Ikea. Say no more

Thousands of Winnipeg adults will be reminded for the next six weeks what it was like to be a child waiting for Santa Claus.

And that never-ending anxious itch won’t be scratched until Nov. 28 – the day that IKEA will finally throw open the doors to its highly-anticipated Winnipeg store.

The arrival of the Swedish furniture maker is arguably the biggest event in Winnipeg’s retail history since Timothy Eaton built his famous store on Portage Avenue in 1905.

“The excitement is building,” says Stephen Bobko, manager of the nearly 400,000-square-foot location.

(Despite the share of wallet that IKEA will no doubt garner, there is one area where it will never touch Eaton’s. Canadian Magazine estimated in the late 1960s that Winnipeggers spent 50 cents of every shopping dollar, excluding groceries, at Eaton’s.)

Employees from other IKEA stores from around the world are putting the finishing touches on the focal point of the Seasons of Tuxedo retail development.

They’re putting together 55 display rooms and stocking the store with thousands of items as Bobko finalizes the hiring of his 350-member team.

This is the first expansion by IKEA into a new market in Canada in three decades – the last one was Montreal in 1982 – and will be its 13th store in Canada.

It’s also possible that it could be the most enthusiastically received. It’s not that customers in other markets weren’t happy to have IKEA move in but Winnipeggers have been clamouring for the retailer of do-it-yourself furniture for more than 20 years. In fact, part of the reason usually given for IKEA’s reluctance to christen Winnipeg was because the catalogue business from the Manitoba capital was so strong.

Even though the late-November opening has the potential for bone-chilling temperatures and high wind chills, it’s widely expected there will be a large number of people camping out overnight – probably for several nights – before the doors open for the first time so they can get the door-crasher specials.

Robert Warren, a Winnipeg-based marketing expert and professor at the University of North Dakota, says it’s difficult to come up with the right superlatives to describe IKEA’s arrival but he’ll go with “huge.”

“There has been such a demand for bringing IKEA to Winnipeg, from Facebook pages to the passionate response when (its arrival) was announced, to the way people follow the construction,” he says.

There will be short and long-term consequences from IKEA’s arrival, says Warren. The first will be “sheer traffic bedlam” along Kenaston Boulevard and Sterling Lyon Parkway for weeks and possibly months.

At the same time, he predicts other furniture stores will see a significant decline in their traffic. The lower sales could be particularly pronounced at EQ3, which describes as IKEA’s closest competitor.

In the long run, however, Warren is confident IKEA will increase the size of the city’s furniture pie.

“Initially, you’ll see a big movement to the new retailer because of pent-up demand. My guess is people who have bought online or though the catalogue are waiting to go live to the store. They want the IKEA experience,” he says.

“Longer term, IKEA will create a bigger demand. You’ll see the rising tide theory. Consumers will do comparisons. As they get excited about a certain style, if they can’t find it at one location, they’ll start looking for competitors. If they find a better fit at the competitor, they’ll buy it there.”

But furniture isn’t the only sector IKEA has the potential to impact. With a restaurant seating about 650 people and serving a wide variety of meals, including – what else? Swedish meatball – family-oriented eateries could also feel the pinch.

For example, Bobko says a family of four can have dinner at IKEA, including a meal and a drink, for less than $20. The company loves to say it can provide meals for less than it costs to make them at home.

(And the restaurant isn’t a loss leader at each IKEA store either. Because of the massive volume that each one churns out, they generate a profit.)

Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, says there’s no question that some of his members are worried about IKEA taking away marketshare.

“More than 600 seats is a lot of competition. We’re excited that IKEA thinks there are opportunities here but I know their arrival will make things difficult for some (restaurateurs),” he says.

Having been to IKEA locations in other cities, Jocelyn says he has always been amazed by the sheer number of people who visit the store just to eat.


Renée Alexander is a Winnipeg-based writer.

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