Monday, October 1, 2007

The IKEA Myth Don in BLUE Max in RED

Most of you have probably heard of the IKEA stores, and I'm certain some of you may have actually visited one their stores. Their reputation is to provide low cost, simple furnishings and household goods in a one stop location. That is all very true, but they don't tell you the rest of the story. We needed some simple stuff for our new apartment, like a TV stand, a small dining table and chairs, and a small desk for Max. It all sounded fairly easy to do, so off we went to Emeryville, the only IKEA in the Bay Area. Our first trip there was not too complicated since we were staying Oakland to avoid the high prices of hotels in San Francisco.

As we approached IKEA we were somewhat taken back. This place is the size of a football field and it has its own parking garage next door plus a parking lot for people who bring rental trucks to load up their purchases. We parked in the garage and walked to the entrance at one end of the building. First you are herded up an escalator to start a trip through a very convoluted maze of isles that route you through different types of furniture, i.e., bedrooms, then living rooms, then TV tables, then dining rooms, then office stuff, then several more stuffs that I don't remember. But what I do remember is that there was no way to get from point A to point Z without walking through the entire alphabet. It reminded me of driving up a mountain road with one switch back after another. To add further insult, once you thought you were through and followed a sign down some stairs to what you believed was a place to check out, you are forced back the other direction through a similar maze of kitchen stuff, rugs, linens, pillows, sit around cute things and who knows what else.

At the start it didn't look too bad.
As you actually find something you want, you have to write down a list of descriptors to help you actually get what you want at the end, because everything you have seen in the store is only for display purposes. If you have question, there are a few people on the floor to answer, but it seems that they are only allowed to provide only the most minimal answers. The several questions we asked were replied by printing out a fact sheet that we were told had the information we wanted.

It is a good job I suppose- for the clerks- they obviously are not on a commission- And just stand at computer terminals and look things up in the catalog- never venturing into the mass of shoppers (we were not alone- Oh no- there were many, many others sharing this experience with us).

The Maze

As as you are finally leaving the display area, further insult is added. You have to get a cart and go find your stuff in their designated bins (some of the descriptors you wrote down on your way through). Then you have to load the stuff up yourself and push it to the check out. Did I mention that nothing at IKEA is assembled? Anything you buy there comes disassembled in a box that will fit on this cart you must load. Since all the carts are the same small size and all of the boxes have to fit on the cart, the largest piece can't be any wider than the cart which is only about 30 inches wide. Consequently, each piece has been reduced to its lowest denominator for you to put together.

Once you pay for this stuff, you either have to haul it to your vehicle, load it yourself and take it home, or IKEA will deliver it to you for a charge. But to get it delivered, you once again have to push your cart to the delivery area, fill out a form by hand that lists all of the stuff you bought and gives the delivery information. They will actually take it from you at that point, but that is only time that an IKEA person actually handles anything you are shopping for.

Now it is probably important to mention that Don has limited experience with shopping. Other than Lowe's, the Feed Mill and Borders he does not ever- And I really mean NEVER darken the door of a store. I stopped asking him to "tag" along when I have "shopping to do- it puts him in such a state he might not recover for hours. But even for me- the accomplished shopper IKEA was a challenge- there was just not way to get from point A to point Z without going through BCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXY. It was amazing- what a way to "capture" the customer. On our second trip (oh yes we did go back- in fact went back a total of 3 times- see the products are good- and the price is right- even if the shopping experience is a bust)- Anyway on the second trip I decided to go back into the store for pics- so entered the exit- Oh what a mistake- probably didn't help that I was talking to Amber on the cell- But alas I got lost- And could not find my way - rather like a maze- wandering around and around and around. I began to wonder exactly how long I might wander about looking for some escape from my maze. The only up side- by the time I did find my way to the end Don had finished the checkout as well as all the paper work for the delivery- he was just waiting (not patiently- but Don is not by nature a particularly patient person)- And we headed for the car- to await the deliveries in a couple of days.

So now I understand why they can sell stuff so cheaply. They offer no services, they don't have to answer questions so the staff doesn't have to know anything, they don't help you find your stuff, they don't help load the cart and they don't even help load your car. Consequently, to buy anything of significance there, you have to be strong enough to pick up the boxes (Max couldn't have done it alone), load the boxes into your car, van or truck, and then be able to assemble the stuff once you get it into your house. All I can guess is that the concept of this store must have come from the Scandinavian roots that the furnishing resemble. Those Nordic types are industrious, have great stamina, and must be very patient.

Me hauling a small part of our purchase

At the end of our first trip, we just left with nothing purchased and very discouraged about the whole IKEA myth. We decided if we really needed this stuff, we would find a real furniture store where the stuff is already put together, and there are people to answer question who might actually know something about the furniture. So on the way back to the hotel, we passed by a furniture liquidator, the type of place I usually don't visit, but after IKEA it seemed worth stopping. Well, the stuff we saw in there was about twice the price and not at all what we wanted. Let's just say it was a reality check that forced us back to IKEA for another try.

So back we went, but now we knew the process and the lay out of the store. We passed through all of the stuff we didn't care about and went straight to the stuff we wanted. We got forms to fill in all the appropriate numbers. We still had to work our way through the whole maze, but we weren't diverted by cute baskets or stacks of wooden pants hangers. We got the cart we needed and found the right rows and the right bins. We load the stuff onto the cart, pushed it through the checkout and onto the delivery area (had to be delivered because our Civic just won't hold any of the stuff we were buying).

Well it wasn't quite that easy- most of the items come in mutiple 2-3 boxes- so you go to the designated area and find the correct number of boxes. For one of our items there were two #1 boxes, three #3 boxes- but no #2 boxes. But the clerk- standing of course next to the computer- they just don't mingle- looked up the item- and it was going to be delivered that night. So we made the third trip the next day- from San Francisco- so we are acquainted with the Bay bridge.

Next comes the challenge of taking all of these pieces that will be delivered later this week and putting them together. I know those Scandinavians are clever folks, but the real question is can I figure out how to hold several pieces of wood together while tightening the screws that hold it together. This move has presented one challenge after another. This may be my toughest.

Need lots of room to put it together

Lots of pieces to put it together

Post script: I agree that the above was somewhat of a rant that was expressed when I was pretty well stressed from the whole process of trying to move. It was one frustration after another. I think IKEA pushed me over the edge. But to their credit, I put together a new TV stand/book shelf, a desk for Max, a dining room side table, a dining room table, six dining room chairs, and a 3 drawer file cabinet. I started right after breakfast and finished around 10:30 that night. Amazingly, everything was in the box and fit together. Of the hundreds of screw, wooden pins, nuts, bolts, and other stuff in all the boxes, they put a total of 5 extra pieces (4 screws and one other IKEA hardware piece that I don't know the name of). The stuff looks great. So as far as quality goes, it was very good. Once I did the first piece, the instructions of the rest were not too bad. So I have to say that the IKEA is true, good quality at fair prices. I guess most myths have some small grain of fact behind them.

I didn't help with the assembly much- and occasional "hold" when required. But the "stuff" looks good- And the price was right- And I think we have a retirement career for Don- He can become a personal shopper for IKEA- He knows the process!


nancye phillips said...

Hi Don and Max,
Loved your Ikea story. Next time try the Seattle store--friendly smiles and lots of help, and lattes, too. But a piece of advice: don't ever take your furniture apart. Apparently the fasteners can only be used once with success. The movers disassembled my computer station and Mike spent hours trying to get it to stay together after our move to KY. It ended up on the sidewalk where the "pickers" took it away. And I got a laptop! --nancye phillips

Anonymous said...

YOur place looks great! Love you both lots and miss you too. Kels

Lucas said...

Shawn and I went to Ikea once. ONCE. We experienced the same frustrations as you AND had the added joy of trying to find a parking space on the day that Ashlee Simpson was performing for free at the Mall of America which is right next door to the Ikea store here. Enough said, right?

But it's good to know that my guest room is ready! ;)