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IKEA 1971



The Kanter International Business Building Methodology wasn’t created in a conference room forty stories above the real world. It was built on the ground during Steen Kanter’s tenure at IKEA. It’s since been tested and proven in a myriad of businesses around the globe.


IKEA's unparalleled success around the world is founded upon a simple, yet unique, corporate culture based on the company’s roots in southern Sweden known for its poor soil, thrifty attitude, and hard-working people. Stubborn, even. Because you can’t farm thin soils the same way you can a fertile field. You have to work harder, adapt your ideas, and do things differently.

Steen and IKEA grew up together over a 22-year period, where Steen was involved in building IKEA's success in five countries (Denmark, Germany, Austria, Canada, and the United States). From a very early age (25 years old when he started at IKEA), Steen understood the importance of being willing and able to make educated and thoughtful business and people decisions in a fast-paced, nonbureaucratic, growth environment where the primary focus was on driving growth, profitably, and building a strong IKEA brand by seeing everything through the consumers eyes. In the process, coworkers were educated and motivated to go beyond their call of duty to ensure that customers left IKEA with shopping carts full of home furnishings and smiles. IKEA's vision remains the same as it was back then, “To create a better everyday life for the many people.” 

To successfully deliver on its vision, IKEA sold home furnishings of good quality, design, and function at prices so low that people kept coming back and became loyal IKEA ambassadors. IKEA couldn’t achieve this by selling fully assembled furniture. Enter the signature flat-pack, self-assembly design. Flat-pack furniture saved the company money in manufacturing, assembly, and distribution and made it easier for customers to transport their home furnishings in their cars. IKEA's signature flat-pack, self-assembly design wasn't born in the marketing department. It was a creative solution to a business problem. 

Steen quickly learned that logical, creative, and revenue-driving solutions to business opportunities could only happen with a solid brand foundation and a buy-in from everyone in the company. Nothing ever happens by chance.

Steen’s IKEA lessons have served as a template and blue print for Kanter International. Since starting the company in 1998, Kanter International has collaborated closely with more than 150 clients in North America, Europe, Asia, Middle East, and Australia to provide the leadership tools and assistance to allow them to build their business and brands, successfully. Clients (mostly long-term) vary in size from startups to global businesses with multi-billions in revenue. In the process, Steen teaches his clients to become solution finders rather than problem seekers. Just like the farmers is southern Sweden.

You Bought a What? (AKA - the world's first pop-up store)

It was 1977 and Steen Kanter had just opened the first IKEA store in Austria. Austria, at that time, had strict store laws regulating the times and days retail establishments could be open. No retail businesses were allowed to open during the evening, on Saturday afternoon, or on Sunday. Steen was trying to figure out a way to make it possible for Austrians to shop off hours, but he wasn’t sure of how to do it.  

Then Steen and his marketing team found a loophole in the laws, a holdover from horse-and-carriage days when milk and supplies arrived by rail car, that stated if a business was associated with the railroad, it could operate outside of the closing time restraints.

So, Steen bought a train. "We were always looking for opportunities. The train was a consequence and example of how we thought outside the box to reach the consumer. Always on the edge, funky, and fun. A new way of getting close to the consumer because it was good for business.” Steen said.

He and his team created a different showroom in each rail car: kitchen, living room, and bedroom. And, just like that, IKEA was the only retail shop in Austria open on Sundays. The train became a "living catalog” where consumers could come to view the products, order the ones they wanted, and have them shipped to their homes. 

We like it when a plan comes together, but we love it when a plan falls apart.

Mistakes are going to happen. The key is to not let them bury you. Steen and his team experienced a catalog printing snafu, which left them with not enough catalogs. They decided, instead of printing more (it was the 70s people), to ask their consumers for help. They ran a full page ad explaining their error and asking people to bring any extra catalogs they had at home to the IKEA store. In the following days, 17,000 catalogs were delivered to the store by consumers. Consumers who may or may not have been planning a trip to the store prior to seeing the ad. Consumers who were probably happy to help a company that created an everyday better life for them. 

It seems like everyone’s talking about IKEA this Christmas

Steen Kanter has been waking up every day for over forty years thinking about how to solve consumers’ problems while enhancing a company’s brand and increasing their profit. 

A prime example of this strategy is when Steen decided one Christmas in Austria to start leasing Christmas trees to IKEA customers.

Customers would come to IKEA to pick out their tree. A trip they may not have otherwise made. Once they found a tree, they signed the lease agreement, paid $10, and took their tree home. The proud tree-leasers enjoyed their tree throughout the holiday and told their leasing story to a few friends and family members when the discussion turned to how lovely their tree was. After the holiday, they made another trip to the store to return the tree. There they got to watch their tree become mulch, and IKEA then gave them $5 and a bag of mulch, as per the lease agreement. 

That first year IKEA leased 14,000 trees. Over the course of the next five years, tree leasing spread across Europe to other IKEA locations. Over 500,000 trees were leased in all.