IKEA turns the global local for Asia push

Wed Mar 6, 2013 11:46pm EST
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By Anna Ringstrom

MALMO, Sweden (Reuters) - Without a willingness to lug cheap flat-pack wardrobes home and wrestle with self-assembly, there would be no IKEA, but in Asia, where the locals have other ideas, the Swedish furniture giant thinks it still has a bright future.

As it expands in China and prepares to break into India, IKEA Chief Executive Mikael Ohlsson trusts that its core concept, influenced by painstakingly acquired local knowledge, will, over time, give it an edge.

"Most people don't really know and can hardly imagine that we visit thousands of homes round every store in the world every year," he told Reuters at a store in Malmo in southern Sweden.

"We sit down in the kitchen and talk to them ... That's the way we try to learn and understand. 'What are you annoyed with? What are your frustrations? What would you like to have? How much can you afford? What are your alternatives?'" he said.

The group has already taken its huge out-of-town stores packed with modern Scandinavian style to 26 markets, with the product and experience instantly recognizable across them all.

But as it ventures further afield, it is tweaking its range and showrooms and adding services to accommodate new cultures.

One size doesn't fit all. In regions where apartments have smaller rooms, its showrooms have to be smaller. A sample balcony exhibit will be kitted out differently in northern China, where balconies are widely used for food storage, than in the south, where they often double as laundries.

Beds are bigger in the United States, but mattresses are firmer in China. And while stores will continue to carry about 10,000 products, the bulk of them from its standard range, the company stocks rice cookers and more chopsticks in the latter.   Continued...

Customers check a table at an IKEA store in Beijing, February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic