IKEA is the world’s largest furniture store. In fact, the company is so big, it is estimated that around 10% of all Europeans alive today were conceived on an IKEA bed. Despite its success though, the company still has quite a few dark secrets, as well as a number of interesting trivia bits. Whether you love the flat-pack manufacturer or hate it, these 10 facts about the company are certain to spark your interest in the things that happen behind the scenes of IKEA.
Image via Calvin Teo [Wikipedia]
- The Store Was Created By A Nazi Sympathizer. Founder Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943. He was only seventeen at the time. At the same time, he was also directly involved with fund-raising and recruitment for the New Swedish Movement, a pro-fascist, anti-Semitist group that emphasized Swedish Nationalism. When the matter came out in 1994, Kamprad claimed it was the biggest mistake of his life. He apologized for his involvement with the group and wrote a letter to every Jewish employee on his staff to personally apologize for his actions. Even so, the issue caused a minor controversy when IKEA opened its first store in Israel. In the end, the country seemed to forgive him and IKEA is now one of only a handful of companies to have stores in both Israel and other Muslim Middle Eastern countries.
- It Is Technically A Charity. If Nazism wasn’t bad enough, IKEA is also has one of the most elaborate tax evasion schemes of any company that still manages to operate within the law. IKEA is owned by INGKA Holding B.V., a Dutch corporation that is controlled by a non-profit Dutch foundation known as the Stichting Ingka Foundation, which was founded by Kamprad in 1982. This Foundation is headed by a five-person committee that includes Kamprad, his wife, and his attorney. IKEA’s intellectual property is owned by Inter IKEA Systems, which is owned, indirectly, by the Inerogo Foundation, which is also controlled by Kamprad and his family. IKEA has to pay 3% of its profits to the foundation to license its own trademarks. Because IKEA is owned by charities, none of its profits are taxed, making the Ingka Foundation the largest charity in the world, with a net worth of $36 billion. Of course, the charity isn’t nearly as generous as most (being as how it’s mostly just a tax evasion strategy), so it only gave away $65 million in 2010. To put that in perspective, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a net worth of $33 billion and they give away around $1.5 billion per year. The whole scheme is pretty complex, so if you want to read more about it, I recommend checking out this great Mental Floss article on the issue.
- The Name Is Actually An Acronym. While most people assume IKEA is just a Swedish word or a nonsense word like Kodak, it is actually an acronym with close ties to Ingvar Kamprad’s heart. The letters stand for his initials, the initial for the farm he grew up in, Elmtaryd, and the town the farm was located in, Agunnaryd.
- They Have A Very Specific Way Of Naming Products. Because Kamprad is dyslexic, he found it extremely difficult to manage an inventory that was made up of product codes, so he instead decided to name everything with words instead. I always thought that the products names were all Swedish words describing the objects, but as it turns out, that only applies to a handful of kitchen items. For the most part, all items are named according to a system developed by IKEA where each type of item carries a different name origin. For example, dining tables and chairs generally are named after places in Finland. Carpets are named after places in Denmark. For more examples, check out this article in The Guardian.
- They Also Sell Houses. Ready to buy a new home? If you live in Scandinavia or the UK, don’t head to a real estate agent, head to IKEA and grab a flat-pack house for a fraction of the cost. The BoKlok houses were originally released in Sweden in 1996, and have since expanded to IKEA stores across Northern Europe.
- Their Catalog Is More Popular Than The Bible. Ok, maybe that’s a little misleading, but every year, there are almost three times more copies of the catalog printed than the bible. They started printing the catalog in 1951 and it has since taken on a life of its own, consuming a full 70% of the companies marketing budget every year and developing a devoted fan base of people who analyze the images looking for obscure books in the bookshelves, Mickey Mouse references and cats hiding in the fake households. There are now 55 editions printed in 27 languages every year.
- You Can Buy Their Merchandise For Your Virtual Family. If you’re running out of space in your home for all the great IKEA stuff you want, maybe you should consider shopping for your virtual home instead. Since 2008, players of The Sims 2 have had the chance to purchase the IKEA Home Stuff pack and deck out their character’s houses with the décor.
- The Store Really Is A Big Deal. Most of you have probably become used to IKEA and no longer consider the store all that special, but for many people, the chance to shop in the Swedish furniture store is an exciting occasion –particularly when they are offering $150 gift certificates to the first people who shop there. This exact promotion actually lead to the trampling deaths of three people when the store opened in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2004.
- It Can Be A Great Way For Parents To Get A Break. Many stores offer free daycare centers with playgrounds and beepers that can be used to contact the parent if the child needs mommy or daddy before they finish shopping. Stressed out parents can then easily enjoy a nice meal, a nap in one of the bedroom displays or, you know, an actual shopping trip knowing their little ones are safe and secure within the same building.
- They Were The First Company To Feature A Gay Relationship In a Commercial. While the commercial only ran once in 1994, it was still a big deal for such a major company to release an ad with a homosexual couple. Since then, the company had ran a number of ads targeting the gay community, including one of the first ads to feature a transgender person.
Image via yassan-yukky [Flickr]
Image via DrJohnBullas [Flickr]
Image via thekellyscope [Flickr]
Do you like the company or hate it? More to the point, have you changed your opinion after learning about Kamprad’s dirty secrets or about their progressive ads targeted to homosexuals?
10 Things You Didn’t Know About IKEA