Learned so much about Ikea during a recent media trip to Sweden. It started in Älmhult, a small-ish town in the rural region of Småland where the giant retailer opened its first store in 1958, and where it still maintains design, retail, testing and distribution operations.
It’s also the site of a “cultural centre”, a small museum that traces Ikea’s roots back to the youth of its founder, Ingvar Kamprad.
It’s a true rags-to-riches story; the country-bred Kamprad began making pocket money by selling matches, bought in bulk, to local farmers. Over time, he expanded his offering and by 1943, the company was registered as a mail-order business.
all documented in the museum, which includes room sets of Ikea designs from
over the years, including ravishing Gustavian-inspired pieces, on which the
company collaborated in the 90s with the Swedish National Heritage Board.
I discovered so many interesting tidbits about Ikea. Ever wonder, for example,
as I did, where the name comes from? Apparently, the “I” and the “K” stand for
Ingvar Kamprad, while the “E” is for Elmtaryd, the name of the farm where
Ingvar Kamprad grew up. "A" is for Agunnaryd, the name of the village near
Kamprad's childhood home. In Swedish, it's pronounced E-kay-a.
Also learned that Ikea’s product lines are consistent across its stores, which now spread out over some 40 countries. There are, however, small tweaks that offer fascinating glimpse into consumer taste and behaviors, according to Peter Klinkert, project manager for the team tasked with developing products for stores across the globe.
“There may be adaptations of sizes, for example. Say for mattresses, or when there are certain function that are extremely relevant for local market – chopsticks for China. And we need to do sofa beds in Eastern Europe, where everyone seems to sleep on bed sofas.”
Ever wonder, too, about those sometimes un-pronounceable product names? Turns out there’s a story behind that, too. As the product line grew in leaps and bounds, plans to give products number were shelved; it was decided names would be easier to remember. Some monikers were straightforward — “Lampan” for a lamp — while others Smaska (yummy) for cutlery, or Trampa (step on) for a door mat are more thematic. Now you know.
The other thing I discovered on my trip — that Sweden is a beautiful, diverse, smart and charming country, with lovely landscapes, great design, stellar cuisine (hello, gravlax) and friendly people. They seem to have done exceptionally well in the gene pool, too. (Folks are all gorgoeus and the obesity that now seems epidemic in North America is absent there. Of course, the lifestyle is more active. People bike everywhere, and citites accommodate - even encourage - that. Unlike here in Toronto.) In fact, I fell in love with the place. Take a peek out the blog entry below for some shots of Stockholm, where we stopped for a day to get a sense of the sophisticated city that inspired Ikea’s Stockholm collection, which is now in stores. Check out my Hot Home Products column in the August 3rd Saturday Star for more on that.