destination is IKEA. While there was not much IKEA could have done to soothe the savage beast who was my daughter our first evening there, it was surely not for a lack of trying. (Honestly, in her state at that point in time, an incarnation of Baby Einstein himself infused with the soul of every duck in the universe could have done little to curb her fit.) One of the first things I noticed when I walked through the sliding front doors is that IKEA had a place where children could go and stay while their parents shop. Smart idea. (Why don’t more malls have something like this? How about Lowe’s?) Through the front entry-way and up the elevator, much of what we perused was “experiential.” This is important in garnering (both young and old) kids’ interest. The kid’s-room area of the store was fun and engaging. IKEA knew that they had to sell both parents and children on their products, and they did a great job of putting the kid’s rooms together from a kid’s point of view. The elevator was spacious enough to accommodate 4-5 strollers. I wish I could remember all of the other kid- and family-friendly features I saw there-I just remember being impressed.

2. A Good Balance of Sales People and Space

My wife and I never felt “pushed” to buy furniture (the way we normally feel when we visit local furniture stores), yet when we had questions, an employee was almost always right there to help us. This was refreshing.

3. “All-Inclusive” Ideas

Were I to have seen many of the items in their store simply sitting on a shelf surrounded by other similar products, I would probably have been less interested in them. But when I saw their products “in action” in IKEA’s many faux home settings, not only did I recognize their utility, but I wanted to make the viewed item, nay the entire room, my very own!

4. Form and Function

IKEA’s unique furnishings are known for this; the store itself effectively followed suit. From the directional signs that herded people through the store, room-by-room, forcing customers to view products in a very well-thought-out order, to the self-shopping bins which purportedly enable IKEA to spend less on staff and more on keeping prices low, the store experience was clearly scrutinized by company marketers and honed down to a science. Their 5¢ bags at the check-out counter were a great tool for leaving a final impression. (The accompanying sign readily confessed that the charge was intended to deter people from using the environmentally unfriendly plastic bags. Proceeds were donated to a green charity.)

5. Good Products

For particle-board, the furniture we bought (some office and entertainment items) was very well made—far from the disposable, saw-dust cutouts which inevitably find themselves in pieces in nearby dumpsters after each big move. And one thing that I really liked was the solid hardware that came with each product. One big problem I have with DIY assembly products these days is that the hardware that comes in each package is so shoddy. But not at IKEA. The screws were solid. And I like the locking cams which hold stronger than a flimsy nail or screw, and actually allow for future disassembly should the need arise.

6. Pride in a Clearly Defined and Distinguished Brand

Any IKEA devotee would quickly acknowledge that this place is obviously more than just a place to pick up some cheap furniture-it is a branded experience. That which was most attractive was not simply the low prices; it was the environment which had been contrived and created very intentionally and quite completely. Someone actually sat in his/her office and thought, “Let’s put big blue arrows on the floor to point customers to the places we want for them to be and hang directional signs in case they missed anything. Let’s consistently maintain foreign product names that differentiate our products from the mindlessly, carelessly designated mass produced “necessity furniture” seen everywhere else. Let’s provide pencils and “order foms” throughout the store so that people don’t forget how they want to spend their money once they reach the self-shopping area.”—just a few of the easy initiatives that make IKEA products, service, and experience inseparable, and that translate directly into sales (sorry to tarnish the dream with this reality).

Time (and space) is up for today. Tomorrow: What IKEA could use.

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