Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad today announced that he is stepping down from the Swedish furniture giant at the age of 87. Here, design, advertising and retail experts discuss the impact Kamprad's ubiquitous company has had on their fields during his 70 years at its helm.
Nicolas Roope, founder, Poke & Hulger
When it comes to furniture and interiors, ‘design’ used to be an exclusive luxury. For everyone else there was MFI chipboard furnishings skinned with plastic veneer to remind us what material may have been used some decades before when things were made with more integrity.
'Design' had hitherto indulged in materials, processes and supply chains that led to eye watering prices and the 'great design divide' (I just made this up by the way so don’t bother Wikipedia-ing it). Ikea changed all that.
It realised the mainstream had more taste than the marketplace gave them credit for, and that great design could be mass if the architecture of the supply chain could be optimised and scaled so that the end customer could access great products at affordable prices. The flat pack for optimal storage and transportation, self assembly, modularity and interchangeability of fixtures, components and fittings as well as the famous allen key, the out of town megastores and its gruelling product development cycles to shave every penny off costs were all implemented with precision to attain Ikea's ambition.
When people think about design they often think about the Starks and Newsons, the design stars who possess some divine craft in the construction of their slightly unusable, unattainable, rarified creations. Ikea is the polar opposite; design for everyone, achieved through disciplined system thinking and design that dives much deeper than the product’s surface.
There are some clear lessons for digital people too, no doubt, in Ikea’s rise and rise. Thinking of a business as a whole ecosystem, from front to back, bottom to top and then ensure all the moving parts are complementary and in service of the greater goal. And when that system works, commit to it, evolve it one careful step at a time without letting your egos force deviation and corruption for the sake of making things seem more interesting in the short-term.
But Ikea is of course a lot more than a carefully tuned machine; it has a really lovely, warm character that seems to resonate wherever its huge blue warehousy shoes care to stomp in the world. There's the peculiar naming conventions of its products, its charming restaurants to soften the blow of an otherwise traumatic shopping experience and the peculiar little food shops that export Sweden’s odd culinary fare. Plus the hot dogs, of course.
Ikea has given us the template of a great business, in service of a great ambition: to democratise design. And it has done this with charm and warmth. But Ikea is not just an allegory for product businesses; it should be a clear reference for how companies should approach digital with all the opportunities the medium affords to optimise, automate and mechanise, whilst also simultaneously charming, seducing markets and expressing who they really are.
Ingvar Kamprad steps down after 70 years of service one of the world’s richest men. Congratulations Ingvar, you earned it!
Jason Stone, editor, David Reviews
Ikea's revolutionary approach to home furnishings was more than matched by its revolutionary approach to marketing its wares.
When the Swedish company opened its first UK branch in the late 1980s, its competitors were responsible for some of the dreariest advertising seen on television. Then, as now, it seemed that each of its rivals used three randomly drawn Scrabble letters as a brand name and this made them difficult to distinguish from one another.
Ikea was plainly different. It has consistently used advertising to underline this and hasn't been afraid to take risks.
In the mid 1990s, a commercial urged Britons to 'chuck out your chintz' and replace it with the distinctively cool offerings available at Ikea, naturally. When Nicola Mendelsohn chose this commercial as one of her Desert Island Clips in an interview with The Drum, she said: "It was an unbelievably brave campaign. They absolutely nailed the insight that women make the decisions on who buys stuff in the home but it was like a wake-up call to say 'you've battled for your equal pay... you've battled for this and you've battled for that... why are you allowing your homes to look so shocking?' It's almost the 'burn your bra' campaign for this generation. And it's brave because there's very little product in it."
The controversy stoked by 'chuck out your chintz' was strictly Vauxhall Conference compared with the fuss that accompanied a 1998 commercial which had a coldhearted spokeswoman suggesting that Ikea's office furniture is so cool that you should consider making junior staff redundant in order to pay for it.
Even though it was clearly tongue-in-cheek, it was a gamble as advertising that makes light of human misery will always provoke a disorderly queue of detractors... and so it proved.
But it was unlikely that anyone would feel so strongly that they'd organise a boycott and – in any case – the absence of any competitor who can match Ikea's convenience and inexpensiveness has left the company able to take risks.
This dominance appeared to lead the company to question the value of advertising created specifically for the UK market for a while and its commercials lost their edge in the middle of the last decade.
BMB's work between 2007 and 2010 gave it back its characteristic voice and helped establish a tone that Mother has successfully used to fully rejuvenate Ikea's advertising mojo since it took over the account three years ago.
This partnership has produced a series of really memorable commercials that are both edgy and irreverent. The most recent has Ikea declaring war on garden furniture in much the same way as it once urged us to 'chuck out our chintz', prompting a battle royale with gnomes which paradoxically suggests that all is rosy in the Ikea garden.
Samuel Langley-Swain, insights and marketing manager, Green Room
Ikea has been well placed to stand the test of time. The famous Swedish export has remained at the forefront of invention, pioneering throughout its history, with leading product innovation beginning with the brainchild of the flat pack phenomenon, through to strategic large format retail layouts.
It’s clear to see how revolutionary Ikea has really been, particularly when we look at current trends in retail such as showrooming, high-speed convenience, centralisation and consumers controlling the buying process by being a curator of products.
Due to the retailer’s foresight, these have already become everyday cornerstones of the Ikea experience, with people happily travelling from far and wide to spend an entire day at the stores. They are greeted by the inspiration of the showrooms, will nearly always stay for meatballs and then cherry-pick their own personal product selection in the market hall. It’s impossible to miss any product category Ikea has to offer, but consumers just can’t get enough.
The key principles of retail are naturally exploited: great theatre, interaction and trial, seasonality, merchandising, utilising outside space and customer service. But perhaps the most amazing feat is how a global brand with such large stores and mainstream products, can feel personal to such a large population.
Of course Ikea designs a fantastic range of products, but it knows that we also want to get the best value while retaining our own personal style. Products like the market-leading, customer-friendly kitchen planner (allowing consumers to design their kitchen at home and view 3d renders) allow us to create very personal design solutions and puts us right in the driver’s seat.
And it doesn’t stop there. With the approachable, irreverent and fun above the line messaging, we feel like Ikea doesn’t take itself too seriously and that we are allowed to put our own stamp on their products (it even tells us to paint our own design on the Tarva wooden chest of drawers), so people feel that they can fill their entire home with Ikea products and still feel unique. The retailer has ingeniously built on these aspirations by inviting design-driven customers to showcase their Ikea homes in the Ikea Family Live magazine and website, the ultimate accolade for loyal Family customers.
Ikea has of course had a massive impact on retail through its market leadership, from the out-of-town large-format retail boom in the 1990s to countless retailers integrating restaurants and coffee shops to increase customer dwell time. The constant evolution of the brand (noting a recent innovation – its interactive brochure) means it may be difficult to for competitors to catch up.