Last October I was in Hyderabad to deliver a talk. A friend had loaned me his car and chauffeur, and I had resolved that even though I was going to be in Hyderabad for under 24 hours, I will make a visit to IKEA’s first store in India.
Fortunately my flight landed on time and I could be at the store as it was opening for the day. The millions or thousands, who had lined up outside IKEA
on the day of the opening were missing. It was after all a couple of months after the store had opened. My smart chauffeur had never been to the store, so one had to use the Google Map; it was not difficult finding the huge building done in the now familiar IKEA
I told my chauffeur that I wanted to do a quick tour and will be back in 60 minutes. He surprised me by saying he would like to join me on my whirlwind tour of the store (looks as if the brand has managed to appeal to the middle classes as well).
The store is touted to be the retailer’s biggest in this part of the world. And I am not surprised. In addition to all its usual sections, it also has a huge huge food court, the likes of which I have not seen in their other stores. It has probably figured out that the quickest way to an Indian’s wallet is through his tummy.
As I was approaching the store I was wondering if Indians will ever adjust to the IKEA
way of buying furniture. You first tour the store with all its displays. You keep making notes on the stuff you want to buy (at least the bigger items, not the furnishing and small stuff that you can buy and cart along). Then you head to the large warehouse to pull out what you want, the book shelf, the settee, the dining table. All nicely packed for transportation. You then take those home in your SUV and assemble them yourself (or help your son assemble it for his student accommodation). For those who have never bought an IKEA furniture, the box that contains, say the ‘Billy Bookcase’ also comes with its own set of screws, screwdriver etc. All in one. By the way, BBC.com (February 27, 2017) says that there are over 60 million of those Billy Bookcases in use around the world.
The firm seems to have done their homework. For one I saw a many more uniformed staff in the store. Compared to their San Francisco store, my favorite, there were possibly 10 times as many staff in the Hyderabad store. Many of them were locals, but I did see some who looked as if they had been air dropped from Sweden, the firm's home country.
As the store was filling up, I could see the friendly staff engaging with the rather bewildered looking customers. Some who were there for a "look-see". Some serious about planning their new living room, bedroom or what have you.
The brand has also gone the extra mile to help Indians buy furniture, the IKEA way. They have created several specialist services. First, there is the delivery service. You don’t need to hire a minivan to take home the big book shelf or sofa. There is the assembly service, wherein you can ask the company to send an assembly person to your home. The little booklet even explains the cost of assembly, nicely catalogued to match the cost of the item. In addition they are also offering kitchen planning service, measuring service (yes, they will send someone to measure your home), installation service, interior planning service, home furnishing service and a few more.
The variety of services they have curated for India seemed a little excessive, but I suppose they will figure out what catches on and what needs to be pruned.
While the brand is teaching Indians to plan and buy furniture, a recent article in the Economist (January 26, 2019) speaks of how it is trying out a very different model in cities like Paris, London and New York. In a significant departure from their big box store model, the company is on its way to creating smaller experience centers, where customers can touch and feel the product. They can then go and order what they like online, to be delivered to their home or office. The report says that already 10 per cent of its sales happens through its online portal.
Indian consumers are getting used to better décor. Look at the mushrooming of décor related magazines. As Indians learn to use the living spaces better, furnishing, furniture, crockery, cutlery, bed linen all start gaining importance. Paint companies are experimenting with quick painting services and large format colour stores. Online furniture companies are getting well funded and are using their funds to set up experience centers in airports and city malls.
Finally, did I get what I was looking for. Yes. I am a big fan of the tiny innovations that IKEA does. One of the tiny innovations that I fell in love with almost a decade ago is the paper measuring tape. These are available at every corner any of the brand's store. I had flicked a few from the San Francisco store. I was curious to know if I could get those in the Hyderabad store. Yes, I found them. And unlike the US inch-tapes, these were in ‘cms’. I wish they had printed ‘inches’ on one side. May be they will when they enter Mumbai this year.
The author is an independent brand strategist and founder, brand-building.com. firstname.lastname@example.org