Bookcases and biryani collide as Ikea tackles India

Faisal Kamal –

Ikea revolutionised homeware retail with affordable, self-assembly furniture with a Scandinavian twist, sold in stroll-around megastores offering a break for Swedish meatballs. On Thursday its first Indian outlet opens — with success far from guaranteed.
While Indians may be getting richer, creating an apparent golden opportunity for Ikea as in other emerging economies, spending levels remain low.
The culture of DIY furnishing is also alien and local consumers retain their trust in Indian products.
The world’s biggest furniture retailer expects seven million people a year to throng its new store in the southern city of Hyderabad, the first of 25 outlets it hopes to open across the country of 1.25 billion people by 2025.
To try and ensure it recoups its $1.5-billion investment, the Swedish company has tweaked its offerings to suit Indian tastes, starting with the restaurant, where “Smaklig Maltid — ‘Enjoy your Meal’ in Swedish” is written on the wall.
The 1,000-seater eatery, Ikea’s biggest ever, will not offer pork or beef meatballs — for religious reasons — substituting chicken or vegetarian alternatives instead. Indians’ beloved biryani dish will sell for Rs 99 ($1.44).
“We have changed quite a lot for India. We have two ranges. One is the Swedish Unique range and one is the local range,” food manager Henrik Osterstrom said. “It’s a big store and you need to have some energy boost halfway through.”

Loveseats and tawas
Alongside standard Ikea furniture like Billy bookshelves and Klippan “loveseats”, the chain will offer “locally relevant products” like masala boxes, Indian frying pans called tawas, rice cake makers and mattresses with a coconut-fibre centre.
There are also more than 1,000 products under Rs 200 to satisfy consumers whom John Achillea, store manager, says have “big aspirations for their homes and small wallets”. A six-piece bowl set with cutlery for kids costs Rs 131, for example.
The interior of the store has a noticeable local feel too, with Indian-design bedspreads and framed photos of the Taj Mahal and other Indian monuments — alongside Klimt’s painting “The Kiss” recalling faraway Europe.
“We decided not to copy and paste,” Juvencio Maeztu, Ikea’s finance chief, said. “We met and interacted with 1,000 Indian families to understand what were their dreams, their frustrations and what they want.”
And to overcome Indians’ aversion to assembling their furniture, with people used to small, family-owned firms providing a bespoke service, Ikea teamed up with UrbanClap, an online platform that helps connect handymen with consumers. — AFP