Älmhult: The Birthplace of Ikea

On January, 27 we spent one of the most wonderful days in Sweden, visiting Älmhult, the birthplace of Ikea. We later learned that on the same day Ikea founder, Ingvar Kamprad, died in his house in Älmhult. We dedicate this post to the entrepreneur of amazing personality and his genius company which has produced furniture gracing equally Stockholm Royal palace and Japanese houses.

Ikea Museum

Ikea Museum

The history of Sweden before Ikea is very well told in Ikea Museum in Älmhult (entrance fee – 60 kronas). Poor and undeveloped, in the beginning on the 20th century, Sweden did not have enough food on the tables, and the lack of money was another constant concern. The story of poor Sweden, however, resembles the recent story or the contemporary state of things in many Eastern European countries, and even can evoke ironic laugh from their dwellers. For instance, it is said that the rationing during the Second World War put an end to having good coffee as an everyday drink in Sweden. Given that in many countries people were dying from hunger, the lack of coffee sounds like a funny problem.
Also, the objects from the poor period of Swedish history make a controversial impression. For instance, people were recycling clothes for making rugs because of poverty, but this is what they do everywhere nowadays, for instance, in Estonia.
Ikea Museum

Some objects remind us that the Swedish design has always been genius and smart: look at the chair which could become a table if needed.
Ikea Museum

Or the grasshopper chair by Bruno Mathsson which became the trendsetter within modern furniture design.
grasshopper chair

The success story of Ingvar Kamprad

Perhaps, Sweden was underdeveloped, but not compared to many countries. In addition, it was already starting in 1930s that the country determined to become a modern and egalitarian society with better living conditions for all. It is in these conditions, that there appeared the need in descent houses and their furnishing and this is when Ingvar Kamprad began his success story.
From his early childhood, Ingvar was an enterpreneur: he was growing on a farm and business was his favourite thing. He sold seeds, pens, fish, Christmas cards and other goods to his neighbors. He cycled everywhere.
The success story of Ingvar Kamprad

When he was 17, he founded IKEA (it stands for Ingvar Kamprad – his name and Elmtaryd Agunnaryd – the name of his farm). Believe it or not, this was the first IKEA storage.
The success story of Ingvar Kamprad

At first, just as a little enterpreneur, IKEA was selling a little bit of everything: shavers, cigarette cases, pipes, pens; he soon added the first furniture.
The success story of Ingvar Kamprad

Ikea started to produce colorful catalogues which was novel and attracted a lot of clients. Competitors were not happy about Ikea’s success and low prices, and together they forced manufacturers to stop selling their furniture to Ikea. To get around the boycott, Kamprad decided to develop a unique range of Ikea products. In 1948, he advertised 2 first products – an armchair and a coffee table. To avoid high transportation costs, the customers assembled them themselves.
first products of IKEA

It was already then, when Ingvar Kamprad was sending his employees to Mayorca for holidays. This is just one of the multiple examples of incredibly responsible organization of Ikea business. When several years later too many shops opened around the world and things got messy, the message came down: no new shops opening for a year! Every single co-worker was involved in the changing process. Ikea home visits have been carried out for many years the sake of research of how people live to improve their living with the furniture. Also, Ikea was furnishing homes and letting families live in there for 2 weeks to get feedback.
The success story of Ingvar Kamprad

The success story of Ingvar Kamprad

Once Ikea shop went on fire, and Kamprad was on holiday at that time. Since the economy class tickets were sold out, he had to buy the embarassingly expensive business class ticket – for the first and the last time in his life. Despite his richness, he was wearing second hand clothes and drove a 15-year-old car.
The success story of Ingvar Kamprad

The story of IKEA

The world first Ikea store opened in 1958 in Älmhult and people were queauing to it. The clients got a personal tour and furnishing advice. Ikea recruited housewives for the tours: who can tell better what is needed for the houses! The clients took their purchases home on the same day which was new too. Ikea was also selling the car roof racks for those who could not fit the furniture into the car. To complement furniture, Ikea started selling irons, dishes, typewriters, fridges… Kamprad had troubles remembering article numbers and this is how he came with the idea of naming his products. People get hungry after shopping, Kamprad also realized, and opened the first restaurant. He wanted to have Swedish food there, this is how meatballs became famous.

When he opened another store in Jönkoping, and it was too small for a restaurant, he opened a foodbar there, determined that a good hot dog can and must cost 5 kronas (50 cents).

He got a deal with the railway on the discount for the train tickets for people coming to Ikea in the middle of the week – good both for him and for the railway. But there were failures too. Kamprad was selling TVsets, but lost a lot of money because of the problems with the manufacturer.

When Sweden became a highly social state, caring about the children a lot, Kamprad opened a kids’ corner with plastic balls.

He then invented Klippan sofa with removable cover (for the kids to play and wash it after if needed). It is sold in so many styles!

Sofa Klippan, chair Poäng and bookshelf Billy are still the most popular products of Ikea.

With Ikea’s popularity, the staff could not cope with the visitors and this is when they started letting customers pick the products themselves – the start of service area which now every Ikea has. For the sake of transportation, the company made a lot of effort to make the package flat. Chairs were the hardest to pack flat, but how many more could fit then!

In 2002, they came up with online kitchen planning. In 2000, instead of instructions in different languages, the buyers met the cartoon characters that showed neccessary tools and gave practical tips. One language for all!

But sometimes things went wrong. In 2012, the Saudi Arabian Ikea catalogue was published in which all women had been removed from pictures. This is when Ikea had to formulate its rules about publishing the images.

We could continue telling about how genious Kamprad was forever. When the Swedish daily newspaper named him the greatest enterpreneur of all times, he said, “I worry when people call someone the best. Sitting back and thinking I am great would be disastrous for me.”
English was a hell for him, but he worked hard on it, “I wrote English words on the wall. When I went to bed I could read through them and repeat them over and over again. Difficulties aren’t dangerous, just as long as you are not afraid of them and do something about them.” Kamprad was married to one of his first shops guides and they had 3 sons.

The museum tells about which furniture was invented and which Ikea shops were opened every ten years.

The temporary exhibition in Ikea Museum allows for hands-on experience. Make your own patterns and adorn a room with it, stitch an apron from Ikea fabrics, or take the fabrics home to stitch!

Ikea museum restaurant offers a unique salad with moose meatballs. Make sure you try it!

Ikea museum shop offers Ikea products in other editions, not available in the shops (perhaps in another color or size). Here, you’ll also find reissues of old products and of course the Museum’s signature products.

Finish your birthplace of Ikea day in Ikea outlet in a couple of kilometers from the museum – this is a huger place for signature edition unique products and sales items. Why not to spend the night in Ikea hotel? It is just in front of the Museum.
For us, Älmhult became one of the major impression from Sweden: we now strongly believe that the trip around the country should start not with the capital, but with Älmhult, telling the comprehensive story of Sweden, design, Ikea, and success.