Make us your home page
Instagram

Employees at Tampa's first Ikea getting psyched for opening

Cashier Lauren Jones, center, surrounded by co-workers, dances Tuesday during training at the new Ikea store in Tampa.

MARTHA RIAL | Times

Cashier Lauren Jones, center, surrounded by co-workers, dances Tuesday during training at the new Ikea store in Tampa.

TAMPA

To psyche up 400 new employees during a team-building exercise at Tampa's first Ikea, a group of employees launched into a cheer Tuesday sung to the theme of SpongeBob SquarePants.

With apologies to the cartoon character, the group called the "Swedish Fish" erupted on cue, saluting its gummi candy namesake that is sold near the registers.

"Who comes from Sweden and lives in the sea?

"Who is chewy and gooey and sticks to your teeth?

"If something sweet is what you wish,

"Grab a bag and chomp on a delicious fish.

"Swedish Fish! Swedish Fish! Swedish Fish!"

It was all part of a spirited exercise Tuesday as the new Ikea workers — dressed for the first time in screaming yellow Ikea shirts — were run through an unusual training program to oversee the chain's 37th store in the United States.

Located on 22nd Street at Adamo Drive, the store may be on the edge of Ybor City, Tampa's Latin quarter, but the training ensures this will be a small patch of Sweden — inside and out.

Decked out in colors from the Swedish flag, the store, which opens May 6, celebrates its home country. Many products are named for Scandinavian towns. The cafeteria specialties are Swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam. The customer experience is a model of Swedish practicality, sleek design and efficiency.

But on the other side of the register, employees have been schooled in Swedish culture and customs that shaped the history and expectations of their employer, the world's largest furniture maker, which has grown in five years from revenue of $8.1 billion to $27.9 billion spread over 36 countries.

"We work hard and we have fun, but we want to be sure employees understand our values and heritage as well as all aspects of the business," said store manager Monica Varela, who started training hand-picked managers five months ago and the rank and file three weeks ago. "We want them to know all departments, so they don't necessarily settle into one job."

It's quite European. The worker break rooms dish out only Swedish coffee. The back halls are decorated with motivational Swedish sayings. Pay starts above minimum wage, but employees are guaranteed a full meal each shift for $3, plus full medical and dental benefits all the way down to 19-hour-a-week part-timers.

The company flew new department managers off to work in other Ikeas in Arizona, Massachusetts and Virginia a week at a time. Experts were flown in to dish out product information and how-to knowledge.

The staff will be augmented with 75 "imports" from other stores for mentoring the first month. During the past month, hourly workers assembled all the furniture, graphics and extensive displays that change seasonally.

But over that period they also were peppered with presentations in "Swedishness" in enough hourlong sessions to equal a full day, plus other sessions on company rituals, products and strategies.

Much of it was Ikea-speak: "open wallet areas" (spots filled with value-priced goods under $20) that tempt shoppers to fill up the free yellow shoulder bags passed out at the door. That's not to be confused with the BTIs — "breathtaking items," typically housewares priced at $5 or less to prod them to swap the bags for a shopping cart. For the final swing, customers are led to grab multiwheel dollies to fill with ready-to-assemble furniture that comes flat-packed and weighs less than 50 pounds apiece.

Just before the registers, Ikea stacks high HBI — Ikea's historical bestselling items — for a fresh audience in Tampa: Billy Bookcases, Poang chairs and Lack side tables.

But the company preaches throughout the experience the personal virtues of self-sufficiency: enthusiasm, togetherness, humility, willpower, leadership, diversity and family first.

Never known for training workers except on the job and on what they sell, retailers on average dedicate about seven hours training new hires. Ikea spends about 10 times that at new stores. Plus there is a full-day refresher course after one year and week-long advanced retreats after the second and third years.

To be sure, workers are battle-ready for grand opening mobs, as the Tampa hourly workers worked at stores in Orlando on busy weekends.

"About the only retailer that goes this far in training is Nordstrom," said Bart Weitz, director of the retailing programs at the University of Florida. "And it's reflected in Ikea's turnover rate."

Ikea turns over less than 30 percent of its payroll annually in an industry where 100 percent or more is common.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

What's next

Ikea starts letting shoppers camp out at its new Tampa store at 9 a.m. Monday to line up for the May 6 grand opening day prizes.

FAST FACTS

Ikea: some history

1943: Founder Ingvar Kamprad sells seeds, cards and holiday decorations as a 17-year-old.

1945: Names business Ikea using initials of his name, farm and village, then adds pens and jewelry. Furniture comes in 1948 and catalog in 1951.

1953: Opens a showroom so buyers can witness the quality, but no store until 1958.

1957: Seizes on ready-to-assemble furniture to cut costs when a clerk unscrews table legs to fit in a customer's car.

1961: Uses particle board to cut the price of a sofa.

1976: Poang chair debuts with laminated wood arms and fabric.

1980: Machine-washable sofa.

1985: First U.S. store in Philadelphia.

1997: Ikea.com launched.

2009: Retired at 83 but still a force in privately owned Ikea, Kamprad listed by Forbes as fifth-wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of $22 billion.

Source: Ikea Group

Employees at Tampa's first Ikea getting psyched for opening 04/28/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 30, 2009 2:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming

    Roads

    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]
  2. A sports rout on Wall Street

    Retail

    NEW YORK — Sporting goods retailers can't shake their losing streak.

  3. Grocery chain Aldi hosting hiring event in Brandon Aug. 24

    Retail

    BRANDON — German grocery chain Aldi is holding a hiring event for its Brandon store Aug. 24. It is looking to fill store associate, shift manager and manager trainee positions.

  4. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters

    Corporate

    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]
  5. Trigaux: Look to new Inc. 5000 rankings for Tampa Bay's future heavyweights

    Business

    There's a whole lotta fast-growing private companies here in Tampa Bay. Odds are good you have not heard of most of them.

    Yet.

    Kyle Taylor, CEO and founder of The Penny Hoarder, fills a glass for his employees this past Wednesday as the young St. Petersburg personal advice business celebrates its landing at No. 25 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the country. Taylor, still in his 20s, wins kudos from executive editor Alexis Grant for keeping the firm's culture innovative. The business ranked No. 32 last year. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]