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The History of IKEA

Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943 at the age of 17. He began his enterprise by selling goods like pens and wallets in Småland, his home county in Sweden. He attended business high school in Gothenburg and became interested in importing and distribution. As a reward for doing well in school, Kamprad’s father gifted him a small sum of money and in 1948, inspired by a business decision by his rival, Kamprad began selling furniture. But why "IKEA"? He chose the name IKEA for his business because the I and K represented his own initials, the E stood for Elmtaryd (the name of the farm on which he grew up), and the A stood for Agunnaryd, the nearby village. From the beginning, Kamprad sought to offer quality furniture at low prices and built his business around this ethos. To help meet this goal while also solving the shipping problems that plagued his mail order operations, in 1953, he switched to selling flatpack furniture that customers could assemble themselves upon delivery. (Notably, flatpack furniture had already been invented, but IKEA helped popularize it in Sweden.) During the 1950s, IKEA transitioned from a mail-order company to a thriving business with multiple physical stores throughout Sweden. But Kamprad soon noticed that hungry shoppers would leave his stores in the middle of the day to go get lunch — and that meant they purchased less. In June 1960, IKEA stores offered coffee and cold dishes, but by the end of that year, the IKEA restaurant kitchens had been equipped with microwave ovens and had begun serving hot dishes like hamburgers in a (successful) bid to encourage customers to stay inside the stores for longer. In the 1960s, IKEA locations opened in Denmark and Norway. Then the company expanded further with multiple locations outside of Scandinavia in the 1970s. IKEA first came to the United States in 1985; the flagship location was in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. Today, there are over 50 IKEA stores in the United States. The chain is well-known for its quirky product names, but according to several sources, they exist because Kamprad was reportedly dyslexic. Sources note that naming his inventory after people, animals, places, and other familiar words (and often naming all items in a given category after the same things — for example, IKEA bathroom products are all named after Swedish lakes and bodies of water) reportedly helped him keep track of it all. IKEA is also famous for its iconic blue-and-yellow logo, which was introduced in 1983 and updated slightly in 2018 to improve legibility and its appearance on digital screens. Today, IKEA is one of the world’s best-known furniture retailers with stores located all over the world.

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