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IKEA Philippines' Executives Talk About All the Secrets They've Kept Since 2016

Besides the world's biggest store, we're also getting a 1,000-seater cafeteria.
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The rumors of IKEA finally landing in the Philippines have been around for years, so it's no surprise that, even as the news was confirmed earlier this year, people were still skeptical. Yesterday, those rumors were officially laid to rest by none other than the IKEA Southeast Asia Managing Director.

By late 2020, IKEA Philippines will definitely become a reality, says Christian Rojkjaer. "We have created the largest IKEA store in the world. I don't think anybody will ever make a bigger one. This is forever going to be the largest IKEA store in the world. In my mind, it will be the best store ever made and we have thought of everything we can now, short of having a crystal ball."

Why were the rumors around for so long?

The Market Development Manager and future IKEA Philippines manager for the store, Georg Platzer, has been in Manila since 2016 along with a small team of IKEA staff. But they started investigating the Philippines back in 2014 as they began meeting different future partners. He and his very small team of eight people were here so they could learn about the Philippines and how people live, so they could bring in the right kind of products for our market—and they were surprised to find that 13 percent of Filipinos surveyed on the street recognized the brand.

He jokes, "We did a good job in hiding, working secretly backstage." It didn't help the rumors that their office was in Makati, which confused an eager public trying to figure out where the new store was going to be. "I have never seen more excitement in any of the new markets I have been working so far. You guys are awesome!" he says. "I am certain this is going to be a great success story."

Rojkjaer explains further, "Some of you think we took a long time to come in. That is because we are not trying to be the fastest, but the best. We prepared for those with a thin wallet, a thick wallet, a big or small family, a guy, a girl, living on their own. We had been trying to get Philippines as a franchise country for years, even before my time. Now we are finally here and looking to incredible things ahead."

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Mr. Georg Platzer poses with a member of the 8-member IKEA Philippines team on top of the electric jeepney IMAGE: Kaye Koo

The World's Biggest IKEA store, and Why We Deserve It

At 65,000 sqm, it is nearly double the size of a regular IKEA store of 35,000 sqm. The Philippine store will roughly be the size of 150 basketball courts. Wrap your head around that, 2 floors of customized retail shopping with the elements we are familiar with: showrooms, market hall, restaurant, and check-out area.

They are building in what used to be the parking lot facing SM Mall of Asia's South Building, SMX Convention Center, and Mall of Asia Arena. For Mr. Platzer, the location makes perfect business sense because of the growth in developments for residential and commercial projects in the area, all signs of progress and things to come. In short: it is accessible.

Why do we get to have the biggest store ever? Mr. Platzer puts it simply: "We love you. There is a need for home furnishing in the growing middle class market. There is not any market who deserves the biggest store than the Philippines right now."

There's also a very Filipino reason for having such a big floor area: They know that Filipino families shop together, and they needed to make the aisles wider and more convenient for us. That also means over 500 co-workers wearing the typical IKEA colors, as management all the way down the staff level will be ready to serve and give support to the shoppers.

Rojkjaer also adds, "We need a home that takes space to show all the different solutions for home living." 

The Philippine IKEA store will also have a massive warehouse (to ensure instant availability of any item on display), and an e-commerce hub and call center for 24/7 availability to Greater Manila. They are committed to fulfilling the need for instant gratification. If you want it, it will be there. They are working on same-day home delivery, if possible, within an hour of finalizing a purchase.

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Also: an IKEA Cafeteria That Can Seat 1,000 Diners

Again, keeping the Filipino retail shopping behavior in mind, they are building a 1,000-seater restaurant where you can indulge in all the Swedish meatballs you want. As is the custom in other IKEA stores, the cafeteria will also offer various dishes and desserts, free-flowing coffee and soda, and ice cream.  The size of this is specific to the Philippine store because they understand the Filipino need to socialize, shop, and eat all in one place. 

IKEA Philippines will also have a Smaland, where you can deposit the kids if you wish to spend more time shopping.

How did SM Supermalls Land IKEA?

"It is with such great excitement that SM Supermalls collaborates with Ikano Philippines for the very first IKEA store in the Philippines, indeed our biggest tenant ever," said COO of SM Supermalls Steven Tan at yesterday's announcement. IKEA Southeast Asia, under the Ikano Group of Companies, is the only IKEA franchisee owned by the family of founder Ingvar Kamprad. It has rights to IKEA stores in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and now the Philippines. 

Says Tan, "This is a long-term lease, I want to focus on the first store, this is a marriage without divorce."

Mr. Rojkjaer agrees, "This is not just any partnership, but one based on commercial and cultural partnerships. We teamed up because our values match and we will do the right thing for the Philippines for years to come. Because once IKEA commits to something, we commit a long, long time. IKEA is super well-fitted to the family life here and it is going to be a big success."

Men of All Walks of Life Will Enjoy the IKEA Shopping Experience

The idea behind shopping in IKEA has always been to come in, touch, feel, sit down, even fall asleep on any of the furniture and room set-ups. They encourage you to engage with the items for sale and test them out.

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Mr. Platzer explains, "We have studied how Filipinos live. We know how life at home looks like: start-ups, families with kids, without kids, singles, people moving in together, people separating, there are different stages with different needs. We are prepared for that."

They want you to draw inspiration and get ideas how to design your home from the 55 room displays: something they painstakingly develop to make you feel as welcome as if you were entering the home of a friend or family. They provide solutions, almost monthly, to adapt to changes in styles as they consistently listen to their consumers.

And with over 9,000 products to choose from, you can mix and match away, as all products are not necessarily more feminine or masculine. It all depends on your own design aesthetic.

Mr. Platzer promises, "While we don't have gender in mind, because it should be genderless as we are into equality, everybody can love our products. We will have many, many nice products for men, I am sure they are going to love it."

IKEA Southeast Asia Managing Director Christian Rojkjaer, SM Supermalls COO Steven Tan, and IKEA PH future store manager and Market Development Manager Georg Platzer IMAGE: Kaye Koo

Why the World is Crazy for IKEA 

Affordability is what IKEA designers aim for when they come up with any product. This key feature is what has always attracted Pinoy shoppers. In 2017, for example, IKEA was able to release the RYET, a LED light bulb that sold in Singapore for only SGD 1.90 (or P72.56 at today's rates). Mr. Platzer guarantees that the products sold in the Philippines will be priced lower than the other stores abroad.

They also focus on form, working on products in the woods of Sweden for two years before it goes into production, because they want the end user to be proud of the final product.

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With the mantra of delivering better everyday life, they also focus on function, testing that the product looks good and actually works.

IKEA makes sure to test the quality of its products, so that their products last as long as possible by putting the products through various stress and strength tests.

Sustainability is one of their biggest challenges, using raw materials that are not harmful to the environment as they strive to reuse, recycle, and make products work harder at conserving energy in how they are produced and used.

Our Frakta Bags Have to Wait Till 2020

But with the launch of the IKEA Philippines website, they are whetting the appetite of the Filipino market.

While it is not yet a working e-commerce site, it allows us to drool over the Ypperlig three-seat sofa bed, a product hatched with a Danish design studio that combines sofas, coffee tables, and very touchable textiles in one sophisticated but affordable package.

Or the IKEA PS 2017 armchair, winner of the International Red Dot Award as it was made using a 3D knitting machine that usually makes sneakers.

"We want to excite everyone with the possibilities, to create better everyday life love for the home with more than 9,000 products that are functional and affordable," says Rojkjaer. The website also hopes to answer all questions on future partnerships, range of products, history, sustainability, recruitment of personnel, etc.

"Thank you for giving us this chance to be a part of your life, it is an enormous responsibility, we will do anything we can to be the best we can for you," Rojkjaer concludes.

One more thing: the right way to say IKEA is, Ee-ke-yah (long E at the start), according to Swedish Ambassador Harald Fries. 

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Kaye Estoista-Koo
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