The store that inserted Scandinavian design into millions of
households from Beijing to Boston needs to come up with something
new to keep its leading position in an industry which is fast being
transformed by travel and the Internet.
Says its head of design Marcus Engman: "I think we have to - and we
are - rethinking what's Scandinavian for tomorrow."
IKEA's sales boomed in part because it kept costs down by cleverly
convincing customers to piece their purchases together themselves.
Now it wants to double those sales to 50 billion euros by 2020,
expand its current 362 stores by launching in places like India, and
boost online revenues.
To do that successfully, it must take into account the fact that its
customers are now global citizens with sophisticated tastes, and
that it is catering to a far wider audience than when it first
launched in 1943. Over the last year IKEA had 775 million store
visits across about 50 countries - and 1.2 billion visits to its
"Everybody has a bigger view than what they had in the fifties,"
Engman told Reuters from IKEA's design center in the remote southern
Swedish village of Almhult, where he leads a tight team of 20
"That means we have to change."
In seeking to recreate a new Scandinavian image - IKEA is best known
for its minimal designs - the company acknowledges too that the face
of Sweden has also changed.
Since founder Ingvar Kamprad started selling matches and flower
seeds to his neighbors as a child, Sweden's open-door immigration
policy has seen refugees from war in Africa and the Middle East
arrive in their thousands. Now one-tenth of the population of the
country can say it was born overseas.
IKEA itself is also expanding well beyond Europe, which currently
brings in around 70 percent of its sales, to emerging markets.
That means tomorrow's store design may be more about blended styles
- a challenge given IKEA's well-known utilitarian chic.
"If you have an extremely elaborate pattern out of Asia, for
instance, could we mix that with a very straight forward,
functionalist view from us?" wondered Engman.
Wearing trendy spectacles, a black and white striped t-shirt and
sneakers, the 48-year-old Swede acknowledges the importance of
fashion in his business.
With the likes of clothes retailers Zara, Next and Hennes & Mauritz
competing to sell home furnishings, IKEA is looking to catwalks for
For the first time, it is bringing in fashion designers - Londoner
Katie Eary, for instance, who is developing wild-looking textiles
for items like lamps and pillow cases.
"She's a little bit into scary digital patterns, and we like that,"
Engman says, pointing at a lamp covered in giant hot pink eyeballs
as he walks around IKEA's design center, a massive open-space
playground for product developers.
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Fashion designers can bring new zest to home furnishings because
they have a less traditional view and attack colors and patterns
differently, he adds. "They are not taught the rules."
Engman's design team currently spends 30 to 40 percent of the time
out of the office - traveling to places like China, Brazil or
Southeast Asia to source new ideas and material such as wood from
Eucalyptus and Acacia trees. IKEA is one of the world's top users of
wood and works with more than 1,000 suppliers across 52 countries.
Engman's father developed IKEA's "Klippan" sofa in the seventies. It
is a model that is still sold in stores today.
But mass production has become more difficult since then - part of
the challenge being a world where people want more than ever to be
seen as unique.
One answer to this, Engman says, would be to let buyers choose their
own colors and textiles in order to tailor-make more products to
their own tastes.
His designers are also spending a great deal of time thinking about
modern living and how to deal with smaller spaces, more frequent
moves and social media-focused lifestyles.
"In the past, a family started out looking at the fireplace together
and playing games. Then it was the TV set," he said. "Now, you have
a whole family of four in the living room, but they are all doing
Whatever IKEA decides upon for its new design approach, some aspects
will not change.
Across Engman's sprawling design center, new products are stuck with
post-it notes bearing a suggested price, and the design chief talks
constantly of "cracking the code" to ensure prices are affordable
for the masses.
"The price is always something everybody should know about any
product," he says. "What's the goal? It's the accessibility of the
(Editing by Sophie Walker)
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