Author Mark Fairlie

30 years ago in Warrington, the furniture retail market in Britain changed forever with the opening of the first IKEA store.

Fast forward to 2017, the company now grown to 20 branches nationwide. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, UK boss Gillian Drakeford believes that “We are now very much part of UK society … There are probably lots of people who were even conceived on an IKEA bed”.

Where it all began

The first store opened in Älmhult in Sweden in 1943, and in 1948 began selling the very first versions of its ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances, and home accessories. The first actual IKEA furniture store opened in the same town in 1958.

Still run by Ingvar Kamprad who opened the original store as a 17-year-old, the name IKEA is derived from the first initials of Ingvar’s name (I and K), E from Elmtaryd (the farm on which he grew up) and Aggunnaryd (his hometown).

The expansion was rapid, opening in Norway and Denmark in the 1960s. The 1970s saw initial store launches in West Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The rapid expansion continued into the 1980s as the company broke new ground in France, Spain, Belgium, the United States, the UK, and Italy.

Today, it’s become the world’s largest furniture retailer and its founder is one of the world’s ten richest people with a net worth of more than $40bn. Despite that wealth, he still buys second-hand clothes from flea markets, telling a TV interviewer that it’s “in the nature of his (home county) to be thrifty”.

Inside the typical IKEA store

As IKEA only has 20 stores in the UK, their boss is acutely aware that there are large parts of the British population who can’t “reach a store within two-and-a-half hours”. To that end, they are committing £250m to expanding the business with new stores pencilled in for opening in Sheffield, Exeter, and Greenwich.

For our readers who have never been to or seen an IKEA store, the store provokes incredible loyalty among customers because it is so different to the standard British retail experience. If you’re yet to experience IKEA, this is what you can expect.

By Holger.Ellgaard (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsWith the outside sporting the blue and yellow of the Swedish national flag, the inside of the store consists of a one-way system designed to guide customers through IKEA’s entire product range.

There’s a food retail outlet in each store selling Swedish favourites such as lingonberry jam, fish roes spread and packets of gravy. Located near the food retail outlet, in many cases, is a restaurant serving traditional Swedish food, including the best-selling meatballs with potatoes.

As you wander through the store, you keep notes on the warehouse position of the items you wish to buy. At the end of the one-way system is that warehouse from which you collect your flat-packed items of furniture, take them to check-out for payment, and then try to fit them into your car.

A business in the process of change

For many Brits, the prospect of having to assemble the furniture at home filled potential customers with dread, according to Gillian Drakeford. To that end, they bought gig economy firm TaskRabbit and now will send out an expert to put together a customer’s desk, bed, cabinet, or bookcase.

Having seen the amount of second-hand furniture on sale via auction sites, the retailing giant is looking to catch up by offering to buy back old furniture (in decent condition) for resale, according to the Telegraph.

The same paper also reported that the company is toying with the idea of opening smaller stores using a click-and-collect model, similar to that used by supermarkets.

Finally, the company is launching a range of furniture for cats and dogs. Their new Lurvig collection (Swedish for “hairy”) will be available from March 2018. If you want a preview of what’s coming, click here to visit the US site where the Lurvig collection debuted earlier in 2017.