IKEA, Sweden’s Jewel
Focus On: Merchandising & Creative
The year was 1943. World War II was raging across Europe. Norway was occupied by Germany. The Nazis needed access to open ocean and the deep-water fjords to shelter their great ships. Next door, Sweden remained neutral and relatively untouched by the conflict.
In the town of Elmtaryd, Sweden, in the parish of Agunnaryd, an ambitious 17-year-old boy named Ingvar Kamprad traveled from farm to farm selling seeds from a box on the back of his bicycle. He had other items to sell—fountain pens, pencils and matches—but couldn’t inventory them all on a bicycle. So he hit on a unique distribution idea.
He printed fliers that were delivered by the milkman to every house and farm in the area—the equivalent of today’s saturation mailing via ADVO. The difference between Kamprad’s business model and ADVO’s was that the milkman took the orders and delivered the merchandise.
Furniture was Kamprad’s passion, so a new business model was required. With his revenue from the door-to-door business he bought an old joinery and turned it into a display room for local furniture-makers. His philosophy was to make available good-looking, sturdy furniture that would enhance the lives of ordinary people who didn’t have a lot of money and who lived in his hardscrabble parish. Local retailers naturally were unhappy when this direct selling method started undercutting their prices. So he again changed his model, this time designing his own products so no one could accuse him of unfair competition.
In 1955 he designed and sold his first line. In 1956 he began creating furniture that could be shipped flat, so customers could cart it home rather than pay extra for delivery. His first item was a coffee table with detachable legs. The first store opened in Älmhult, Sweden, in 1958. In 1963, Kamprad expanded to Oslo, Norway, and IKEA—which stands for Ingvar Kamprad (the founder’s name) Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd (his hometown)—was born.