IKEA refines its collaboration strategy

How the home decor retailer used its latest Art Event to generate buzz and sell 'accessible' rugs to the fashionably inclined.

IKEA-Museum

Having mastered the principles of home decor that is both functional and stylish, IKEA is learning to generate buzz with young artsy types by making more luxurious items accessible to the masses  but which only a limited few will ever get their hands on.

Collaborations have been part of the Swedish retailer’s global strategy since Marcus Engman returned as chief designer of the company in 2012, bringing with him a desire to involve more people  and other brands  into its design process, according to a press release issued at the time of his departure in 2018.

Now several years into running its own designer collaborations, IKEA Canada has been refining the company’s collaborative approach through its most recent iteration of the five-year-old Art Event.

This year, on May 3, the company rolled out a limited-edition collection of rugs across three stores in Coquitlam, B.C., Etobicoke, Ont., and Montreal, featuring the work of American designer Virgil Abloh (founder of fashion brand Off-White and artistic director for men at Louis Vuitton), as well as seven other designers from around the world.

The whole point of Art Event is to “democratize art,” says Alicia Carroll, commercial public relations manager for IKEA Canada, who led this year’s Canadian initiative. “We wanted to focus on an area of art where we could really make it affordable to as many people as possible, and sort of have that beautiful functional design. With Art Event, we always want to make sure that it’s not just something that’s in the museum  it belongs in the home too.”

Carroll says the idea of accessibility stems from the price of the rugs themselves, which ranged from $199 to $499 each  not the number of people who ultimately received one. “That’s the whole point of a limited-edition collection, is to make it special and unique.”

IKEA-Museums

Past Art Events have focused on different art forms: street art, photography, hand-drawn posters and crystal glass figurines. All have been limited-edition collections that have generated various amounts of hype depending on the designers behind them, Carroll says. “We never partner with a designer for their fame. We partner with designers and other creative heads because we’re curious about what they can offer to IKEA and vice-versa.”

IKEA first established a partnership with Virgil Abloh in 2017, before he reached widespread recognition, and it will be launching a IKEA x Off-White collection, in collaboration with Abloh, in November.

Anticipating above-normal excitement for this year’s event, IKEA launched the collection in stores only. In another first, it managed crowds by using a wristband system. Anyone interested in purchasing a rug had to visit the store ahead of time and collect their numbered wristband, which were handed out in unlimited quantities. IKEA then held a random draw giving winners the opportunity to purchase the rug of their choice.

In total, over 400 rugs were sold and around 2,700 people lined up across the three locations.

To further generate excitement prior to the event, IKEA opened an art gallery within each of the stores. From the choice of lighting to hanging the carpets on walls alongside artist bios, the rooms were designed to look and feel like a museum, Carroll says. “That was something that we had never done before, and it offered customers the opportunity to come into the store.”

“We tried to do something a bit different and a little more experiential for our customers, so that they would have the opportunity to see the rugs in advance, and if they wished to purchase one, could come back and collect a wristband.”

As a member of the PR team, Carroll was responsible for driving media coverage (some of which appeared in design, culture and style publications) by working with influencers and leading a media launch event, as well as supporting the stores during the activation. Her team worked with the marketing department, whose “slim” budget included promotion on social (Facebook and Instagram) and ads on Spotify, as well as promotion on its own channels, including CRM.