Aug. 25--The crisp, new sofas beckon to be tried out. The model homes, outfitted to the last accessory, appear move-in ready. And the restaurant, fully stocked, awaits the tastebuds of the expected throngs of customers.
IKEA Miami will open its doors Wednesday in Sweetwater, the behemoth Swedish home furnishings retailer's 39th store in the United States. Under construction for more than a year, the store is IKEA's largest on the East Coast and its second-largest nationwide, after the one in Schaumburg, Illinois.
At the retailer's first store in Miami-Dade County, the merchandise tags and signs are printed in both Spanish and English. Outdoor furniture will remain on display year-round, and palm trees will be featured among the live plants for sale.
The store's restaurant, with windows overlooking Florida's Turnpike, will be its biggest in the United States, with room for 600 patrons to dine on IKEA's Swedish meatballs, gravad lax salmon, or 99-cent eggs-bacon-and-hash browns breakfasts. And unlike the IKEA in Sunrise, the overhead screens with photos of menu items will show the calorie counts along with the prices -- 690 calories for the Swedish meatball dinner, 1,650 for half a rack of baby back ribs with fries and cornbread, 390 for Swedish pancakes and Lingonberry jam.
With the opening, Miami-Dade residents will gain closer access to IKEA's 10,000 exclusively designed items, including sofas, chairs, kitchen utensils and lighting, at the retailer's renowned low prices. At the same time, IKEA will fling wide open its doors to Latin America and the Caribbean -- welcoming all the visitors who fly to Miami to shop.
"There is so much logic for them to come to South Florida, both for the residents and the access to the Caribbean and South America," said retail consultant Cynthia Cohen, president of Strategic Mindshare. "People still come with suitcases and pack them up, and they still load up a container of furniture and ship it to wherever. And IKEA is going to be able to take advantage of that."
The Sweetwater store, at 1801 NW 117th Ave., near the Dolphin Mall, will be IKEA's second in South Florida -- after Sunrise, which opened in 2007 -- and its fourth in Florida. The others are in Tampa and Orlando.
"We're obviously very bullish on South Florida," said IKEA spokesman Joseph Roth, who is based in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. "We think it's a very large customer base for IKEA, and there are many customers in Miami-Dade that haven't made it up to Sunrise yet."
$100 MILLION STORE
IKEA has invested more than $100 million to open its first store in Miami-Dade County, the culmination of a more than decade-long effort. IKEA had been searching since 2002 for a site before it bought the Sweetwater property in November 2012 from Procacci Development Corp., based in Boca Raton. IKEA paid $31.5 million for the land, Procacci Chief Executive Philip J. Procacci said at the groundbreaking in May 2013.
At 416,000 square feet, the store is more than 100,000 square feet larger than the 293,000-square-foot Sunrise store, with most of the additional space devoted to a massive self-serve warehouse to accommodate anticipated demand, said store manager Selwyn Crittendon. There, shoppers can pick up an array of furniture that comes unassembled in flat boxes.
"When anyone is shopping, the expectation now is instant gratification, and that is what we can provide," Crittendon said. "You see a bed and you can take it home that same day."
Crittendon, a 12-year IKEA employee who has worked in Virginia and Orlando, was named store manager in July 2013. He has since hired 375 employees who have been training, building furniture, tagging merchandise and arranging displays for the opening day.
The goal he said, was to find people who have "a passion for home furnishings and to help people have better lives." English was a must, bilingual preferred, he said.
IKEA prides itself on the benefits it gives employees, including tuition assistance, a 401(k) match, bonuses and professional development. The company also recently announced a new "living wage," pegged to the cost of living in each U.S. location, which goes into effect in January 2015. Sweetwater's lowest-wage employees, who compose nearly half the staff, will be bumped up to $10.79 from $9.29.
The hoopla will begin even before IKEA opens at 9 a.m. Wednesday -- proclaimed IKEA Day by Miami-Dade County. Cuban coffee will be served beginning at 6 a.m. The Swedish, U.S. and Florida flags will be raised at about 8:20 a.m. And as part of the celebration, Sweetwater Mayor Jose M. Diaz and Crittendon will saw a log -- a Swedish custom to christen a home, aimed at bringing good luck to the people who live there and to future visitors, Roth said.
Some diehard IKEA lovers are expected to camp out long before the doors open. IKEA will allow customers to get in line up to 48 hours before the grand opening, under a covered space adjacent to the doors. Portable bathrooms will be provided.
It may require camping out to be the first customers in line to vie for freebies, including an Ektorp sofa for each of the first 39 adults in line, a Poang armchair for the next 100 adults, and a Famnig heart-shaped soft toy for the first 100 children. Also, the first 2,500 adults will receive a prize envelope with an IKEA gift card worth $10 to $250 or a "Buy One, Get One Free" voucher for cinnamon buns, hotdogs or frozen yogurt.
Lovita Richardson said she would be among the shoppers on opening day, searching for two chairs or a loveseat to match the slip-covered IKEA Ektorp sofa she bought eight years ago.
"I do like IKEA products very much, and it's closer to where I live," said Richardson, of Northwest Miami-Dade. "It's good for me all the way around."
Founded 71 years ago in Älmhult, Sweden, the privately owned IKEA is the world's largest home-furnishings retailer, with 361 stores in 45 countries.
Last year, the company generated $36.9 billion in revenue globally, including $4.37 billion in the United States, its second-largest market after Germany, Roth said.
Furniture Today, a weekly trade newspaper based in High Point, North Carolina, that covers the home-furnishings industry, ranks IKEA as No. 2 on its list of Top 100 furniture stores in the United States, after Ashley Furniture Home Stores.
"The trigger most times to go to IKEA is a new apartment or a major change -- fitting out the baby's room, changing the guest room into a home office," Cohen said. "That is a lot of the sweet spot of their customer, based on a major event in the home or a business start-up or moving to a bigger space for your office."
In Miami-Dade, she expects IKEA to deliver fresh competition to such stores as CB2; Crate and Barrel; Pottery Barn; Bed, Bath and Beyond; and the Container Store.
"Generally, IKEA offers the cheapest price in do-it-yourself furniture," Cohen said. "Nobody has the wide selection that they have at such a low price point."
Yet, despite its almost cult-like following, IKEA has received some criticism for the difficulty of its do-it-yourself instructions. In December 2008, a Consumer Reports reviewer spent most of an evening assembling an IKEA table and two chairs, and said that though he read all the instructions -- "pictorial diagrams intended to be universally decipherable," he found "the process was still not as easy as it looked." But in the end, he said his daughter "loved her new table and chairs, and they cost less than assembled furniture."
In terms of quality, Consumer Reports has given solid ratings on various IKEA items, including a "Best buy" and 90 (on a scale of 100) to its Ledare E26 LED1014G9 light bulb; an 83 to its Sundvik crib; a 60 to its Framtid over-the-range microwave; a 59 to its Energisk B18W refrigerator; and 58 to its Sultan Holmsta innerspring mattress.
While Cohen expects Miami to prove to be a good market for IKEA, she said the company may experience some culture shock.
"Like a lot of retailers coming into the market, they will have some surprises, which could mean missteps, because it will just take them awhile to recognize it's a very international market -- but yet it's not like other international cities like New York, for instance, or L.A. It goes to its own rhythm," Cohen said. "There is a huge cultural difference between the Swedish culture and the Hispanic-influenced culture of South Florida."
Located adjacent to the Dolphin Mall, IKEA is laid out as a four-story building, with the first two levels containing 1,500 parking spaces. Customers take an elevator or escalator to the upper level and enter the "Showroom," a massive space packed with room displays and furniture of all styles, shapes and sizes for the living room, dining room, home office, kitchen and bedroom. The restaurant is also on that floor.
One level down is the "Marketplace," chock full of lighting, closet-organization and kitchen items, towels, bath accessories, pillows, rugs, artwork, stuffed animals, picture frames, plants and more. Items in the Marketplace can be loaded directly into a cart.
IKEA Miami is the first in the United States to have an area within the Marketplace with paper items, including wrapping paper, paper plates, gift bags and party decorations. The offerings will be rolled out to stores nationwide by the end of this year, Roth said.
The new store, which has South Florida's largest solar array, is designed with an open feeling, topped with industrial ceilings up to 39 feet high that reveal exposed pipes.
"Because of the size of the store, we have more flexibility and can show more items in different colors and combinations," Crittendon said.
The Marketplace spills out to a giant self-serve pick-up area, with floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with all the sofas, chairs, tables, mattresses and other furniture in flat packs, ready for shoppers to load up and take home.
All of IKEA's goods will be trucked in daily from the company's southeastern distribution center in Savannah, Georgia. Each product notes a country of origin; items are made in 54 countries, including the United States, Poland, China, Vietnam, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.
Like other IKEA stores, the one in Sweetwater will also offer a Swedish food market, with crispbread, frozen crayfish, salmon, meatballs and pancakes, chocolate bars, sodas, Lingonberry preserves, cookies and other items. Nearby, a bistro will serve 50-cent hot dogs as well as pizza slices, cinnamon buns and frozen yogurt.
IKEA prides itself on kid-friendliness, with a supervised play area where parents can drop off kids for up to 45 minutes -- or a half-hour longer if they are "family members" of IKEA's free loyalty program. Children must meet certain height restrictions -- 37 inches to 54 inches tall.
Inside the playroom, called "Smaland," kids will find tables for arts and crafts, a big Swedish clog, pretend trees in a "Magical forest," and a huge ball pit where they can jump among plastic balls. Movies will be shown on a huge TV screen, and the sounds of animals and insects will permeate the space.
Certain other areas of the store, including the restaurant, also have interactive play areas for kids.
During a private tour of the store, every inch of the Showroom's sales floor appeared ready for the rush of customers. Forty-four room settings were set up, complete to the last detail, with prices for entire settings.
Three model home interiors are also on display, each representing a different living situation. All are chock full of merchandise, showing an optimal use of space, with storage up to the ceiling. One has 590 square feet, with a photo of a Hispanic father and son. Another offers 270 square feet for a single surfer guy, and a third has 380 square feet, depicting the home of a young Hispanic couple.
"We have to make sure we are hitting all lifestyles," Crittendon said.
IKEA also offers several kitchen settings, each complete with cabinets, counter tops, sinks, faucets and all appliances, which are made by Whirlpool for IKEA. Many of the kitchens are attached to family room settings.
"Basically, it's giving you an idea of how you can do this in your own home," Crittendon said.
Furnishing styles run from contemporary and modern to traditional. Many of the upholstered items come in a range of colors and fabrics. Some furnishings cater to teenagers, others to babies or kids. Small-business owners can also find furniture to outfit their offices and seating areas.
Among IKEA's most popular items are bookcases in different colors and finishes, with names like Besta or Billy. And at the new store, Crittendon expects top items to include the Kallax shelving unit and the Soderham sofa, which comes in a variety of colors, including turquoise.
Prices reflect IKEA's mission of affordability, with desk chairs ranging from $19.99 to $199; dining chairs from $12.50 to $119; bar stools from $16.99 to $169.
In the Marketplace, options abound for accessories, even for under $5. There are vegetable peelers, pizza cutters and picture frames for 99 cents, placemats for $1.99, a set of measuring spoons for $2.99, tongs for $3.99.
"I want people to see the different variety of what we have to offer," Crittendon said.
Shopping for furniture at IKEA can be a time-consuming, step-by-step process. Customers enter the store and pick up a map, shopping list, pencil and paper tape measure. Then, they loop through the enormous showroom in a seemingly endless maze, though shortcuts are available. When customers find the items they want, they need to jot down the names and locations as marked on the merchandise tags or use an IKEA smartphone app. Once the shopping list is finished, customers head downstairs to the self-serve warehouse, find the items by aisle and bin number, load up a flat cart and pay.
IKEA will also deliver merchandise the same or next day, starting at $59, depending on the ZIP code. The flat price covers an unlimited amount of merchandise. And for $99, customers can choose "pick and deliver." They select their items, pay for them, and then hand the list to an IKEA employee who will pull the merchandise and have it delivered.
"You can do as little or as much as you like at IKEA, and that is where the savings comes in," Crittendon said. "You can do it yourself, you can do home delivery, or we can do it with pick and delivery service."
For kitchen purchases, IKEA offers three levels of service, which can include in-home measuring, planning, design and installation.
Home assembly of furniture is also available for a fee, starting at $40. Cohen said she expects a "cottage industry" to develop around the new store as entrepreneurs offer assembly services.
At the new Sweetwater store, IKEA also expects to handle orders for export. IKEA's Sunrise store already has a sizable export business, servicing export orders headed to Latin America and the Caribbean, Roth said, while declining to provide figures.
Among the buyers are boutique hotel developers that place volume orders of bedding, furniture, lighting and accessories; residential developers that order entire kitchens, furnishings, lighting and accessories for apartments and homes, and business owners that outfit commercial spaces. Buying agents, who are basically personal shoppers, also fill orders for export, from furniture to accessories, Roth said.
IKEA executives believe the South Florida market is big enough to handle two stores.
"I am so happy we can bring IKEA Miami closer to the residents of Miami-Dade -- the ones who shopped in Sunrise, or didn't shop because it's so far away, or those that have never shopped IKEA," Crittendon said. "I am looking forward to meeting all of those new customers."
IKEA Miami at a glance
Address: 1801 NW 117th Ave., Sweetwater
Opening: 9 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 27.
Store size: 416,000 square feet -- IKEA's largest store on the East Coast and the second-largest in the United States
Parking spaces: 1,500; 64 spaces for loading vehicles
Restaurant: 600 seats, the largest in the United States
Inside the store: 10,000 exclusive items, 44 room settings, three model homes, a supervised play area, 26 conventional checkouts
Store hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
What went into building IKEA Miami
Cubic yards of imported material (dirt/fill): 50,000
Precast concrete pieces: 2,820
Tons of structural steel/joists: 2,770
Square yards of asphalt paving: 13,000
Auger cast piles: 2,470
Cubic yards of concrete (total -- foundations, site concrete, topping slabs, pavement): 22,500
Square feet of composite metal panels (blue/yellow): 103,000 square feet of blue and 14,700 square feet of yellow
Light fixtures: 8,500
Linear feet of copper wiring/cabling: 1,535,000
Tons of concrete-reinforcing steel: 1,050
IKEA says its new Sweetwater store has the largest rooftop solar array in South Florida. And IKEA is the state's largest non-utility solar owner.
The 178,000-square-foot solar array consists of a 1,178-kW system, built with 4,620 panels, and will produce about 1,738,876 kWh of electricity annually for the store, the equivalent of reducing 1,227 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) -- equal to the emissions of 256 cars or providing electricity for 169 homes yearly. (Equivalents based on the EPA's calculator.)
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
IKEA's name comes from Ingvar Kamprad, the founder, who grew up on a farm called Elmtaryd in the parish Agunnaryd in Southern Sweden.
(c)2014 The Miami Herald
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Original headline: IKEA brings megastore (and its meatballs) to Miami area
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