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Case Study: How IKEA was born

In the late 1950s many furniture stores were located in town and city centres. It was easy for customers to go there, it was convenient that the stores were concentrated in one place. The stores, of course, had to pay a high rent for the premises. To make economic sense of this, furniture prices were high, and carrying the furniture on stock was not feasible. This led to long delivery times.

When customers had made their choice, the order was passed on to the factory. Delivery took time. Often the promised delivery times were not kept, and this, in turn, led to annoyance on the part of customers.

Factories tended to be small, which made it difficult for them to use advanced machinery, there was a great deal of manual work, and series tended to be short. Manufacture was costly. Development of new materials was prevented.

What was in the cardboard boxes that traveled all the way from furniture factory to the customer's house? Most people would answer: a table.

Certainly, there was a table in the box, but 90% of its content was air. It is a costly affair to package, transport, and stock air. The creative individual who originally realized this, approached the party whom we have at the other end of this chain, the designer. He was given the assignment of designing a table which was capable of being packaged in a box in which no air was included.

The solution was several hundred years old, but had been forgotten. British officers had had a thing constructed that they referred to as a campaign table. It was a brilliant construction of a table that they could take with them into the field. The table was collapsible and the legs were detachable, they could be screwed into the table. This was the solution. The table legs should not be affixed at the factory. This work should instead be left to the end user. The legs should not be glued on, they should be screwed on. This insight formed the basis of the multi-billion company, IKEA.

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September 2004