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Meet Ingvar Kamprad
How did a regular young lad from Älmhult become one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs? Classic Småland ingenuity and stubbornness are probably just part of the answer. Ingvar Kamprad was very much shaped by his childhood, which was filled with love and imagination. A childhood in which the grown-ups had time to play and listen. A safe world surrounded by forest and meagre soil. The ideal place to play businessman.
The birth of IKEA
The trading company IKEA was registered on the 28th of July, 1943. But it was a far cry from the furniture company we know today. In his early years as an entrepreneur, Ingvar Kamprad imported pens, watches and nylon stockings, learning the ropes of purchasing step by step. But after some problems with import licences he started looking for new opportunities, and decided to focus on furniture. A business model gradually took shape when he realised that there was a major, interesting opportunity between the customer and manufacturer.
Towards the end of the 1940s, IKEA started selling furniture, and it very quickly became the main business. Always thinking of challenges as opportunities brought about all kinds of innovations in purchasing, finances and distribution. The foundation for this was already in Ingvar Kamprad back in the days when he worked on a small scale with pens and pipes at home – but the power and opportunities in the gap between customer and manufacturer really materialised in the 1950s.
The first IKEA store
When IKEA opened its new furniture showroom in Älmhult in 1958, everyone was there: the county governor, the chairman of the municipal board, along with press and critics from Stockholm, all curious to see the latest move from furniture rebel Ingvar Kamprad.
The world’s biggest restaurant
When Ingvar Kamprad opened the doors on his first furniture showroom in Älmhult back in 1953, he wanted to offer visitors coffee and a biscuit – a new phenomenon in the thrifty county of Småland back then. And it was a huge success. The queues were long, and when the biscuits started running out there was something of a panic.
In September 1964, a sensational article was published in a Swedish interior design magazine, claiming that a 33 kronor (EUR 3.30) chair from IKEA was better than a virtually identical chair that cost five times as much. IKEA was delighted, but the rest of the furniture industry was furious and threatened to boycott the magazine.
The Testament of a Furniture Dealer
Long before the rest of the world started talking about corporate culture, Ingvar Kamprad wrote down his vision and ideology for IKEA. He called it The Testament of a Furniture Dealer. It describes how IKEA needs to act to remain a successful, vibrant company. So what exactly is it all about?
After more than 30 years in the IKEA range, it’s one of the most used bags in the world. It’s big and strong, and pretty much anything will fit inside, whether you’re shopping, moving, doing the laundry or going to the beach. An iconic tote bag that has also inspired new creations by everyone from keen DIYers to luxury fashion designers.
Everything falls apart
Before 1989, production behind the Iron Curtain was a cornerstone of the long-term purchasing strategy at IKEA. Ingvar Kamprad came here back in the 1960s when he was boycotted by furniture makers and the sector as a whole in Sweden. Planned economies like Poland had raw materials at low prices, as well as state-owned factories with great capacity and a need to do business with the West, as eastern currencies could not be used in the West or exchanged for dollars. IKEA made major investments in run-down factories, installed machinery and spare parts, and built up skills. So what happened when the Iron Curtain suddenly fell?
Ingvar Kamprad loved mistakes, as long as you learnt something and didn’t make them again. “It must be allowed to make mistakes. It is always the mediocre people who are negative, who spend their time proving that they were not wrong,” he wrote in The Testament of a Furniture Dealer in 1976. The way Ingvar saw it, the fear of making mistakes was “the enemy of development” and “the root of bureaucracy”.
What do you do if you are told to do the impossible? Say no? Well, in this particular case it wasn’t an option for Paulina Pajak. She is a Product Developer in the Lighting department, which develops the global IKEA product range. The person looking for the impossible was IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who walked into the department and said: “We’re going to sell LED bulbs for less than one euro.”