What is Ikea?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Ikea is a Swedish company known for its affordable, modern furniture. The company specializes in compact styles, usually assembled by the purchaser at home. With nearly 300 stores worldwide, the store has gained a faithful following of budget-hunting customers, and even entered pop culture.

Ikea started as a small company in Sweden.
Ikea started as a small company in Sweden.

In the 1940s, the company sold small home accessories and trinkets throughout Sweden. Eventually, the business expanded to furniture making, originally sold by mail order. In 1963, the first store opened outside of Sweden. The brand quickly spread throughout Scandinavia, with stores in Denmark and Norway. Over the next few decades, the store became popular throughout Europe, and opened locations in America in 1985.

As of 2008, the company had stores in 36 countries. Germany has the most locations, with 43 stores throughout the country, while the United States is close behind with 34. With its bold, blue and yellow mega-stores, Ikea has flourished for a variety of reasons, including price, style, and sheer volume of products.

The typical layout of an Ikea store includes one or more showroom floors for large pieces of furniture and various room sets. Small departments, such as lighting and textiles, are scattered throughout the departments. The bottom floor of most stores includes a large warehouse section where boxes of the displayed furniture are available for customer selection. The lower floor also features check-out lines and a section of Swedish imported food available for purchase.

One of the unique features of Ikea are its restaurants. Rather than provide chain restaurant outlets, the company markets its own food in counter-service eating areas. Many store locations offer a variety of food selections, from full breakfasts to frozen treats and gourmet cakes. Often, food selections include Swedish delicacies such as Swedish meatballs and lingonberry soda. Following the company protocol, food for sale is usually extremely affordable.

The naming of store-brand products is a complicated system that can delight or confound the customer. Many products are divided into special categories and named accordingly. For instance, all carpets are named after Danish locations, while chairs and desks are given men’s names. The Nordic naming structure has lead to some interesting marketing issues in other countries where words may have different meanings. When such a discrepancy is discovered, the company usually renames the product.

The majority of Ikea locations are under the market control of the INGKA foundation, a Dutch charitable organization. As such, the company is part of the largest foundation in the world, with an estimated net worth of $36 billion US Dollars (USD). The company also partners with UNICEF and American Forests in community projects.

In America, the store has become a common popular culture reference. Because of the affordability of the company’s furniture and relative poverty of college students, dorm rooms are often said to be “decorated by Ikea.” Several books and songs reference the company, such as Jonathan Coulton’s popular song “Ikea,” and Christopher Moore’s book The Stupidest Angel in which a troupe of zombies plan to eat brains and then visit the store to buy furniture. As of the 21st century, Ikea has carved a place in the world economy and community that looks to remain solid for years to come.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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