IKEA, the family firm founded by Ingvar Kamprad, is unstoppable. It recently opened its first store in Morocco which is its second in Africa, following one in Egypt. It now has over 340 stores worldwide.
In some ways the company that invested flatpack furniture can be said to have made the modern world. Here are 10 facts about the world’s best-known family-owned firm.
1: IKEA stands for Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd. “Elmtaryd ” was the name of a farm owned by Kamprad’s mother and her first husband (who shot himself). “Agunnaryd” is the tiny village where Kamprad grew up. The family came originally from Germany, which Kamprad says influenced his flirtation with far-right politics as a young man.
2: One in 10 Europeans are conceived in an Ikea bed.
3: Sociologists say that IKEA embodies the Swedish classless, modest social-democratic ideal. Does it influence attitudes? As the New Yorker once pointed out: “When they switched to energy saving bulbs, 600m of us became environmentalists”. IKEA has shown gay couples in its ads since 1994.
4: IKEA has formed a partnership with Marriott to create a chain of hotels called Moxy. The first one just opened in Milan and the intention is to open 150 across Europe in the next decade. “It’s just like home, but with a bar-tender,” they say.
5: The names of IKEA products are not random. Garden furniture is all named after islands off the Swedish coast, bookshelves are mostly named after professions (Expedit means shop-assistant), and curtains after mathematical or geometrical terms, such as the curtain-rail holder called Dignitat, which means “value” in Swedish.
6: In the 1970s, IKEA was expanding overseas so fast that they once accidentally opened a store in Konstanz. It was meant to be in Koblenz.
7: Kamprad says that he started his first business aged five, selling matches. IKEA started in 1943 when he was 15, selling goods needed by the farmers in the region he lived, including reinforced socks and udder balm, by mail order. In 1948 he started selling furniture. In 1952 he bought his first showroom so that people could try out products they had seen in the catalogue.
8: A few years ago middle-aged people looking for love started meeting in an IKEA in Shanghai. Management created a special area for them, so they didn’t bother other shoppers.
9: Although all three of Kamprad’s sons – Peter, Jonas and Mathias – work for the family business, it is thought that when Kamprad retires a non-family member will take over as head of the firm. All the Kamprads have Swiss nationality, for tax reasons, and are said to be the country’s richest citizens. But Ingvar has recently moved back to Sweden
10: Ingvar Kamprad is respected in Sweden, but is not above mockery. A few years ago a Swedish musical was staged called “Ingvar! A Musical Furniture Saga” in which his character was crucified on a Maypole.