IKEA popularized the kit-type scheme. "Our products are less expensive, because we let you do the assembly." The furniture doesn't require any advanced tools to put together, and most of them are already included in the box, but often a single item can take several hours to put together, and the diagram-only instructions aren't too helpful.

Also quite innovative, they have numerous retro-look and luxury products, and all their furniture is real designer furniture.

Interestingly enough is not where Ikea is located corporately , but where their products come from. Most people have the idea that most products are Scandanavian, but most products are produced in low cost third world nations.

Overseas suppliers of Ikea products exist in countries such as Poland, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Mexico, Canada, India, Costa Rica, etc., etc., etc.,

Now instead of going on a WTO anti-free trade, environmental tirade, I'm actually going to congratulate Ikea on a decent business model that effectively sources products worldwide. Next time you are in the home furnishings version of McDonald's, pick up any item and take a gander at its country of origin.
IKEA is all of the above things, but more than that, for the British, it has been the shop that has saved us from decorating our homes with chintz and nasty net curtains, as was pointed out in the IKEA "Chuck out your chintz" advertising campaign.

Unfortunately, the common man chucked out everything, and replaced it with wall-to-wall beechwood and chrome, called Smorgenblaad, and Blorkvist, making half of the urban population of England live in what looks like an IKEA showroom.

IKEA also has the wonderful trait of naming their products. This can lead to both ease of ordering and unintentional hilarity. Case in point: immediately after graduating college, my roommate and I (who were going to live together in New York City) left campus, did not pass Go, did not collect first paycheck, but went straight to IKEA. Using a modicum of good taste (his) and overeager exuberance (mine and his) we managed to furnish our bachelorpad-cum-dormroom for a modest sum.

However, upon reaching home, the silliness of the names became apparent as we shouted them out to each other down the short hallway of our apartment while unpacking our purchases. The Ivar computer desk was worth a giggle or two, but the carving knife was named...

Smeltpunt. I kid you not.

Took us like two hours to stop laughing hysterically at the mere mention of the word.

Update: Roninspoon informs me that in fact the products at Ikea are named for their designers. I'm not sure (in typical boorish American fashion) whether this makes them any less funny. I am comforted by the thought that it is quite likely that a Scandinavian would find a ladle named Joe or Richad amusing as well.

Update update: ascorbic says that they are not named for designers but with general words in Swedish. I give up. :-)

That's a lot of rumors and opinions; here are the facts:

IKEA was started in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad when he was 17 years old. The name is an acronym for Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd, where the last two are the name of the farm and the village where he grew up. This is in Småland, Sweden, where people are rumored to be as cheap as Scots. (Note: This is of course not true. It is just a way to stereotype people. ) 

Business Concept
The idea of the company has always been to provide cheap furniture by letting the customers do a part of the job. They have one of the world's most complex logistics systems and they know their supply chain theory. Their product development, design and manufacturing work together in order to find the best solutions. For instance, they are very focused on producing furniture that can fit into flat boxes, which allow easier (cheaper) handling and storing. 

When it comes to the over 2000 suppliers and manufacturers of the furniture, they are located in 56 different countries. 73% of these are in Europe, and 23% in Asia. This does not say anything about volumes from each continent though. IKEA employs 50,000 people (42,000 in Europe, 5,900 North America and 1,500 Asia), not counting those working for suppliers. 

Ties are forbidden in IKEA management. There are many stories about manager prospects visiting the hq and being sent off because of their ties. The names on the furniture are always Swedish. The same type of furniture have the same type of name; sofas borrow their names from cities (Stockholm, Karlshamn) and chairs usually have men's names

IKEA is owned by the foundation Stichting Ingka Foundation in the Netherlands and parent company in the IKEA Group is Ingka Holding B.V.. The IKEA concept is owned by Inter IKEA Systems B.V. in the Netherlands. They sell the concept as a franchise to companies within and outside of the IKEA Group. IKEA International A/S in Denmark runs the company, and they employ the CEO Anders Dahlvig. Responsible for product development is the company IKEA of Sweden AB in Sweden. They also handle all logistics. IKEA owns some 30 sawmills and factories via the company Swedwood in 10 countries. They stand for approximately 10% of the supply for IKEA. Of the almost 160 IKEA stores throughout the world, 19 are owned as independent franchises. 

Big Scary Company with Monopoly
No one manufactures as much furniture as IKEA. Not by far. They can and will kill any local competition by using their global position. I'm not saying they're doing anything unethical - that's global capitalism for you - but the fact is that they have no competitors on the global market.

Source: http://www.ikea.se except the last paragraph. If you don't hear from me in a while, I'm probably stuffed away in a Karlshamn package in an IKEA warehouse in Argentina.

I would like to add that IKEA products are not real designer furniture.
They are imitations of existing 'designer' styles, given the flat-pack treatment and made using lower-grade materials.

Two of the most common criteria for something to be a designer item is for it to have a limited quantity and/or an astronomical price tag.
Most IKEA products are neither, they are mass-produced factory items.

I know there are exceptions to this rule, it's not hard to find a Philippe Starck juicer or other Alessi products in many catalogues these days. The difference in my opinion is that Alessi innovates whereas IKEA imitates.

This may seem like an attack on IKEA, it's not. I find IKEA products highly appealing, especially as I could never afford the actual products they aspire to. It's just that calling IKEA stuff designer furniture is a bit off the mark.

Apart from following the instructions fairly religiously, there is a simple route to successful, pain-free Ikea furniture assembly for reluctant DIYers, and it is this:

Don't use the tools they give you.

Well, hardly ever, anyway. The single most useful item that you can use is an electric screwdriver, preferably with a torque limiter of some sort, and a selection of bits for it including the vital 4 mm and 5 mm Allen keys that Ikea use for almost everything. Caveat: on the cheapest lines, where stuff screws into chipboard or soft wood, use it very carefully or stick to hand tools. The other useful item is a staple gun, preferably of a variety that handles simple tacks as well as staples (and since Everythingians are undoubtedly going to want to drape network/stereo/aerial cables all over their homes at some stage, you might as well get one that takes round-topped staples as well). This can be used to replace the tacks used for fastening hardboard backs to cabinets and shelving, substantially quicker and without smashing your thumbs with a hammer (although shooting a staple through the thumb will hurt just as much).

With the common system that uses an Allen screw fastening into a circular nut inserted through a perpendicular hole on the other surface, bear in mind that beyond a certain point of tightening you are just going to be compressing the material (especially where it's chipboard); these joints come loose over time and need to be retightened every year or so or any time you move house.

A couple of things that just occurred to me regarding their selling practices:

  • a recent visit to a UK branch suggested that their sterling prices are much higher than those in the euro zone. If anyone has a UK (or anywhere else) catalogue handy and wants to run a few comparisons, let me know.
  • For several common products I have noticed that they after they become established in the market for a year or two, the price is dropped, but with a concomitant reduction in quality, particularly quality of finish. (Åbo chairs come to mind here).

How to shop at IKEA

You can get great deals on modern furniture at IKEA stores, but it can be a hassle. Having been through the New Haven, CT, store three times, I have some suggestions:
  1. Get there early, when they open.
  2. Go through the upstairs showroom and select all the items you want which are yellow-tagged, which means IKEA staff pick the items for you from the off-limits part of the warehouse. You can jot down the aisle and bin numbers for red-tagged "self-service" items, but don't pick up anything.
  3. You must talk to a sales rep in the department where the yellow-tag item is to get a printout with the items on it. He will seem competent as he clicks around on the computer, but at least one item will be wrong, so you may as well check it right there.
  4. When you're done having the errors fixed, go all the way through the store and take these printouts to the cashier. No browsing!
  5. Pay for the items, then go to the furniture pickup area with your paperwork. They'll give you a number. Now you can sit in the comfortably modern waiting area with the other schumucks for between 30 minutes to two hours (I'm not kidding), or, and they don't tell you this, you can leave!
  6. Browse the store and do the rest of your shopping! Go have lunch upstairs! Relax in a Varnamo sofa! Spin around on the Traktor seat! Sit at a Vika Glasholm desk and look busy and important! Take a nap on a Morkedal bed! Take a walk or sightsee the city!
  7. Once you've picked up everything else you wanted, including red-tag items, go through the cashiers again, then head for the furniture pickup waiting area.
  8. Is your number on the TV monitor?
    1. No: You didn't waste enough time - go back to step 6.
    2. Yes: Hooray! Take the stuff you're carrying to your car and bring it to the pick up spaces.
Now this is the part where the pickup clerk will explain to you that you can't have one of your items because it's conveniently stored on an upper rack in the public section, so they can't drop it until after closing, but you can come back to pick it up tomorrow. The time that we waited two hours, we heard this scenario at least ten times. After you have adequately described your feelings regarding this idiotic system and explained that you live X-hundred miles away, the unfortunate clerk sends you to the returns desk.

You are now expecting them to give you your money back, but will be pleasantly suprised when the returns clerk says, "Oh, you can't pick it up? OK, we'll ship it to you for free." So you conclude that the pickup clerk is a masochist not to volunteer this option, and you whistle as you load your quality European furniture into your vehicle.

Happy shopping!

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