Flat-pack empire: Five things to know about Ingvar Kamprad and Ikea

The late Ingvar Kamprad's legacy can be seen in the Billy, meatballs and a catalogue nearly as popular as the Bible.

Flat-pack empire: Five things to know about Ingvar Kamprad and Ikea
A shopper walks outside the Ikea store in Kungens Kurva near Stockholm, the furniture giant's largest store in Europe. Photo: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP
Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of furniture giant Ikea, has died at the age of 91. Here are five things to know about the late Swedish entrepreneur and his empire of flat-pack furniture and meatballs:
1. What does Ikea stand for?
Ikea, one of the most ubiquitous acronyms in the business world, stands for Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd.
Elmtaryd is the name of Kamprad's family farm in Småland, a small southern Swedish province known for its thrifty attitude and hard-working people, and Agunnaryd is the town where Kamprad grew up.
Ikea's value has tripled since 2000 and is now worth $18.5 billion (€14.9 billion, 145 billion kronor), according to global brand consultancy Interbrand's 2017 rankings — two spots behind fellow Swedish giant H&M.
2. Trouble with taxes
After founding the company at 17, Kamprad's own wealth grew to an estimated at €37.3 billion ($46 billion, 362 billion kronor) in 2017, according to the Swiss economic magazine Bilan.
Despite his enormous success, Kamprad's modest spending habits bordered on the obsessive and in 1973 he fled Sweden's higher tax structure for Denmark, before seeking even lower taxes in Switzerland.
He returned to Sweden in 2014, paying six million kronor ($760,000, €610,000) in taxes. Most of his wealth was held in other assets.
Last year, the European Commission announced that it had launched an investigation into Ikea's tax deals in the Netherlands.
Ikea insists that it complies fully with tax regulations, saying in a 2017 report: “The tax we pay is an important part of our wider economic and social impact.”
3. Best-selling catalogue
First distributed in 1951, Ikea now sends 250 million copies of its catalogue to more than 50 markets in 30 languages, putting it alongside the Bible as one of the world's most popular books.
The 2018 edition was sent to three million households in Sweden, which has a population of 10 million.
Ikea sparked controversy in 2012 when women and girls were airbrushed out of pictures in its Saudi Arabian catalogue, prompting a strong response from Swedes, who pride themselves on egalitarian policies and a narrow gender gap.
4. Billy, the star bookcase
Ikea's revolutionary self-assembly model was conceived in 1956 after an employee suggested table legs be removed so the package would fit into a car.
Using the same principle, the iconic Billy bookcase comes in a flat pack along with an assembly guide and the necessary tools. Designed by Gillis Lundgren in 1979, tens of millions of Billy bookcases have been bought — and Ikea still sells one every 10 seconds.
5. Meatballs
The food portion of Ikea's empire, which includes in-store restaurants and grocery stores, generated €1.8 billion in sales last year.
The company's trademark item is traditional Swedish meatballs, but it also serves 100 million cups of coffee each year.


Ikea will buy back your used furniture at up to half the price

In the run-up to what would in normal times be the festive season sales rush, Ikea has vowed to buy back used furniture from customers to resell – and pay up to 50 percent of the original price.

Ikea will buy back your used furniture at up to half the price
Got any pieces of Ikea furniture at home? You may be able to get rid of it and get money back. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Ikea, the world's largest furniture chain, said Tuesday it would begin buying back used furniture from customers to resell – and pay up to 50 percent of the original price.

The “Buy Back Friday” scheme, timed to coincide with the “Black Friday” pre-Christmas retail frenzy, will run from November 24th and until December 3rd in 27 countries.

“Rather than buy things you don't need this Black Friday, we want to help customers give their furniture a second life instead of making an impulse buy,” said Stefan Vanoverbeke, deputy retail operations manager at Ingka Group, Ikea's parent company.

To address concerns its affordable, flat-pack products encourage overconsumption and waste, the Swedish company had previously said it would start renting and recycling furniture as part of an eco-drive.

Under its buyback scheme, the group said that “anything that can't be resold will be recycled or donated to community projects to help those most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“Some countries like Australia and Canada for example are currently testing different buyback services, but BuyBack Friday will be the first time that 27 countries do this together,” the statement added.

The Swedish giant employs over 217,000 people and has more than 50 outlets. Its annual turnover is around 40 billion euros ($46 billion).

The group did not specify how it would determine the price paid for second-hand furniture and customers will receive a voucher, not cash, for their products.  

As part of efforts to reduce waste, Ikea has already begun repairing and re-packaging products in every store that have been damaged in transit, as well as allowing customers to return products – including furniture – for resale or donation to charities.