Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Adventures in Retail # 1 -- IKEA – Cool Store. Don’t Slam Your Penis in a Cabinet Door

You may not be lucky enough to live in a city containing one of the 301 IKEA franchise furniture stores operating in dozens of countries on every continent except South America, Africa, and Antarctica, so you may not know: in the 1940’s Ingvar Kamprad, of Småland province in the woods of southern Sweden, began selling inexpensive furniture out of a store he named by combining his initials with the initials of Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd -- the farm and village (presumably quaint, possibly picturesque) of young Ingvar’s boyhood.

Cut to now. That store has morphed into Interikea Systems, B.V. Franchise contact Netherlands. IKEA. A cult.

The idea, explains IKEA’s website, is to offer ”a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.” IKEA proposes to do this by “maximising the use of raw materials and production adaptation to meet people's needs and preferences … [which] … has meant that our costs are low.”

Hmm . . . are we talking the dreaded value-engineering here?

That, Polonius, is the question. The answer is flat-packed for customer hauling and assembly, sold out of improbably large, blue walk-through showroom/warehouses. In these you are herded like livestock along a winding miles-long path covering two giant floors, with every conceivable category of household splendor-on-a-budget on both sides of the walkway.

The website: “The IKEA store is laid out so they will not only find what they came for, but also be inspired by unexpected ideas and low-priced products as well.”

Straight from the horse’s mouth. They’re building stadium-sized point-of-purchase racks.

Could you find an exit if you had to? Not sure. The first time, pack a little cooler – just basic supplies. You will be offered a map; by all means take it. It will show the – not making this up – shortcuts – that help you find paths directly through the display walls, instead of trudging with the newbs through all the conceivable categories of household splendor-on-a-budget, every single time you go to the store.

The last piece falls into place with the cute female voice chattering away from somewhere above, saying things like -- still not making this up -- “. . . because here at IKEA, we really care about you.”

OK, we're in a dystopian, consumerist society from a 60’s sci-fi novel. Now I’m interested.

In truth, it seems believable that IKEA might actually care about me. Maybe I should, for a moment, hurl aside the bitter cynicism that dogs me. It’s hard to dislike IKEA’s – I’m ashamed to say – Abba-like enthusiasm for the idea that all peoples across this great big world – except for South America, Africa, and Antarctica – have a natural right to decent-quality furniture at a fair price.

And they seem nice enough to visitors. A roomy playground is available for the little ones. There’s even an inexpensive little cafeteria, specializing in – yes! – Swedish meatballs. I love this world!

They post annual sustainability reports. They partner with the World Wildlife Fund on a program to “promote better methods of cotton cultivation in India” by encouraging farmers there “to adopt more sustainable cultivation practices”. They list active programs to address climate change, eliminate child labor, and curb illegal logging.

But hurling aside bitter cynicism that dogs one is really difficult work, and I can’t keep it up for long. My previous observations of the benefits of globalism steer me inevitably to the assumption that somewhere -- I’m guessing in South America, Africa, or Antarctica -- indigenous people toil miserably in substandard conditions or – what the hell? -- in good, old-fashioned shackles, sawing down whole species of rainforest trees at great personal peril and then recklessly hustling the dangerous, limb-crushing logs into the naked, shrieking blades of giant machines, to be mulched into a generation’s worth of particle board.

Furthermore, isn’t the crowd control a little overplayed? At the end of your IKEA shopping trudge experience, you push a cart through a warehouse to pick out your boxed furniture kits, and from there to the cash register. You pass through a grocery-store checkout line – people are schlepping mattresses through the self-check aisle, another female voice coaching them unnecessarily. Through the little gate at the end, and out to the loading area. Cram the heavy boxes into your car, truck, or van, and off you go. Your life has changed.

One day I knew what I wanted. I tried to skip the trudge and cut straight through to the warehouse area. I found a way from the entrance to the checkout – past the rest rooms. As I approached those little checkout-line gates, I saw they had stop signs on their outsides, promising an alarm would sound if I opened one from this direction.

Alarm? Was it a bluff – just another herdsman’s trick?

There was an open walkway against the wall – again not obvious – so I went that way instead. But on reflection I decided that I had neglected my duty in not testing the stop sign to see if an alarm would actually sound. What was going to happen? Summary execution by Swedish ninjas? After all, they care about me! They would’ve tased me, worst case.

Regardless of your stance on the whole, burning “IKEA – Dystopian Hell or Innocent Multinational Furniture-and-Meatball Company?” issue, beyond a doubt the best thing about IKEA is the remarkable assembly instructions that accompany the furniture. This is the most entertaining trans-national instructional literature I have encountered since the late-eighties japlish golden age.

The IKEA instructions have made a worldwide star out of Little Icon Guy. He looks like that Little Ceasar’s centurion, but without pilum or laurels; or like a guy from an old French cartoon. He stars in the little illustrations that tell suburbanites and students in 38 countries, nonverbally, how to put furniture together. Illustrations represent what TO do (picture of smiling Little Icon Guy being sensible and/or admiring his swell new furniture) and what NOT to do (sad Little Icon Guy attempting some unwise procedure, with lightning bolts radiating from an offended body part, possibly with teardrops, and always with a big “X” marked boldly and sort of Zorro-ishly across the entire tawdry scene.)

For example, the Little Icon Guy lifts the product box by himself. A vexed, serpentine mouth, lightning bolts radiating from his back, and of course the Zorro-ish “X”. Next to this illustration, another one shows the Icon Guy, with help from a Little Icon neighbor or brother-in-law, lifting the heavy box together. Smiles all around, no “X”. A frequently used scene shows smiling Icon Guy standing next to a product box, question mark overhead, phone in hand, a cord running from Icon Guy’s phone to an “IKEA” building, tiny in the background.

This sort of thing is meat and drink to guys like me and The Boy, who has recently moved into a new apartment using Anzio for a little of the ol' trabajo d’esclava and as a walking ATM machine. IKEA purchases ensued, and the two of us have whiled happy afternoons away riffing on the IKEA instructions while The Boy assembles and Anzio tosses in the odd criticism now and again. Proposing new icons: “Little Icon Guy slams penis in cabinet door. Lightning. Tears. An “X””.

Others have preceded us in mining this rich vein. Google “Ikea Instructions”. You’ll see. I like the one depicting a miserably failed attempt to assemble a bed. In 9 illustrations, over 36 hours (suns and moons showing in a little icon window), a once-blissful icon couple experiences the tragic dissolution of their life together. Alcohol abuse. Tears. Shattered lives. These Little Icon people have a lot to teach us.

As far as the whole value-engineered-vs-cheap question goes, let Anzio get back to you after The Boy has enjoyed his KLOBBO brand sofa (or maybe KLOBBO means “sofa”, I don’t know) for a while. And since Anzio went home with a couple of boxes of his own, he'll keep an eye on his table and sideboard.

But somebody -- next time you go to IKEA, try to walk the wrong way through the stop sign at the checkout counter, and let me know how it goes for you. If you get beaten up by a bunch of blondes and if they question you, tell them there are no stop signs in your far-off nation and could they please replace their sign with something a little clearer – perhaps a picture of a Little Icon Guy going the wrong way past the sign and being beaten up by Little Icon blondes, or being tased by a Big Icon Goon?

Serpentine mouth. Plenty of Lightning. “X.”


At 7:22 AM , Blogger judge chief charly hoarse said...

Welcome Anzio, didn't know they sold farm equipment at SwedesAreUs. Funny you mentioned exits, the WalMarts around here got busted by the Fire Marshal for chaining fire doors shut.

At 7:00 PM , Anonymous Gloria said...

What an entertaining article!!! I went to the Austin IKEA (we live in Victoria - two 1/2 hours away) and bought a PoAng chair (made in Romania) and 2 LACK tables for $8 each that are actually made in USA. We put the furniture in the trunk of our Camry and it all fit. Found the instructions to be like you said -- funny little icon man.


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