In the Spotlight

News & Features
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Ikea furniture wins loyal fans even though assembly's required
Larger view
Jo Baecker's sister and mother with their packed van on a trip to Ikea's Chicago store. (Photo courtesy of Jo Baecker)
Thousands of customers are expected to turn out for the much-anticipated opening of the new Ikea store in Bloomington. The store near the Mall of America is part of a major U.S. expansion for the Swedish furniture chain. Ikea's low-cost, assemble-it-yourself products already have a devoted following here. Many Minnesotans have driven to the company's Chicago store.

Bloomington, Minn. — "This is all Ikea--everything," Jo Baecker says as he shows a visitor the all-Ikea bedroom in his mostly-Ikea Minneapolis home.

"You've got the bed and the I guess you'd call them armoires that match, the matching night stand," he continues.

Larger view
Image Baecker and Ikea cabinet

Baecker is a retailer's dream.

A huge customer who loves to talk about how much he loves the merchandize. He, his mother and sister have often driven together to Ikea's Chicago-area store 411 miles away. He estimates they've spent a total of $25,000 to $30,000 on the company's Scandinavian-style furniture. He'll even show you a picture of his mother and sister outside the store next to a van packed to the ceiling with Ikea boxes.

"There's probably five bed sets in there, there's a hundred tea lights, eight large murals, one chair, two dressers, shelves. I mean we buy vanloads at a time and we keep going back," says Baecker.

There's something called 'the thrill of the kill...that's very much what Ikea offers.
- Consultant, Tina Wilcox

The appeal? Baecker says he gets an instant good look at a reasonable price.

Baecker may be an extreme case, but he's not alone. Ikea officials say several thousand people from the Twin Cities area travel to the store outside of Chicago.

The chain's fan base is sometimes compared to a cult. If so, it's a big one: 310 million store visitors worldwide last year; more than $12 billion in sales.

Ask Ikea Twin Cities store manager, Max Urban Hedberg, a native Swede, about the strategies fueling Ikea's customer devotion, and you might wind up talking about a coffee mug--a 33 cent coffee mug. He tips one over to show the Ikea touch: a little drainage notch in the bottom to eliminate the common annoyance of water pooling in the base when it's in the dishwasher.

"In a nutshell, it tells you the story of why that many people come to us. They find a product and they find that it actually has features that I wouldn't expect for a price like that, quality, and design, and a price so low," says Hedberg. "And that's how we combine those elements, that's what makes us unique."

Larger view
Image Notched mug

But Hedberg says low prices are the company's main objective. Making the customer assemble the furniture, allows packing it flat in a box, saving on storage and shipping.

"We don't ship air. We also own forests in different places so we replant the trees, we have the forest, and we have the factories, so we own the whole pipeline," says Hedberg.

No middlemen to pay, and the hunt for savings can run from the forest to the floor.

Ikea does many things right, according to Twin Cities brand consultant Tina Wilcox. She says finding a great deal makes you feel smart. And those 33 cent notched mugs are part of a strategy of offering people a 'find,' whether the price is a few bucks or several hundred.

"There's something called 'the thrill of the kill,' which is when you go into a shopping environment and you find something on sale, and it's the perfect item, and you've been searching and searching in all kinds of different stores and you find it, and it's at a great price, you sort of get this exhilaration from doing that. That's very much what Ikea offers," says Wilcox.

Despite Ikea's loyal group of customers, University of St. Thomas retail expert Dave Brennan says it's not for everyone. He says Ikea is more likely to appeal to young couples on a budget, college students, and people with a cabin to furnish. But the do-it-yourself component may turn others off.

"If you are a well-heeled person, this is probably not the thing you plan on doing, especially if you're like me, who does not particularly care to put together things," says Brennan.

Ikea officials say they do have a service to assemble and deliver products.

The Twin Cities store officially opens at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday. Customer Jo Baecker expects to be there soon thereafter.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects