Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The IKEA Experience

We take a break from sad wrestling news for a post that has been three days in the making.

Over the last week, I have been in the City of Brotherly Love. Aside from the usual touristy things (Independence Hall was great, even though the tour guide for Congress Hall was ignorant and rude), I took a trip to IKEA. To put this in perspective, this is a Swedish furniture store that is limited to major metro markets because of its size. The one I visited was larger than the Fort Henry Mall and even had its own parking garage.

IKEA has found an odd niche through which it exploits American insecurities. Sure, the USA has a great sense of patriotism and civic pride, but it also has never been able to shake the idea that the old world is somehow superior. IKEA has latched on to this in their marketing and their store design to reap the benefits at the cash register. Shop at IKEA to get the finest in European-designed crap. It makes you culturally aware if you purchase your love seat from IKEA, rather than from Rhoton and Smith or Sticks N Stuff.

(An aside. In Philadelphia, there are apparently a lot of rich people. I have seen at least 6 guys above the age of fifty walking around with a polo shirt and a popped collar. 3 of these men were in IKEA. I wanted to go up and tell them that they were not 18, but I figured they were rich and could sue me for suffering for pointing out the truth.)

IKEA designs their own furniture, so this isn't a regular retail store with brands like Sauder, Broyhill and Sealy. No, all you can buy here is IKEA brand. To get you to think that you are buying something that is unique, they "brand" each item with a Swedish name (in most cases) and stick it out there on display. Some of these items are probably things like the Swedish word for bookcase or sofa. An example is Ektorp, which evidently is Swedish for "cheaply-made chair and slip-cover." Others are things like "Koncis" or "Heat." Yes, IKEA names their hot plates Heat. Someone in marketing must have got a bundle for that one.

I will admit, that some of the items appear to be quality and that the prices can be affordable. But if you look around, you can find items that are foolishly-constructed and packaged with a Euro-name in order to get Americans to buy them and look hip and trendy. In the "IKEA Work" area (i.e. Office Furniture) they had a plastic rolling stool that was essentially a lawn mower seat on wheels. I sat in it. It wasn't very comfortable. I looked at the tag. It was the Traktor chair. If they had painted it green and slapped a John Deere logo on it it would have been more appropriate.

IKEA also gets you with the layout of their store. It is akin to a lab rat maze. You go in, go up the escalator, and you have to pretty much walk through the entire showroom to get to the downstairs escalator. There are maybe 2 or 3 "shortcuts" to fast forward at places, but there is no quick and easy exit. It is a very linear set-up that is frustrating. At least they have numerous chairs there.

IKEA has everything a person could want in their homes (note: sarcasm does not translate well over the internet), including a Swedish market where you can buy Swedish meatballs (I'm not joking). This makes one wonder whether, if a French competitor arose, would they offer French fries?

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