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Home > By DEPARTMENTS > Green Manufacturing > Product Development > Manufacturing Design & Engineering for Sustainable Business

Visit Your Customers to Right Size Your Line - IKEA

Part of green marketing is knowing your customer -- throwing out misfit products just isn't green!

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green home furnishings use recycled materials and minimal VOCs

Right Size Your Product Design & Product Line

Knowing your customer is the heart of marketing...but we get intellectually smug or arrogant and assume they "just want something new." Not so... even big companies like Ikea learn the hard way. Discarding wrong-sized products is just NOT green! Green is smart about right-sizing, right-coloring, right-thinking.

Julie Desrosiers, the bedroom-line manager at Ikea of Sweden, visited people's houses in the U.S. and Europe to peek into their closets, learning that "Americans prefer to store most of their clothes folded, and Italians like to hang." The result was a wardrobe that features deeper drawers for U.S. customers.

The American market poses special challenges for Ikea because of the huge differences inside the U.S.

"It's so easy to forget the reality of how people live," says Ikea's U.S. interior design director, Mats Nilsson.

In the spring of 2004, Ikea realized it might not be reaching California's Hispanics. So its designers visited the homes of Hispanic staff. They soon realized they had set up the store's displays all wrong. Large Hispanic families need dining tables and sofas that fit more than two people, the Swedish norm. They prefer bold colors to the more subdued Scandinavian palette and display tons of pictures in elaborate frames. Nilsson warmed up the showrooms' colors, adding more seating and throwing in numerous picture frames.

Ikea is particularly concerned about the U.S. since it's key to expansion -- and since Ikea came close to blowing it. "We got our clocks cleaned in the early 1990s because we really didn't listen to the consumer," says Kanter. Stores weren't big enough to offer the full Ikea experience, and many were in poor locations. Prices were too high. Beds were measured in centimeters, not king, queen, and twin. Sofas weren't deep enough, curtains were too short, and kitchens didn't fit U.S.-size appliances.

"American customers were buying vases to drink from because the glasses were too small," recalls Goran Carstedt, the former head of Ikea North America, who helped engineer a turnaround. Parts of the product line were adapted (no more metric measurements), new and bigger store locations chosen, prices slashed, and service improved. Now U.S. managers are paying close attention to the tiniest details. "Americans want more comfortable sofas, higher-quality textiles, bigger glasses, more spacious entertainment units," says Pernille Spiers-Lopez, head of Ikea North America.

SOURCE: Read the full story about Ikea's business experiences at BusinessWeek.com



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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