First store abroad

Hei Norge!

IKEA went international and opened a store in Norway. But how did that decision come about? Through a combination of planning, business and instinct. And a pinch of Norwegian anger.

During the first decades, Ingvar Kamprad did virtually everything at IKEA. He was head of purchasing, head of HR and head of development. But to secure the company’s expansion abroad, he needed help. In 1958, the first IKEA store opened in Älmhult, and in connection with the official opening Ingvar came into contact with a Norwegian consultant, Hans Bernhard Nielsen. In the years to come, Nielsen and Ingvar worked on how IKEA could expand into the other Nordic countries. They could see two options. One was that IKEA could start mail order sales with its own warehouse in Norway, and become a dealer for the Norwegian furniture trade. The other option was to start a showroom, just like in Älmhult, and sell furniture to private customers under its own brand name – IKEA. Nielsen and Ingvar decided to focus on IKEA becoming dealers for furniture traders in Norway, and established the company Skandiaform A/S.

Entrance IKEA store in Norway, 1960s. Yellow IKEA sign above door. Lamps and catalogue stacks visible in shop windows.
IKEA goes international with the establishment outside of Oslo.
Busy, disorganised checkout area, 1960s IKEA store. In background, big signs in Norwegian read Delivery and Returns.
The setup in the checkout line was a far cry from today’s efficient self-service area.

While the details were being worked out, Ingvar had established a collaboration with the Polish export organisation PAGED, via his purchasing company Ikano. In 1961 IKEA was granted exclusive rights to sell Polish furniture in Sweden, and just a year later it was granted sole rights to sales in Norway. Wait, what? IKEA had no mail order or stores there. Suddenly, the rush was on. Ingvar’s friend, consultant Hans Bernhard Nielsen, was a bit left behind when Ingvar suddenly employed an industrious young Norwegian by the name of Jan Johannessen to head up the new IKEA store in Norway. Hans Bernhard Nielsen, who had worked so hard on setting up the company, contacting prospective customers and dealing with all the administration for the planned mail order operation in Norway, was pretty angry, or “temmelig forbannet”. He wrote that Ingvar can of course make whatever plans and change his mind as he wishes – but there are limits! Nielsen finished off by passing on his regards to Ingvar’s father, commenting how astonished he was that Feodor could have a son like that. Not good. Or was it? Ingvar had reacted on instinct, and probably felt quite pressured by his promise to PAGED. When he met the young Johannessen, he saw a good potential manager and went for it. Ingvar trusted his own judgement and made a quick decision. Many years later, The Testament of a Furniture Dealer was published, which reveals the philosophy behind IKEA through nine points. One of these points is about the virtue of simplicity: “…do not forget that exaggerated planning is the most common cause of corporate death.” The establishment in Norway can be seen as a practical example of how things can be done if it feels right.

Ingvar Kamprad, brown suit and tie, Jan Johannessen, dark suit, striped tie, in restaurant with white tablecloths.
Ingvar Kamprad and Jan Johannessen celebrate 10 years of success in Norway, 1973.

In 1963 IKEA opened the store in Nesbru outside Oslo, with Johannessen as store manager. And Hans Bernhard Nielsen and Ingvar Kamprad carried on their business relationship and friendship for many years to come.