The History of Ikea and the Rise of Flatpack Furniture

In the grand scheme of things, flatpack furniture is actually fairly modern; although, it feels like it has been around forever. The pioneers in this ready to assemble invention are most certainly Ikea, whose brand name has spread like wildfire across the UK and the rest of the world. We thought we would give you a bit of an insight into the history of this Swedish retailer and the ever-rising popularity of flatpack furniture.

Ingvar Kamprad – The Genius Behind Ikea

Our story begins in the 1920s with a rather entrepreneurial young man from Sweden, Ingvar Kamprad. Not satisfied with being a typical five year old, he decides to set up his first business selling matches to his neighbours. By the time he is seven years old he has enough money to buy a bicycle and start selling his matches in places outside of his own area. He quickly realises that it is cheaper to buy matches in bulk, in Stockholm, where he can then sell them on individually at a profit. This buy in bulk and sell on individually mindset then progresses onto other items, including Christmas tree decorations, pencils, greetings cards, flower seeds and ballpoint pens.

After completing his studies (in between all of his business ventures), Ingvar Kamprad is given money by his father as a reward. Instead of going out and splurging it on beer, Ingvar decides that he wants to set up his very own business; IKEA. Selling items such as pens, picture frames and nylon stockings, the business aim was to meet the needs of Swedish customers at greatly reduced prices. By 1948, furniture was introduced to the Ikea range.

The First Ikea Catalogue

Ingvar Kamprad is the kind of man that doesn’t like to do things by halves, which is why he saw a golden opportunity and took it. He realised that he could sell his furniture to a wider audience by putting together a catalogue and distributing it around Sweden. The first ever Ikea catalogue, that we all know and love, was published in 1951. From then the brand continued to grow, with the first ever show room opening up in 1953. This showroom was a huge step for Ikea and it’s customers, as people could finally see and feel the furniture that they would then go on to buy.

Ikea and the rise of flatpack assembly and services

Image from Ikea website: ‘Where the wonderful everyday begins and ends’

Flatpack Furniture Is Born
In 1951, Ikea had a rather clever employee named Erie J. Sauder, who came up with a genius idea for a table that he couldn’t fit into his car. He worked out that furniture could be made in parts and sold to customers, before being assembled once it was in the home. After getting his own Lövet table home, by unscrewing the legs, he talked to his employer about the idea to see what they thought. Ingvar Kamprad was blown away by the invention and quickly changed his business model to suit the flatpack concept. By 1956 the first piece of flatpack furniture was launched and Ikea have never looked back.

Ikea and Flatpack Furniture Flourish
Ikea have come on in leaps and bounds since 1956, producing dozens of flatpack furniture ranges that appeal to all types of customers. People loved the idea of buying items for the home at a cheaper rate, even if they then had to assemble it themselves. By 1989 Ikea had spread to France, Belgium, USA, UK and Italy. Everybody was hooked by the giant Ikea stores, complete with furniture that you could see and touch before buying in a neatly packed box and taking home. The whole experience (complete with the world famous Swedish meatballs) became a huge success and Ikea now has over 200 stores around the world.

To think, that flatpack furniture was born by someone who couldn’t fit his table into his car. And that the whole of IKEA was built by a man who used to sell matches to his neighbours as a child. We can bet one thing though, if Ingvar Kamprad had to spend time putting together his own work desk then he may not have had the time to think up such a business idea. The moral of the story? Make time for inspiration and let someone assemble your furniture for you!

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