How Did This Nordic Furniture Brand Succeed in Invading Arab Homes?

Published August 26th, 2020 - 03:00 GMT
How Did This Nordic Furniture Brand Succeed in Invading Arab Homes?
Out of 433 stores in 52 countries worldwide, there are 16 IKEA stores in 8 Arabic-speaking countries. (Shutterstock: Arnold O. A. Pinto)

If you ask anyone around the world about the most popular furniture brand, chances are most of the answers will mention the Swedish furniture giant IKEA, even in countries where there are no IKEA warehouses. Over the last 40 years, IKEA has been expanding its presence in the Middle East and has significantly grown its audience. But what is their secret?

The famous furniture manufacturer and retailer started with a small store in the small Swedish town Älmhult in 1943 at the hands of 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad, who had started his business at his uncle's kitchen table by selling fountain pens, encyclopedias, table runners, udder balm, reinforced socks for five years, before making a profit that helped him expand his activity to pieces of furniture that he mostly sold by mail-orders.

IKEA's name, an acronym of the founder's name Ingvar Kamprad, and the family farm's name where he was born Elmtaryd, and finally his hometown of Agunnaryd to the south of the country.

For decades, IKEA's success has been attributed to the smart strategies followed by its executives to be a provider of a whole furniture shopping experience and not just a typical furniture store, which has helped develop the brand's name throughout the years.

Not only does IKEA offer an endless number of practical modern furniture made with great quality, but it also offers customers the option of buying individual pieces and mix and match furniture that suits their own needs and styles. 

Additionally, IKEA tailored services per market and region show a very careful approach of distribution and marketing, all based on close studies that help understand each market and its unique needs. For example, customers in most Middle Eastern countries especially in the GCC have for decades been offered the option of paying a little extra money for delivery and assembly of pieces, which is a less-demanded option for customers in Europe or North America.

Over the last few years, IKEA has clearly updated its social media game, utilizing every platform to market its products and reach as many people as possible. Going the extra mile, IKEA has also been making use of high-tech tools to encourage customers to decorate their homes with IKEA products, offering AR and VR applications to help customers imagine their spaces with the new pieces.

IKEA's first store in the region started in 1983 in Saudi Arabia, which now hosts six different stores. In 1991, the UAE witnessed its first branch and now it has a total of three, one of which is considered the biggest in the region, in addition to the first distribution center in the Middle East. Kuwait comes in third place with 2 stores starting from 1984, while each of Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco has one unique store.

The brand franchise in the Middle East is operated in cooperation with Al-Sulaiman, Al-Homaizi, and Al-Futtaim Groups.

Building IKEA stores, the nordic brand has put every effort to stand out in a highly-competitive world, so it has been known as a provider of a great experience; including entertaining shopping, customer-friendly service, and a solid product. 

In most of the region's countries, IKEA includes a huge showroom in addition to a kids' area, making it a family-welcoming venue. Moreover, the restaurant that offers nordic dishes that can't be found in many other places in the Middle East makes it an attraction for people who are looking for a spot to hang out touring around the store; which eventually ends up with buying a few unplanned products, maintaining the brand's sales and popularity.

As more Middle Eastern countries prepare to welcome IKEA stores, such as Oman, it only makes sense to question if the brand will remain as popular over the next few decades and whether or not there will be Arab competitors soon.

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