IKEA’s journey to world dominance

I must admit that after 6 trips to Ikea in as many weeks, I am beginning to supplicate myself to its dominance.  It’s a bit of a running joke in the expat community in Prague about the central role of Ikea in one’s life.  Let me explain.

You probably didn’t send all of your belongings over when you arrived in Prague.  And when you were deciding what to ship, you probably had no idea that apartment life in Prague is closet-less.  There must be some conspiracy against closets, as funded by Ikea.  So, you start buying Ikea products that can store your stuff.  Armoire units.  Bedside stands.  Kitchen hutches.  Anything that will hold your cherished crap and not break your wallet.

Ikea has managed to become central to expats’ lives for a variety of reasons.  First, their stuff is cheap (as in inexpensive).  You’re willing to leave it behind when you go.  Second, it’s not sufficiently ugly enough to prevent you from buying it.  Damning with faint praise, but there you go.  Third, it’s modular so that you can always find a configuration that will fit the vagaries of your apartment’s layout.

If you step back, that makes for a potent value proposition for a huge portion of the world’s population.  A great solution for students?  Check.  City dwellers in mega-cities like Beijing or Mexico City or Mumbai?  Check.  Parents outfitting their kids’ room?  Check.  Stylish furniture for those who can’t afford something of lifetime quality?  Check.

Like all potent brands, Ikea has also managed to skirt the downside of what it offers.  Everybody thinks it’s a Swedish company.  Which it is, but virtually everything is from low cost production countries like China.  Not much Swedish product content.  Second, its low cost of goods hasn’t (fully) translated into a consumer belief of “too cheap/shoddy to buy”.  It’s of decent enough quality that you’ll probably keep it for longer than you planned.  And who can forget the torment of assembling Ikea products?  Sweat-soaked shirt and a shower are the final steps in any Ikea assembly project.  Yet we keep buying…

So Ikea has achieved what few companies have: the magic of a having successful brand and being a large company.  In order to be a big company, they must serve a variety of customers.  Yet, any of those diverse customers believe that “this product is made for me”.

One product (type).  Many needs.  Potent.

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