14 Ready-To-Assemble Facts About IKEA

Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The retail world just lost one of its most famous game-changers with the death of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who passed away at the age of 91 on January 27, 2018 at his home in Småland, Sweden. As the world’s largest cross-cultural furniture bazaar, IKEA has become synonymous with affordable and stylish home décor. Beginning as a mail-order business in Kamprad’s tiny Swedish village of Agunnaryd in the 1940s, the company now boasts more than 300 stores, located everywhere from China (where shoppers can grab an ice cream cone for only 16 cents) to Russia. Check out these 14 lesser-known facts about store mazes, wordless manuals, and why they banned hide and seek.

1. IKEA IS AN ACRONYM.

Just 17 at the time he began making door-to-door sales—peddling mostly pens, jewelry, and stockings—Kamprad named his fledgling company IKEA. The “IK” are his initials, the “E” is for the modest farm he grew up on (Elmtaryd), and the “A” is for Agunnaryd, his home village. (Owing to their often-frustrating assembly processes, Amy Poehler once observed IKEA might be Swedish for “argument.”)  

2. THE PRODUCT NAMES ARE A RESULT OF INGVAR KAMPRAD'S DYSLEXIA.


Tina Lawson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

IKEA’s home goods are usually identified by Swedish names rather than product numbers. While it’s turned into a way to further endear the brand to consumers, the practice started because Kamprad had dyslexia and was getting numerical codes confused. While charming—we enjoy ordering a desk called “Fartfull” as much as anyone—it can sometimes lead to cultural issues. The company ran into problems in 2006 when it was discovered that some harmless Scandinavian words might double as sexually explicit expressions in Thailand.      

3. THE BRAND WASN'T AN IMMEDIATE HIT IN AMERICA.

After conquering the European market, IKEA opened its first American location just outside of Philadelphia in 1985. Customers had a lot of trouble pronouncing the name, and almost as much trouble figuring out the merchandise, which hadn’t yet been tailored to the market: products were advertised in centimeters, curtains didn't fit American-sized windows, and flower vases were being bought as drink tumblers because “foreign” water glasses were too small for all the ice U.S. citizens like to use. The company didn’t open any new stores for a five year period and didn’t begin to see real growth until 1997.

The persistence has paid off for both the company and consumers: Their legendary BILLY bookcase was $82 in 1985: today, it sells for $59.99.  

4. THEY WANT SHOPPERS TO BE DAZED AND CONFUSED.

If navigating an IKEA leaves you feeling lost and fatigued, the layout has done its job. According to research conducted at the University College London, IKEA leads shoppers into an increasingly byzantine floor plan where they snap up impulse goods (like lamp shades or pillows), fearing they won't find them again. Likened to a "corn maze" by some visitors, there are short cuts available owing to fire regulations—but you'll miss most of the good stuff by taking them.  

5. THEY WILL SEND PEOPLE TO COME WATCH YOU SIT ON A SOFA.

In an effort to better understand how universal designs fit the end user, IKEA utilizes company “anthropologists” to visit homes of brand loyalists to see how they interact with various goods. These volunteers are typically rewarded with gift cards, and their living spaces are sometimes rigged with cameras for longer-term surveillance. Among the surprises? Citizens of Shenzhen, China like to sit on the floor and use their couches as back rests.   

6. THERE ARE NO WORDS IN THEIR MANUALS BECAUSE WORDS COST MONEY.


Sean Hobson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The “assembly figures” in IKEA manuals have garnered worldwide stardom for their effortless display of how to construct a coffee table or bookshelf without using profanity or becoming violent. The reason instructions aren’t printed with actual written information is because it would make the manuals thicker, and consequently more expensive to produce. Of course, the pictograms can exact their own terrible price: the company refers to more difficult-to-follow assemblies by the humorous, if outdated, term “husband killers.”

7. YOU PROBABLY VALUE THE FURNITURE MORE BECAUSE YOU ASSEMBLED IT.

It’s obvious why IKEA sells its furniture unassembled: The flat packaging saves money and passes the cost of labor on to you, the consumer, ever ready to gouge someone’s eye socket with an Allen wrench. But all the sweat and tears has its rewards. According to a Harvard Business School study, people who had to labor to set up their new purchase perceived it to have greater value than people who didn’t have to do anything.

8. CUSTOMERS IN CHINA LOVE THEIR IKEA NAPS.

In a cultural practice that probably wouldn’t go over too well in the States, visitors to IKEA’s stores in Beijing, China, are said to be very fond of curling up and taking naps in the comfortable bedding and mattress displays. Rather than put a stop to the habit, IKEA claims their staff doesn’t bother dozing customers unless they’re creating a disturbance.    

9. THEY'VE BANNED HIDE AND SEEK.

While generally liberal in their policies, IKEA did put its foot down when it came to a social media fad involving people playing organized games of hide and seek in the company’s mammoth locations. After 19,000 people agreed to show up to an Amsterdam store for the game, a no-hiding, no-seeking policy was initiated. (Just take a nap instead.)

10. IKEA MALAYSIA HELD A LOOKALIKE CONTEST. FOR INANIMATE OBJECTS.


IKEA via Facebook

Proving IKEA’s U.S. public relations team needs to get with it, IKEA Malaysia held a contest in 2014 to help promote the reopening of one of their stores. Contestants were solicited via Facebook and asked to dress or pose as their favorite IKEA product. A surprising number of people made convincing lamps; winners received gift cards to the store.

11. THE MEATBALLS WERE ONCE MADE OF HORSE.

Even if you haven’t visited an IKEA, you’re probably aware of their reputation for delicious Swedish meatballs, a means of keeping shoppers fortified with protein while trying to escape a labyrinth of end tables. In 2013, the company issued a meatball recall in Europe after DNA studies found that one batch contained traces of horse meat. It was thought to be part of a wider contamination problem relating to devious suppliers. 

12. IT'S BEING USED IN COUPLES THERAPY.

IKEA acknowledges that shopping for and then assembling larger items can take a toll on relationships. So does Santa Monica area psychologist Ramani Durvasula, who sometimes tasks couples in her therapy sessions to complete an IKEA project together and then discuss the results in counseling. One amateur craftsman told The Wall Street Journal that a bed frame took 10 hours to put together, “including two hours of arguing” with his spouse.  

13. A SOAP OPERA WAS SHOT THERE.

The episodic soap opera parody IKEA Heights was filmed in a Burbank, California location in 2009 without permission from store management: actors wore hidden microphones and captured reaction shots from passing customers as they acted out hyper-dramatic plots about infidelity. In 2010, the company tried to strike a balance between having a sense of humor and reminding people that using their stores as a film set isn't really allowed. "Absolutely, we think it's funny," a spokesperson told MacCleans. "But unauthorized filming in our stores isn't a good thing."

14. THEY BUILT AN APARTMENT ON A ROCK-CLIMBING WALL.


Ube Bene via Facebook

To celebrate their 30th store in France, IKEA—known for its over-the-top ad campaigns—erected an incredible vertical apartment layout on top of a climbing wall in 2014. The public was invited to scale the prop using safety harnesses. (Not pictured: 8000 extra screws.)

This $49 Video Game Design Course Will Teach You Everything From Coding to Digital Art Skills

EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

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Once you’ve nailed the basics, the lifetime membership provides unlimited access to thousands of dollars' worth of royalty-free game art and textures to use in your 2D or 3D designs. Support from instructors and professionals with over 16 years of game industry experience will guide you from start to finish, where you’ll be equipped to land a job doing something you truly love.

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10 Secrets of Ice Cream Truck Drivers

asiafoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus
asiafoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Ever since Good Humor founder Harry Burt dispatched the first jingling ice cream trucks in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920, kids and adults alike have had a primal reaction to the sight of a vehicle equipped with a cold, sugary payload. Today, ice cream trucks spend May through October hoping to entice customers into making an impulse beat-the-heat purchase. To get a better idea of what goes into making ice cream a portable business, Mental Floss spoke with several proprietors for their take on everything from ideal weather conditions to police encounters. Here’s the inside scoop.

1. IT CAN GET TOO HOT FOR BUSINESS.

The most common misconception about the ice cream truck business? That soaring temperatures mean soaring profits. According to Jim Malin, owner of Jim’s Ice Cream Truck in Fairfield, Connecticut, record highs can mean decreased profits. “When it’s really hot, like 90 or 100 degrees out, sales go way down,” Malin says. “People aren’t outside. They’re indoors with air conditioning.” And like a lot of trucks, Malin’s isn’t equipped with air conditioning. “I’m suffering and sales are suffering." The ideal temperature? "A 75-degree day is perfect.”

2. THEY DON’T JUST WANDER NEIGHBORHOODS ANYMORE.

An ice cream truck sits parked in a public spot
Chunky Dunks

The days of driving a few miles an hour down a residential street hoping for a hungry clientele have fallen by the wayside. Many vendors, including Malin, make up half or more of their business by arranging for scheduled stops at events like weddings, employee picnics, or school functions. “We do birthday parties, church festivals, sometimes block parties,” he says. Customers can pay in advance, meaning that all guests have to do is order from the menu.

3. SOME OF THEM DRIVE A MINIBUS INSTEAD OF A TRUCK.

For sheer ice cream horsepower, nothing beats a minibus. Laci Byerly, owner of Doodlebop’s Ice Cream Emporium in Jacksonville, Florida, uses an airport-style shuttle for her inventory. “Instead of one or two freezers, we can fit three,” she says. More importantly, the extra space means she doesn’t have to spend the day hunched over. “We can stand straight up.”

4. THEY HAVE A SECRET STASH OF ICE CREAM TO GIVE AWAY TO SPECIAL CUSTOMERS.

A picture of an ice cream truck menu.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The goal of any truck is to sell enough ice cream to justify the time and expense of operation, so freebies don’t make much sense—unless the truck happens to have some damaged goods. Malin says that it’s common for some pre-packaged bars to be broken inside wrappers, rendering them unattractive for sale. He sets these bars aside for kids who know the score. “I put them in a little box for kids who come up and ask if I have damaged ice cream,” he says. “Certain kids know I have it, and I’m happy to give it to them.”

5. THEY’RE CREATING CUSTOM ICE CREAM MENUS.

An ice cream nacho platter is shown
Chunky Dunks

While pre-packaged Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches remain perennial sellers, a number of trucks are mixing up business by offering one-of-a-kind treats. At the Chunky Dunks truck in Madison, Mississippi, owner Will Lamkin serves up Ice Cream Nachos, a signature dish that outsells anything made by Nestle. “It’s cinnamon sugar chips with your choice of ice cream,” he says. “You get whipped cream, too. And for the ‘cheese,’ it’s a caramel-chocolate sauce.” The nachos work because they’re “streetable,” Lamkin’s label for something people can carry while walking. “The next seven or eight people in line see it, and then everyone’s ordering it.”

6. THEY DON’T ALWAYS PLAY THE ICONIC JINGLE.

Before most people see an ice cream truck, they hear that familiar tinny tune. While some operators still rely on it for its familiarity, Malin and others prefer more modern tracks. “Normally we play ‘80s rock,” he says. “Or whatever we feel like playing that day. We rock it out.”

7. POP CULTURE CHARACTERS ARE SOME OF THEIR BEST SELLERS.

A Captain America ice cream treat
Doodlebop's

While adult customers tend to favor ice cream treats they remember from their youth, kids who don’t really recognize nostalgia tend to like items emblazoned with the likenesses and trademarks of licensed characters currently occupying their TV screens and local theaters. “Characters are the most popular with kids,” Byerly says. “SpongeBob, Minions, and Captain America.”

8. THEY KEEP DOG FOOD HANDY.

At Doodlebop’s, Byerly has a strategy for luring customers with pets: She keeps dog treats on hand. “The dog will sometimes get to us before the owner does,” she says. “If the dog comes up to the truck, he’ll get a Milkbone.” That often leads to a human companion purchasing a treat for themselves.

9. SOMETIMES RIVALS WILL CALL THE COPS.

Though there have been stories of rogue ice cream vendors aggressively competing for neighborhood space over the years, Malin says that he’s never experienced any kind of out-and-out turf war. Ice cream truck drivers tend to be a little more passive-aggressive than that. “I have a business permit for Fairfield, so that’s typically where I’m driving,” he says. “But sometimes I might go out of town for an event. Once, a driver pulled up to me and asked if I had a permit. I said ‘No, I’m just here for an hour,’ and he said, ‘OK, I’m calling the cops.’ They try and get the police to get you out [of town].” Fortunately, police typically don’t write up drivers for the infraction.

10. SOME LUCKY CUSTOMERS HAVE AN APP FOR HOME DELIVERY.

An ice cream truck driver.
George Rose/Getty Images

Technology has influenced everything, and ice cream trucks are no exception. Malin uses an app that allows customers to request that he make a special delivery. "People can request I pull up right outside their home," he says. If their parents are home, there’s one additional perk: "I accept credit cards."

This article originally ran in 2018.