August 27 marks the world premiere of the Ikea 2006/07 catalog, for many the highlight of the design calendar but for most Swedes a household necessity. "You head to Ikea without even thinking about it,” Ikea customer Kerstin Ludwigsson says.
The Ikea catalog is said to have a higher circulation than the Bible. Photo: Ikea
The Ikea catalog will soon be devoured by millions of homeowners looking for the latest in cool but affordable Swedish design. The catalog, with a print run of 175 million copies in 27 languages and distributed in 35 countries, is thought to have the highest circulation of any publication worldwide — surpassing even the Bible.
The Ikea catalog has become a style Bible for people from Beijing to Boston, helping the Swedish company become the largest furniture retailer globally with 236 stores in 34 countries. The religious analogy is appropriate given the fanatical following Ikea seems to inspire. It has been estimated that in Britain almost twice as many people visit Ikea on Sundays as attend church. And 10 percent of Europeans are said to have been conceived in an Ikea bed.
It is all a far cry from its humble beginnings as a mail-order business run by an ambitious 17-year-old in rural Småland, southern Sweden. A notoriously frugal man — he flies economy class, and expects his executives to do the same – Ingvar Kamprad has built his fortune on giving people value for money. Today, at the age of 80, he is worth anywhere between USD 16.5 billion and USD 53 billion.
British design magazine Icon has named Ikea “the most influential force in contemporary design.” Editor Marcus Fairs says: “It is a phenomenon that is regarded with a lot of snobbery in the design world, but which has made a massive and valid contribution to the public uptake of contemporary-styled furnishings and furniture.”
Fairs, himself an Ikea regular, cites a number of design classics to back up his assertion, including the Mammut table and chairs for kids (“look great, super cheap”) and the Klippan sofa (“insanely cheap, good looking, robust”).
But he says no one in the industry thinks of Ikea as a design pioneer. “They are a price pioneer,” he says. “The design world isn’t waiting to see what amazing new esthetic Ikea is going to come up with in its new catalog, but there is an acceptance that Ikea has managed to produce convincing contemporary furniture at a price that makes it accessible to everyone.”
Ikea is one of the world's most recognized brands. Photo: Ikea
In its home market, Ikea does not have the same trendy and exotic image it has abroad, although it is the default destination for Swedes in search of a bed, a towel rail or a potato peeler. “I think that for most Swedes, if you need something for your house, you head to Ikea without even thinking about it,” says Kerstin Ludwigsson, loading her car outside the Malmö warehouse.
Fellow shopper Jonas Larsson says: “I don’t think I know anyone who does not own at least a few Ikea things, and about half the stuff in my house is from here. It’s not because Ikea is particularly cool, it’s just that they have a good range – and it’s cheap.”
Up until about 15 years ago, Ikea had a reputation in Sweden for poor-quality goods. That perception no longer exists, however, with one recent survey showing that although people may have difficulty assembling its furniture, Ikea has no such problems assembling the perfect corporate image — Ikea is easily Swedes’ favorite brand, way ahead of Volvo.
The Ikea experience
A trip to Ikea is, of course, not without its frustrations: the crowded parking lot; the long lines at the checkout; the three-hour battle to assemble a bookshelf; and the possibility that among your purchases there will be something faulty, broken, or missing, requiring you to return to the store and go through the whole process again.
But people know this and accept it: Europeans each make on average 3.9 visits to an Ikea store every year, and more than 32 million Billy bookcases have been bought worldwide. With up to 20 stores opening a year, sales of USD 19 billion (SEK 138.5 billion), and one of the most recognized brands worldwide, the future, it seems, is flatpack.
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David Wiles is an English journalist living in Skåne, southern Sweden. He is editor of Sweden Today magazine.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
© Photo 1: Ikea
© Photo 2: Ikea
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