18 months in smoke and dust
Following some intensive years of expansion in the 1970s, IKEA suffered serious growing pains. Many new stores had opened in Europe, and the workforce was increasing dramatically. Meanwhile, the organisation itself had barely developed since the 1960s. Communication was slow, and costs rose while quality fell. The oil crisis was just the last straw. A serious concerted effort was now needed, before it was too late.
A flexible failure
IKEA has always tried to find new, smarter ways of packing and distributing furniture. At the end of the 1970s, IKEA took inspiration from car seating in its attempts to pack sofas and armchairs into flat packs.
A foul-smelling fiasco
In the late 1980s the green movement was really taking off, and more and more people were composting their waste at home in the garden. But hardly anyone had ever tried composting indoors – and IKEA wanted to change that.
A new compass
In the mid-1990s, IKEA was rocked by accusations of child labour. At the time the company was the world’s largest furniture retailer, with almost 100 stores in 17 countries, and production in 70. As success for IKEA increased, so too did the media’s scrutiny. Revelations of child labour would lead to a new compass – cooperation with UNICEF and Save the Children, and codes of conduct on everything from child labour to environmental impact.
When IKEA describes its culture, the terms together and togetherness are virtually always front and centre. And it’s not just co-workers who are invited to be part of that togetherness, but also very much customers and suppliers. In fact, you could say that without togetherness, there would be no IKEA.
An inflatable story
In the mid-1990s, Swedish furniture designer Jan Dranger came to IKEA with a revolutionary suggestion. He thought he had the solution to one of Ingvar Kamprad’s biggest challenges: how to pack sofas and easy chairs into flat packs.
Cushion filling in a tube
In the 1980s, designer Gillis Lundgren came up with an ingenious idea that would save space and costs when transporting cushions. Working with chemists, IKEA would develop a new type of expanding insulation material that could quickly grow to 35 times its original size. This would enable customers to fill everything from scatter cushions to sofa cushions with soft padding.
Step into IKEA and of course you are met by all kinds of furniture and other stuff, but not before you’re greeted with a huge Hej!, Swedish for ‘hello’, at the store entrance. You might say that the entire corporate culture exists in this hej. Not a slick how-do-you-do-sir-or-madam-what-can-I-get-you, just a simple hej.
IKEA and advertising
Ever since Ingvar Kamprad’s first black and white ads for IKEA, the company has had the ability to attract shoppers and talk about its vision, to contribute to a better everyday life for the many people. Ingvar and IKEA were ahead of their time in marketing, both tactically and strategically – just the combination that many experts consider the basic recipe for effective advertising.
Retail revival in Japan
By the turn of the millennium, it had been almost 20 years since IKEA made its first failed attempt to set up business in Japan. The embarrassing retreat of 1986 was still fresh in the collective IKEA memory, so the return was handled with great care and humility.
Involvement in philanthropic causes at IKEA can be traced back to the 1950s, when Ingvar Kamprad’s mother Berta fell ill with cancer, and Ingvar started a fund for cancer research. Later on, more funds and foundations were set up for everything from good design and children’s rights, to the climate and well-being for the elderly. What all these things have in common is a vision to create a better everyday life for the many people.
Spinning new yarns
When IKEA asked Vivianne Sjölin to take care of textiles at IKEA, her first instinct was to say no. After a decade in the crisis-ridden Swedish textile industry, she was ready for a change.
The great expansion
Browse an interactive map to get an overview of the global expansion of IKEA. Starting in the 1950s, IKEA built stores and made business all over the world.
The heaviest disaster
IKEA has made many mistakes over the years and has learnt a lot, but the heaviest one of all involved pianos.
The man who always says yes!
Jan Ahlsén worked as a developer of products and materials at IKEA for 40 years. Here he talks about his successes but mostly about his most exciting mistakes.
The store part 2
An IKEA store is of course filled with home furnishings, but above all it’s full of people. What are they up to in there all day and half the night? Meet the truck drivers and salespeople, store managers, chefs, interior decorators and, perhaps most importantly, the customers. Together they make it all work.
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?
Too big in Japan
In the early 1970s, IKEA decided to take on the Japanese market. Expansion outside of Sweden was going well in Northern Europe, and for many Japan felt like the natural, logical next step. They could see similarities between the Scandinavian design tradition, and Japan’s simplicity and wooden furniture.