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Ikea fever

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Posted: Saturday, November 6, 2004 6:59 am | Updated: 5:33 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

November 6, 2004

Since the opening of an IKEA store in Tempe was announced in summer 2003, excited chatter among the store’s fans has turned grown men and women into what sounds like a cross between Paul Revere and a tween girl talking about her favorite pop star.

Omigod, did you hear? IKEA is coming! IKEA is coming!

Many reminisce about road trips to California locations in Burbank, Costa Mesa and San Diego, rented moving trucks full of Lack side tables ($9.99 each), Svalka red wine glasses ($3.99 for six) and Poang armchairs ($79 each).

Others talk about what a relief it will be to stop pining over pieces featured in magazines and popular home makeover shows like TLC’s "Trading Spaces," which uses IKEA products almost obsessively.

One Scottsdale woman, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted she regularly drives by the new bright blue building, just to see how construction is going and daydream about first visits.

"We talk about it at least once a week," said Gina Meno, chief creative director for Hart Interior Design in Tempe, a company that contracts with builders to decorate model homes.

Since budgets for the models’ interiors are often tight, IKEA products turn up in many of the rooms designed by Meno and her co-workers. The group used to order from the catalog, but when shipping became too costly, began making road trips. The Tempe store is about a five-minute drive from their offices.

"We’ve been in limbo, waiting — pacing — for the store to open," Meno said. "Our big joke is we’re going to be over there twice a week, shopping and grabbing lunch."

THREE-RING CIRCUS

IKEA was founded in Sweden by Ingvar Kamprad in 1943. Since then, 200 IKEA stores have opened around the world, including 20 in the United States. When the first location in the desert Southwest opens Wednesday in Tempe, it will be three times the size of a typical Wal-Mart: 342,000 square feet with 60 room settings, four model homes, 1,300 parking spots, and 250 seats in its restaurant, which serves Swedish fare and is known for its meatballs.

Like all IKEA store openings, this one will feature giveaways, live entertainment, food sampling and, judging by recent events in other U.S. cities, the kind of frenzy normally seen before rock concerts. Thousands of people line up in the morning, with some even camping overnight to be the first to walk in the new store. To prepare for overflow, the company will set up off-site customer parking, with shuttles available to taxi customers to the store.

As Joseph Roth, a publicist for IKEA, put it, "We sponsor our own hoopla, but certainly customers bring their own."

Not everyone is familiar with IKEA, however, and it is those people who are by now at least a little bit incredulous. It is just a home furnishings store, after all, so what’s with all the hype?

"It’s instant gratification at reasonable prices," said Ron Schaer, owner of R.H. Schaer & Associates, a Phoenix interior design company.

Over the years, Schaer has made several trips to shop at the IKEA in Burbank. In addition to using the company’s products in his home and office, he recently designed a client’s kitchen using its cabinets and countertops. Estimated savings: $30,000.

Walk through an IKEA store or flip through one of its catalogs and it’s not unusual to experience sticker shock of the good variety. An elegant wrought iron queen-sized bed frame costs $249. Light pine "Nordic chic" bookshelves sell for $99 each. A bright green kid-sized plastic table sets parents back $34.99. Floating shelves, which sell for as much as $50 each in popular home stores, are $12.99.

"I can’t believe some of the quality of the pieces for the price," Schaer said.

Roth said prices are kept to a minimum by cutting down on costs incurred by the company. While giving a tour of the Costa Mesa store, which is similar to what the Tempe one will be, he pointed to stacks of white porcelain mugs (50 cents each), still displayed on the original wood pallet; if someone had to organize them onto shelves, more store employees would be needed and eventually those extra paychecks would trigger an increase in prices. In the restaurant, diners are asked to bus their own tables for the same reason.

But the cost-saving strategy IKEA is most famous for — and the one that most directly affects its customers — is that much of the furniture requires assembly. A warehouse-like area in every store has row after row of ceiling-high shelves that house neatly stacked boxes of unassembled chairs, tables, dressers and bookshelves (in the showroom areas, price tags indicate in which row and on what bin all of these items can be found).

So while such items can be taken home immediately, it takes a little bit of work before they can be used. Still, assembly instructions feature drawings, not text — "It has to be universal," Roth said — and many pieces don’t need much more than a few screws.

Maybe because the company realizes shoppers may be put off by having to put away their own dirty dishes or put together an armchair, signs throughout the store gently remind customers that these kinds of tactics, in the end, help save them money.

"We even started serving hot dogs because we wanted to remind people how reasonable stuff is," Roth said.

Low prices bring a company only so much fanfare, though. Another element that has contributed to IKEA’s cultlike status is its signature modern style and sheer volume of product. In addition to furniture for every room from the office to the baby’s, shoppers can buy appliances, closet storage, dog bowls, towels, rugs, fabric, spice racks, toys and down comforters — all of which combine function with an eye to design.

And though IKEA is bestknown for its contemporary look, four different styles of home decor are featured, including Scandinavian and country, and so it can appeal to a wide range of different tastes. (At the Costa Mesa store, large families shop alongside fashionable women carrying designer bags who stand in the checkout line behind college-aged shoppers.)

There are loft beds made of silver lacquered steel that look like they belong in an artist’s Manhattan apartment, antique-stained wood wardrobe armoires that would fit well in any Shabby Chic decor, ultra-contemporary chairs a la Charles Eames and traditional dining sets for those partial to a more reserved look.

Even the accessories come with their own charms. On the function side, 50-cent mugs have a small opening on the bottom lip to allow the dishwasher gunk that normally collects there to drain out. And for style’s sake, there’s plenty available; Meno said she often uses IKEA vases, plants (real and fake) and candleholders to accent a room’s more expensive pieces.

"It will make the room look full and inviting," she said.

Lamps are especially imaginative — one doubles as a small room divider, another hangs flat on the wall like a piece of art and comes with interchangeable faceplates. Even IKEA’s celebrated watering pitcher has won several prestigious design awards.

Also, much of the merchandise is multifunctional. For example, the Vitebro side table ($5.99) can either be left alone or connected to other tables to form a series of surfaces.

"Someone might use it as a coffee table, someone else in their bedroom," Roth said.

To help shoppers see such potential, room settings are featured throughout the store as live example of what can be done. In the Tempe store, there will also be four model homes. The Costa Mesa store has one titled "living with a teen," and another that offers ideas for people sharing a first apartment. Signs — referred to as "communication" by employees — give even more ideas on issues such as storage and child-proofing.

"Part of the shopping experience is to come and walk through and see what inspires you," Roth said. "It’s all about getting ideas. Sometimes, it’s a solution and other times, it’s something that never occurred to you."

"It’s energizing," Meno said.

And if all of this sounds something of a nightmare for children, who are easily bored during shopping, think again. IKEA has a supervised playroom where parents can drop off kids for 45 minutes, check on them halfway through shopping and stay in touch with a pager just in case. There are also small play areas throughout the store to keep young ones occupied.

All that said, IKEA doesn’t make fans of everyone. In a scene in the film "Fight Club," the main character’s apartment’s furniture looks suspiciously like IKEA, and cartoon price tags pop up everywhere, suggesting a sort of corporate, group-think mentality. And some people question the quality of the products. But even Roth admits the pieces won’t last a lifetime. That, he said, is another part of the company’s appeal. Because prices are reasonable, people can make changes to their decor guilt-free.

"People shouldn’t keep one couch for 20 years, and today, many people don’t want to. You only want to have a look for five, maybe 10, years. This opens up the possibilities."

How to prepare

• Before you go to the store, browse through the catalog, which should arrive in Valley mailboxes this week. Though the catalog does not list all the merchandise available, it will give you a better idea of what to expect — and maybe help keep you focused once there.

• If you are looking for something specific, like a dresser, couch or piece of wall art, measure the area to determine what size piece will fit. Most price tags have the measurements listed on them, and measuring tape is provided near the front entrance. Also, bring fabric swatches and other things that will help you choose the right fabric colors, wood stains, etc.

• Expect crowds to add to shopping times during the first few months after

opening.

• Once there, pick up a shopping list, which is on the backside of the map provided near the entrance. Particularly if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, you can use it to write down items you might want to come back to, as well as the aisle and bin numbers of items that require assembly and can be picked up later in the self-serve area.

Extra facts

• In addition to being the first store in the desert Southwest, IKEA in Tempe will also be the first one in the West to feature signs in English and Spanish throughout and the only location in the world to sell outdoor furniture year-round.

• Many of the item names follow a formula. For example, chairs are all men’s names, fabric and textiles are women’s names, and couches are named after cities.

• In addition to large yellow totes for small accessories, there are three different types of shopping carts for three different areas of the store. Each cart is located at the beginning of that particular area and designed to store whatever kind of item is found there. Near the self-serve area, for example, carts are open like those at Home Depot and can hold big boxes.

• Customers can bring in used batteries and light bulbs to be recycled, even if the items weren’t bought at IKEA.

• Near the checkout is a discount area where customers can save 30 percent to 50 percent off as-is furniture and accessories. According to IKEA spokesman Joseph Roth, though some of the damaged goods are returns, most are former floor models that have experienced wear and tear.

• Planning services are available in the kitchen and offices for people who need help deciding which countertops will look best with a particular cabinet or what size bookshelf will fit in the den.

• Returns are accepted with the receipt and original packaging within 45 days of purchase.

• If in need of home delivery or assembly and installation services, IKEA will help arrange it through local businesses that have a contract with the company. Costs will vary according to where your home is and the number and size of items being delivered or assembled.

Grand opening of IKEA

When: 10 a.m. Wednesday

Where: 2110 W. IKEA Way, Tempe

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday Information: (800) 434-4532 or www.ikea.com

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