Hyderabad me kya kiya? IKEA!

Logged into a call with a journalist, I was driven into a surprisingly empty IKEA parking basement in Hyderabad Thurs morning at 9:40AM. I was happy with my own gaming of the moment – One week into the frenzied opening, one day after I-Day, good call to know that crowds would be lesser, even more so if you land up a little before Opening time. A curious collection of East Asian visitors, Caucasians, and Hyderabadis strolled in just behind me and the crowd of 50 or so mulled over breakfast options, awaiting the store opening at 10.

I was done with b’fast prior, else would’ve dived in (mini croissants for Rs.10!!) Continuing with the call as the banner was opened at 10AM to let us in, I strolled down to pick up one of the trademark Yellow IKEA Bags. Good call! With my propensity to pick up random things, at least it curbed my basket size. There’s something about the visual appeal and the walk-through of physical retail, and especially an IKEA store!

There was a post that I recalled from 2013 posted by Pankaj, who was then at 500 Startups. I managed to mine that thread out today. (The Blume Ventures reply on the thread was mine – I used to single-handedly handle that handle for a few years at the beginning). It was just about the time that IKEA announced its deeper preparation for the inevitable India launch. Will leave you to draw your own conclusions from that discussion.

But I’ve had a different monologue for over 10 years now; since 2006, when I returned from my US stint and after selling / donating a bunch of furniture, that included a lot of IKEA stuff, and bringing a handful of IKEA things home to Mumbai, some of which we still use!

IKEA will be the inflection point and infiltration point of functional design thinking into the average Indian household.

Nothing I’ve seen so far comes close to giving this a fair chance at this scale. Its embarrassing at one level that we had to wait this long and wait for an IKEA to bring this to every proverbial doorstep. But I’m glad it’s finally beginning. India has some outstanding design history and aesthetic at many levels. While I’m no expert at this history, I witness it in every corner of the country. And yet, when we weren’t paying enough attention to bringing into the daily mainstream, regions like Scandinavia and countries like Japan drove that into daily living. We may have been fighting the important battle of solving for basic uplifting of our people post-independence but it’s still no excuse for having left design behind as a beleaguered luxury. Our ‘chaltha hain’ and ‘jugaad’ and cutting-corners thinking jeopardizes further hampers design thinking. It works well when every stakeholder in design is educated on the end goal of functional design, not just the well-heeled traveller and the upper class customer.

  • My gut is that the IKEA core of selling functionality + design + price will rock for them in India.
  • Given an Indian culture of preserving things for a long duration, and recycling / reselling, there will be an IKEA value chain that will eventually penetrate to even those classes and massed who find a new IKEA furniture item expensive today.
  • Given smaller urban confines, younger buyers and new workers, long retention periods for furniture, it may not be furniture that flies out of the store in bulk, but the smaller things that will move faster at IKEA.
  • Will we see hordes of daily pickup trucks eventually at every IKEA that will be smaller towns shopping entire rooms from IKEA one shot.
  • I don’t know the revenue mix in other countries, but after strolling through the store and looking at the price points, I think the sub-1000 Rs SKUs will scale incredibly well in India.

I will leave you to discover IKEA for yourself, especially if you’ve never experienced it overseas. Let’s just say the images give you a few clues of what to expect – free wi-fi, a 1000 seater dining area, dining room chair design that allow for easy cleaning, and many other discoveries. There will be parallels to how well thought out everything is – Indigo Airlines is the closest I’ve seen in India, in terms of attention to detail of this kind.

I finally walked out at 11am sharp, with just one large paper bag, 4700 Rs of goods packed into it, almost 20 different little things, and stepped out into a beautiful drizzly Hyderabadi morning. Just after the check out counter, I didn’t forget to pack 6 Samosas and 2 Cinnamon Buns (Rs 10 and Rs 35 each) for my next meeting down the road – our co-investors and the founders @NowFloats.

Needless to say, my recommendation for anyone who visits Hyderabad and is interested in design, commerce, consumer experience, retail, food retail, crowds, walking tours, there is now an IKEA to add to your 9:45 Gachhibowli arrival (where the store is). While the rest of the stores take time to come to life (I hear Navi Mumbai is next and the online store right after), I won’t be surprised if IKEA becomes a Top 10 Hyderabad tourist destination for the next 5 years.