Wednesday, July 07, 2004

cult of ikea

we all saw club du fisticuffs and were all 'yeah bro! let's totally rage against ikea!!'. but then we graduated from college & suddenly, it became a lot tougher to get blowjobs in an apartment furnished with boxes and folding metal chairs. on top of that you got tetanus from an exposed nail in that bookshelf you bought for $5 from the guy named walter living across the hall, so you bit the bullet, bought a bookshelf from ikea, and said to yourself, 'well old bean, that wasn't as bad as brad pitt lead me to believe.' now you know more swedish than alfred nobel and you jack off non-stop to princess madeleine (which is so necessary by the way, click and enjoy).

chris gielow points to this great guardian article on the cultish nature of ikea (also, part two of the article):

From this modest background, for more than 60 years, Ikea has gradually locked Europe, north America, Australia, and now Russia and China in its insistent embrace. Beginning with a single store in Älmhult, the company now operates 186 outlets, employing 76,000 employees - though that word is uniformly rejected within Ikea in favour of the term "co-workers". It is frequently observed that, for a broad demographic swathe of Britain, Ikea has designed our lives; it is almost as frequently noted that its customer service sucks, that the traffic jams outside its stores are intolerable, and its assembly instructions indecipherable. We love it and hate it, rely on it and satirise it, often simultaneously - as if it were not a shop at all, really, but something far more emotively substantial: a football team, or the Church of England, or the government.
On some Sundays in Britain, according to one estimate, almost twice as many people visit a branch as attend church; it has been calculated that 10% of Europeans currently alive were conceived in one of Ikea's beds.
The creepy sense that Ikea is something more than just an extremely successful capitalist enterprise - that to work for it is to work for some kind of cult, albeit a cult that worships untreated pine and Allen keys - doesn't take long to make itself felt in Älmhult. "When I came to Ikea, I felt like now I am a complete person," says Peter Keerberg, head of the workshop that produces the Ikea catalogue, his eyes shining..."We have an ambition to make a better life for the many people," he says, giving the strong impression that he really, really means it, but also that this is not necessarily a cause for comfort.
More than 130 million copies of the Ikea catalogue were printed and distributed last year, which is rather more than the Bible.
Over noodles at Ikea's staff restaurant, I ask one designer whether everyone at the company is really as energetic and hardworking as they seem. Isn't anyone lazy? "Of course there are lazy people," she says. "There are lazy people everywhere. But they're not..." She pauses, as if seeking the correct word in English. In fact, she's wondering whether what she is about to say will cause offence. "They're not Swedish," she says at last.
Ikea's moral crusade extends uncompromisingly to the customer. Whether you like it or not, it intends to teach you the value of good, honest, simple hard work. Self-assembly, viewed from this perspective, is more than a cost-cutting measure: it's a tool of evangelism, designed to make you sweat for your own edification..."Why should I clear my own table?" a sign in Ikea's British restaurants used to ask, in the tones of a surly child. The answer given underneath was about keeping costs down, but it was hard not to sense something more insistent and moralistic at work. "Ikea is somewhere that you can't go with both hands in your pockets," Nilsson says. "You have to be active."
..."For bathrooms, it's Norwegian lakes. Kitchens are boys, and bedrooms are girls. For beds, it's Swedish cities. There's a lady who sits there and comes up with new names, making sure there isn't a name that means something really ugly in another language. But it doesn't always work. We gave a bed a name that means 'good lay' in German."
You did not, in other words, come into the store with a need that you wanted to satisfy: you came in, and then you got both your need and the means of satisfying it handed to you simultaneously. You came looking for a sofa, say, but you came out with a sofa and a trolleyfull of impulse buys. Theodor Adorno, the eminent German social theorist, called this "retroactive need" - and it was, he argued, a key means by which capitalism perpetuated itself, while shoring up the illusion that what was being offered was individualised choice. He despised it: he thought it was a tool of subjugation and exploitation.
The high priests of modernist design preached a democratic ethos; in reality, they never got much further than the upper-middle classes. Kamprad took their rhetoric and made it literal, as the opening line of The Testament of a Furniture Dealer makes plain. "We have decided once and for all to side with the many," it reads.
This, you might expect, would mean that Ikea's profits on individual items would be tiny, and growing tinier - that it would make money only by the sheer number of tiny profits recouped daily. In fact, its profit margins are huge. Between 17% and 18% of the price of the average Ikea product is pure profit, a figure so high that it leaves even seasoned experts such as Gotham awestruck. "It's phenomenal," he says. "Phenomenal." Many rival firms operate on single-figure margins; a lucrative supermarket chain such as Tesco is lucky to get 6%.

it seems ikea has out-mayhemed mr. durden.

corporate jesus.


At 8:32 AM, Blogger torless said...

We all seem to forget that other Norwegian wonder H&M which, for lack of a better description I will call "The Ikea of Clothing."

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Jesus Henry Christos said...

actually, h&m is also swedish.

incidentally, there are almost twice as many h&m stores in germany as there are in sweden (239 vs. 123).

did you know that the chain refuses to use camoflauge print in its clothing b/c they believe such fabric sends an anti-peace message?

you can read more on their corporate info pdf.


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