I have a confession to make. I love assembling flat pack furniture. OK, I know it’s a bit weird, but I love getting the bits of wood out of the brown boxes; I love the assembly diagrams and I especially love the Allen keys. Infact I have never thrown an Allen key out and my kitchen drawer is now a mini museum to IKEA’s keys over the decades. So Flatpack Empire on BBC TWO was my kind of programme.
IKEA have allowed the TV cameras in for a year to reveal what makes the world’s largest furniture manufacturer tick. Over the course of episode one we were introduced to a range of IKEA staff. There Brit abroad James, based at the firms HQ in Sweded he was tasked with trying to manage the company’s relationship with British designer Tom Dixon. They wanted Tom to design a piece of furniture for them to attract the high end of the furniture market and he had devised the piece of furniture most associated with class, elegance and design. The sofa bed. Or the bed sofa. Believe it or not there is a difference. It’s all to do with fire regs.
We also met Paul the Marketing specialist at IKEA’s first UK store in Warrington, who was there 30 years ago when it opened. A cheerful chappie, who looked as though he may have slightly over indulged in the meatballs and Dime bar cake department, but certainly knew how to connect with his customers and staff.
Sarah was the creative leader on the IKEA catalogue which according to Olivia Coleman’s commentary is the largest publication in the world, with more copies printed than Bible. (Well there are more people in IKEA on a Sunday morning than there are in church so I suppose they need their holy book as well). Sarah wanted to shake things up with the catalogue this year and instead of having a nice sofa on the front she wanted a more real set up with children playing in a family situation. I don’t think that she realised that IKEA was all about aspiration.
When you walk around the show room you are meant to be inspired by what you see to think “yes, I could have that”. No one wants to see the reality of five minutes after you get home the kids have already put their dirty mits all over it and are using the box as a fort.
In the end Sarah was overruled by “The Catalogue Council” (which sounds like something out of Inhumans) who opted for the traditional living room set piece but including a few random items thrown in which according to Paul prompted customers to say that “it did look like the house had been burgled”. You can’t win them all Sarah.
The final character we were introduced to was catering manager Simon who told us that IKEA sold 1 billion meat balls a year making it the 10th largest food retailer in the world. Simon was off to launch the new Sheffield store but before he did that, there was one place that he really, really…really, wanted to go. Älmhult. Älmhult is where it all began, and the town is effectively an IKEA theme park with its own factory, research lab, hotel and museum. Every year a chosen few chosen staff are taken to this nirvana to worship at the altar of IKEA founder, Ingvar Kamprad. They tour the museum, are given more holy books (Ingvars book “Leading be Design”) and discover the Swedish names that can’t be used on products as they are “lost in translation”. Whilst feeling a bit cultish, this was the most interesting part of the story for me. The American fire regulations for a bed versus a sofa are not that interesting but seeing the culture that pervades the company really was. I have a friend who said that when she retired she would quite happy work in Next as a Saturday girl. She spent most Saturdays there anyway, so why not get paid for it! Having watched Flatpack Empire I feel the same about Ikea. I think I would like to work there…as long as it was building the furniture. I can supply my own Allen keys! And think of all the meatballs and jam you could have. Now if they could just do something about those awful stripy polo shirts they have to wear I’d be there faster than you can say “Flemmen VÄG” (it’s a shower curtain. Page 152 of the catalogue).
At the time of writing Flatpack Empire was still available on iPlayer.
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