Swedish footstools

I should talk about the World Cup. But I can’t. I’m a little demoralized. First, the hated Miami Heat, and now, the despised Italians? If this keeps going on, we’re going to run into a whole spattering of Vilhauer-hated teams winning championships – Yankees, Cowboys, Knicks.

Well, maybe not the Knicks.

Oh well, World Cup was fun while it lasted. Kerrie’s already taken the St. George Cross down, and now we’re back to real life, where our attic is still a mess and we have carpet on the way.

What I do want to discuss is a wonderland of marketing brilliance – a shiny new way of selling, promoting, and creating a buzz that, for the most part, everyone loves. It’s a foreign way of thinking, literally.

It’s Ikea.

I love the store. I love how they market themselves. I love how they set the displays up, and how they cater to yuppies (and pseudo-yuppies) like me, because I understand that we’re the market that is interested in furnishing a room that looks great with as little money as possible.

This past Sunday, I visited Ikea – both on reconnaissance and as a ready-to-spend shopper. We needed some things now, and we needed measurements for some things later. And I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun shopping for anything (aside from books, of course) in my life.

It started with Ikea’s 9:30 am breakfast – 99 cents for coffee, scrambled eggs, potatoes (with peppers), and bacon. Even though I didn’t eat the bacon, I was filled with Swedish breakfast for just 99 cents. On top of that, they had at least ten little extras that could be added on – Danishes, cereal, milk, sausages, etc. Who thinks of serving breakfast – food at all, if you think about it – at a furniture store? And who makes it an event?

After filling up on my dollar breakfast, I started shuttling around the store. The single most important thing that Ikea does is present each piece of furniture in the most attractive light possible. Every display room is filled with Ikea items – everything can be bought, from the book on the shelves to the napkins in the drawers – and everything is shown in it’s best light. You can shop two different ways – by finding a room you like and replicating it, or by going to the individual sections and mix/matching your favorites.

Everything is fully interactive. Plan a room on the computer over there. Search for your items in the catalog over here. Grab a ruler, an Ikea pencil, and your planning sheet. The catalog comes with graph paper and stickers for easy room planning. Things are labeled, located, and packaged for the easiest in carrying and planning.

Throughout the store, products are being tested. In order to prove that the furniture is inexpensive, not cheap, Ikea has set up displays with drawers being opened and closed 24 hours a day. Their flooring covers every landing so you can see that 15,000 people walk on them every day and they’re still in great shape. In fact, the one blemish on their wood floors is pointed out and championed – it did, after all, take the constant footsteps of 1.9 million people to create the hole.

Ikea is clean. It’s organized. It makes shopping for furniture an experience because you can imagine each and every room in your own house someday. It’s a designer’s dream and a frugal shopper’s heaven. And they don’t just rely on inexpensive pricing. No, Ikea explains in great detail why their furniture prices are so low, so to not give any indication that it’s cheaply made with horrible materials.

The mission at Ikea is to target a very specific group of people – adults who want furniture that looks good but doesn’t cost a fortune. They have grasped onto the people that want clean lines and functionality. Ikea pulls together a feeling of frugalness with the enjoyment of a fun shopping experience, catering to those who enjoy creating rooms and like the feel of a great decorating job with little out of pocket expense. It’s the self serve version of your typical furniture store – the Hinky Dinky of the industry.

What Ikea has done is create a brand that, while large and overbearing and horribly foreign, is positive and easily accessible. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you hear “Ikea.” Inexpensive. Fun. Trusted. This ad sums it all up – their items are always on sale. So when there’s a sale, you put the Sale on sale.

Ikea is a marketing masterpiece. It’s a brilliant display of efficient shopping, of furniture shopping gone global. The stores work together like a massive machine, churning out happy customers and wonderful pieces of household merchandise.

I love Ikea. It’s true. From a professional standpoint, and as a consumer, there’s nothing better.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 11th, 2006