The Swedish Furniture Giant

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Founder of Ikea, Ingvar Feodor Kamprad, was born on March 30, 1926 in a small province Smaaland in Pjätteryd (now a part of Âlmhult Municipalty), Southern Sweden. Kamprad’s biographers believe that the trading hobby was passed to Ingvar by inheritance.

In 1897, the company that belonged to the grandfather of the future billionaire was on the verge of bankruptcy. His grandfather could not pay the mortgage and committed suicide.

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161115-Ikea-book-coverIngvar’s grandmother, however, was able to save the business. So she taught her grandson to bridge over the difficulties with willpower and perservance. Grandmother Francis had a huge positive impact not only on Ingvar, but on the entire family. She was a very intelligent woman, although of simple origin though.

To most present-day Swedes, the date and the names, in a famously rural region, resound of harsher times, when Sweden was agrarian and poor. They speak of hard work, frugality and egalitarianism rooted in shared poverty – values which would eventually enter the IKEA ethos.

Even as a young boy Ingvar knew he wanted to develop a business. At the age of five he started selling matches to his nearby neighbors and by the time he was seven, he started selling further afield, using his bicycle. He found out he could buy matches in bulk cheaply in Stockholm and re-sell them individually at a very low price, even with a good profit.

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Later he started selling flower seeds, greeting cards, Christmas tree decorations, and later pencils and ball-point pens and fish.

Map of Ikea stores around the world 2014-2015
Map of Ikea stores around the world 2014-2015

People, who closely work with Ingvar Kamprad, say that he is a brilliant marketer, a wise man who never kames a mistake. The strategy of Kamprad is indeed studied and examined by major entrepreneurs from all over the world. Ingvar never attended a university and school teachers could not even teach him to read for a long time, since he was dyslectic. His lack of a university degree has always been replaced by enthusiasm.

Ikea catalogue
Ikea catalogue

“If you work and do not feel incorrigible enthusiasm, consider that at least a third of your life has gone down the drain,” Ingvar once remarked.

In 1943, when he was 17 years, Kamprad’s father rewarded him with a small sum of money for doing well in school. With it, Ingvar founded a business named IKEA, an abbreviation for Ingvar Kamprad from Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd, his boyhood home.

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At the beginning of its operation, the young Kamprad engaged in the trade of different things, from matches to discount stockings. But the biggest demand was for pens. At the beginning of 1940s they were a novelty even in Sweden. Kamprad ordered 500 pens from Paris, taking a loan of 500 SEK in a district bank, at that time around 63 USD. According to Kamprad, this was the first and the last loan that he had taken in his life.

Later he started selling wallets, picture frames, table runners, watches, jewelry and nylon stockings, meeting needs with products at reduced prices.

Ikea store interior
Ikea store interior

Two years after starting IKEA, Kamprad began using milk trucks to deliver his goods. In 1947, he started selling furniture made by local manufacturers. By 1955, manufacturers began boycotting IKEA, protesting against Kamprad’s low prices. This forced him to design items in-house.

Kalle shelf
Kalle shelf

Kamprad is also behind the simple, yet revolutionary innovation that is the flat pack. He began selling IKEA products in flat-pack form, from his own warehouses. Thus the basic IKEA concept – simple, affordable flat-pack furniture, designed, distributed and sold in-house – was complete.

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To attract prospective customers to the presentation of the store, the young entrepreneur promised a free cup of coffee and a bun to everyone who would come. Imagine his surprise when this modest event attracted more than a thousand people. The idea of opening a fast food restaurant in each store looked great for the owner of IKEA. Time passed and each IKEA store got a fast food restaurant.

The first IKEA advertisement appeared in 1945 when Ingvar Kamprad’s business outgrew his ability to make individual sales calls. He began advertising in local newspapers and operating a makeshift mail-order service.

The driving idea behind IKEA was, and is, that anyone should be able to afford stylish, modernist furniture. Kamprad felt he was not only cutting costs and making money, but serving the people as well.

Ikea store Shanghai
Ikea store Shanghai

Kamprad’s business grew and grew. IKEA expanded throughout Sweden, to Norway and Denmark, via Germany to continental Europe, and on to the ends of the world. When IKEA opened in Shanghai, 80,000 people visited the store. Today, there are over 300 IKEA stores in the world – in 38 countries. All this time, Kamprad has never borrowed money or issued a stock.

Ikea solar powered Red Hook store
Ikea solar powered Red Hook store

In 2009 IKEA opened a new store in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and music is an important element of the shopping experience there. It’s a part of the company’s expansive globalization process. To expectant New Yorkers the old, familiar music tracks are comforting when they’re about to buy furniture with unusual and minimalistic design and even has names which for most Americans are impossible to pronounce.

The Swedish Furniture Giant, written by Tor Kjolberg