You all know a hipster. They are always striving to be so super unique, just like the 5 million other nearly identical hipsters. You just heard of a cool band? Well, trust me, they were listening to that band WAY before they were cool and they will sneer condescendingly at you for enjoying the music of “sell-outs” (because we all know that REAL musicians strive to remain in their parent’s basements playing at the local VFW on Tuesday nights).
Well, like your friendly clove-smoking androgynously styled hipster, IKEA was in to fair trade and eco friendly business practices long before it was cool. Also, like a hipster, IKEA wants you to believe you are purchasing a cool, unique piece of furniture, despite that fact that approximately 2 billion other people from here to Antarctica have the same exact product.
I worked for IKEA from 2003 to 2006. In order to work for the company, coworkers must participate in enrichment courses – some about Swedish culture, but many about the history and philosophies of the company. Ingvar Kamprad (the I and K of IKEA) started the business at some point after the ice age, selling pencils door to door on his bike – another hipster connection!! (Though I doubt he customized his bike with “mods” or ironic stickers).
A few veneered tables and several kazillion dollars later, Ingvar is one of the richest dudes on the planet (I think right after Bill Gates and the Virgin guy), but as of my last encounter with him, he still drove his own car, flew coach everywhere he went, and insisted on using coffee grinds at least twice before throwing them out. When store managers sent limos to pick him at the airport in an attempt to kiss his ass, he would refuse to get in them. If there is a way to use something over and over again until it becomes dust, this guy has thought of it (and then turned the dust in to a plate).
Before the term “eco friendly” was coined, Ingvar was called “cheap”, or “thrifty” if you didn’t want to sound rude. But the bottom line here is, you can feel generally good about shopping at IKEA, though like anything else, if not limited by budget, there are even better alternatives. I can also say from personal experience that they treat their employees well and offer insurance packages beyond compare of most American companies (find me another company that offers 2 weeks fully paid PATERNITY leave?). Not sure what came of it, but when I still worked for them, I heard that a plan to sell solar panels was in development.
But in the immortal words of Levar Burton, “you don’t have to take my word for it!”:
The biggest downside to shopping at IKEA is…shopping at IKEA. The stores, all nearly identical in layout, are intentionally designed to get you lost, forcing you to look at every single product before you wind up crawling to the checkout, and of course by the time you get there, you’ve worked up a mean appetite – but don’t worry – there’s the meatballs!!
The other drawback is that after you’ve spent 4 hours on your hands and knees with an allen key and a wordless “manual” creating your masterpiece, your friends will come over, glance at it and say “oh! you got that at IKEA!”, which to me, doesn’t translate to “oh! I love that!” Although on the flip side, having such a recognizable product does make it easier to recycle when you’re done with it. When I moved out of my apartment in NYC, I sold pretty much everything – and the IKEA stuff sold the easiest and for the most money, without a doubt.
So, a hipster is annoying and a little cliche, but you’re probably friends with one anyway. Think of IKEA the same way.