Ikea fans all over the country are clamoring for the Swedish retailer to set up shop in their cities.
On Wednesday, area shoppers got their wish as the new Merriam Ikea — all 359,000 square feet of it — opened its doors. The company’s 40th store, on the southeast corner of Interstate 35 and Johnson Drive, is its first in Kansas. Its first Missouri store is scheduled to open in St. Louis in fall 2015.
In traditional fashion, a Swedish log-sawing ceremony was held at the store entrance instead of an official ribbon-cutting. The ceremony is said to bring good luck to new homes and all future visitors.
And visitors came by the droves.
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“It’s gone very smoothly. Everything has been perfect,” store manager Rob Parsons said several hours into the first day.
Indeed, Ikea opened the store about 20 minutes before the scheduled 9 a.m. opening to accommodate the hundreds of customers who had been waiting in line in the drizzling rain. While Ikea employees handed out large yellow and blue umbrellas, spirits were high thanks to face painters, mimes, a DJ and balloon artists. There was also a U.S. and Swedish flag raising ceremony.
Some customers had been waiting in line since Monday morning for the store to open for the chance to win a free sofa and other giveaways. Others took the day off from work to be among the first to shop there. But some Ikea fans plan to hold out until the crowds thin (a tip: Ikea sources said the morning after opening day is traditionally a slower period before the weekend traffic).
Ikea is known for its easy-to-assemble furniture along with its Swedish meatballs and its massive bright blue and yellow buildings (after the colors of the Swedish flag).
Joseph Roth, a company spokesman, said Ikea’s mix of exclusive products, along with offering a shopping experience that includes a 450-seat restaurant and a supervised children’s play area, has helped it build a passionate following — much like such retailers as Trader Joe’s, Chick-fil-A and Apple.
“And we are not everywhere and that adds to the cachet,” he said.
Area home furnishing retailers like Nebraska Furniture Mart said they welcomed the competition, saying Ikea should only raise consumer interest in furniture and furnishings.
The Nebraska Furniture Mart opened in Kansas City, Kan., in 2003 and now boasts a 450,000-square-foot showroom and 600,000-square-foot warehouse.
“There’s plenty of business in the Kansas City community for everybody,” said Mark Hamilton, spokesman for Nebraska Furniture Mart. “It’s been a great community for us, and this will expand jobs and economic activity.”
Even before Ikea’s Merriam store was announced two years ago, the company had more than 62,000 Kansas City area customers (based on its database of past purchases). It wanted to give them a store of their own and “fill in the middle” of the country. This spring they were up to more than 90,000 area customers.
Ikea had been planning for opening day traffic for six months, working with law enforcement. Cars filled the store’s 1,200 parking spaces, as well as the former Kmart lot just a few blocks south on Shawnee Mission Parkway. Shuttles took customers to the Ikea store and back.
For most the day, traffic flowed smoothly on city streets surrounding the new store, despite a constant stream of arrivals.
Robert Garcia of Blue Springs, who was recently laid off from his landscaping job, was third in line Monday morning. But after the two women in front of him bailed out, he took the top spot with a “1” painted on his cheek.
He estimated he slept but five hours over the two days. Still, Garcia wanted to be one of the first 40 people in line to win a $399 Ektorp sofa, a prize he plans to give to a couple at his church who are struggling financially.
“I get the good feeling of being able to help someone,” he said.
He led the way inside, past hundreds of Ikea workers striking two thundersticks together for a near-deafening greeting. As he rode up the escalator, the worn-out Garcia broke out in a wide grin with enough energy left to raise his arms in victory.
Behind him were some first-time Ikea shoppers, somewhat taken aback by the store’s size and amount of goods offered — nearly 10,000 items designed and built exclusively for Ikea. The retailer sells sofas, kitchen cabinets, faucets and sinks, baby bibs and cribs, beds and mattresses, dishes, lamps, curtains and blinds, storage bins, candles, towels and bath mats, owl puppets, and much more.
Wanda Bowman of Kansas City, Kan. — glittery bright butterfly wings painted around her eyes — won one of the sofas and was trying out a $49 chair to go with it. She said others talked her into staying the night when she considered turning back for home.
Nakeshia Rowell Flach of Kansas City lined up at 6 p.m. Tuesday for the 64th spot, earning her a $69 Poang armchair, as well as an Ikea gift card. She headed straight for the Alex drawer units she had researched online, units that she will convert into a vanity thanks to instructions from a YouTube video. She’ll be back on Thursday, just to keep her husband company. He had to work Wednesday.
Customers stepped into the 38 “inspirational” room settings and three model-home interiors, testing the comfort of sofas, pulling open drawers for a peek inside, and calling out to friends and families to share their finds. By 11 a.m. many had filled their bright yellow Ikea shopping bags and carts, while others were taking a breather in the restaurant.
Ikea in a box
Who: Funded in 1943, the privately owned Swedish retailer has 362 stores in 45 countries.
What: A 359,000-square-foot store in Merriam.
Local employees: More than 300 full- and part-time workers, including sales, interior design and food service positions.
Corporate sales: $36.89 billion for fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2013.