Someone out there: Ikea: What a concept

In this column, a consumer reflects upon her experiences in the marketplace.I have a love/hate relationship with Ikea.The hate part mostly involves putting my own furniture together.This is an almost unavoidable part of life as an Ikea shopper and, quite frankly,...

In this column, a consumer reflects upon her experiences in the marketplace.

I have a love/hate relationship with Ikea.

The hate part mostly involves putting my own furniture together.

This is an almost unavoidable part of life as an Ikea shopper and, quite frankly, I’m past the point at which I consider furniture construction an adventure.

There are also their little stock-flow and people-flow problems: on any given trip, half the things I want are out of stock, and I have to wait at the end of a long line to pay for the other half.

Yet I keep making the lengthy trek to that blue-and-yellow landmark in the boonies. Why?

Because these are petty concerns – a few stray bolts on the road to the inimitable wonderland I can enter with the mere turn of an Allen key.

It starts with the catalogue.

I can never get through it in less than two hours – even when it’s an issue I’ve looked at in detail before.

It’s page after page of glossy rooms that I want to live in, ingenious gadgets previously known only to Swedes, and whimsical accessories that would make my apartment come alive. And, get this: only $29 for the base, plus $59 for the top (assemble yourself.) Impossible price.

(Okay, I’m psyched for the trek.)

It continues when I enter the store, an amazing maze with only one route that will get you to the other end – but you don’t feel like you’re being manipulated by the mighty hand of marketing because there’s so much great stuff to look at.

Then, there are the brand names. Who can resist a Smedvik table? A kitchen by Kvadrat? A table lamp from Smog? What home office would be complete without a Hotta desk set with Harpya accessories?

And everything’s so cheap.

Okay, if you get all four legs as well as a half-decent-looking top, plus four chairs (assemble yourself), plus the darling polka-dot napkins, and those candle sticks that just pull the whole thing together, it does add up. But it’s still a deal, right?

However, the main thing I love about Ikea is that it’s totally unlike shopping at an ordinary furniture store.

Wouldn’t leave me alone

When I was looking for a new couch recently, I encountered store after store with row after row of couches fit only for those houses advertised on the Buffalo, n.y. real estate channel and salesperson after commissioned salesperson who just wouldn’t leave me alone.

These stores are not shopper-friendly. Their sales orientation is so aggressive that all you want to do is get an idea of the stock available and get the hell out of there.

Ikea, on the other hand, is more subtle. They seem to figure that if your visit is a pleasant one, you’ll stay longer and see more things you want to buy. What a concept.

First and foremost, they leave you alone to have a good look at things.

Want to buy something? Just talk to one of the perky red-sweater-clad young people at the order desks located conveniently throughout the store, or go pick it up yourself.

Got the children with you? Stick little ones in the strollers provided and bigger ones in the supervised playroom.

Hungry? Stop into the restaurant for Swedish meatballs and lingonberry juice.

Other needs? There are two sets of washrooms complete with changing tables.

Whoever heard of such amenities in a furniture store?

Every time I go there, I get excited. About all the cool stuff they have. And about the Ikea business philosophy, which seems to me to be ‘Let’s get real.’