It’s not exactly the Ikea experience you expect, the famous maze with perfectly styled bedrooms, children’s rooms and kitchens around every corner.
The furniture store in Eskilstuna is what you’d call straightforward. You can take in the entire store at a glance.
But then again, this is not just a regular Ikea franchise: it’s the first second-hand Ikea worldwide. The store opened last November, in the middle of the pandemic. And only now, months later, are we allowed to take a look behind the scenes.
The second-hand Ikea is located in ReTuna Återbruksgalleria, a department store right outside of the town of Eskilstuna that exclusively sells used and patched-up items. Come here and you’ll find vintage clothing, electronics, a toy store. And now also a variant of arguably the most famous furniture store around.
This atypical Ikea covers an area of 72 square metres; just enough room for a set of black bar stools, a Billy bookcase, a Knarrevik bedside table and a colourful accumulation of chairs and desks. As soon as the staff here sells something, they go to the storage downstairs to look for a suitable piece to fill the void, Ikea’s circular business designer Daniel Haltia tells me. “The interior changes about three to five times a day,” he explains. “The dynamics are very different from a regular Ikea. We now have one pink Expedit, for example. If we sell it, something else will take its place.”
Some customers make the trip here weekly in search of their golden nugget. “There is a man whom everyone loves around here. Every few days he comes to see if there might be a CD case for sale. Who still has CDs, I wonder? But he wants to fill his entire wall with these racks.”
The second-hand Ikea. Photo: Henrik Mill/Ikea
The second-hand Ikea is a testing ground for the future. The chain aims to be climate positive by 2030. In ten years’ time, Haltia says, all products must be made from renewable or recycled materials and designed to be reused, resold or recycled.
“How can we develop a supply chain for used furniture? How can we improve logistics, and how do we convince people to go the extra mile and drop off their old furniture? What exactly is needed to give these products a second life in a safe and responsible way? How can we integrate these processes in our business model worldwide?” These are just some of the questions to which the store here, in Eskilstuna, is trying to find answers.
As a global major player, Ikea has a major responsibility too, Haltia says. “Swedes are proud of how well they recycle waste, but at a certain point that is no longer enough. Nowadays this waste is often incinerated – though we need to work towards the reuse of goods and materials.”
A worker inspects furniture handed in at the ReTuna store. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
The ReTuna department store is located right next to a recycling station where anyone can deliver their – in their eyes – old junk. Staff hired by the municipality sort all items that can still be repaired and reused; they know exactly which business owners within the department store are looking for which products.
Used Ikea ware is brought to the Ikea stockroom-cum-repair shop. Here you find hundreds of donated wardrobes, beds and tables. Stacked chairs, cabinets full of crockery, chests filled with shelves and other undefinable boards.
“In ReTuna we work with both donated pieces and items from our own recovery flow,” Haltia says, alluding to for example damaged furniture from regular Ikea stores. “These are products that had otherwise been thrown away. People who come here want to contribute to society, to the environment. They travel for an hour only to give their goods a second life.”
The furniture is cleaned, repaired and at times painted by a few workers from Samhall, a company that helps people who have been outside the labour market for some time to find meaningful work.
“We make sure that the items can be reused,” says Johan Holm, who is polishing a black wardrobe. “So much is thrown away, while often only minor adjustments are required. Some furniture only needs cleaning, others are not assembled properly. Everything has to be in place before it can be resold.”
The second-chance furniture is now sold for around 50 to 60 percent of the original price. The business is not exactly profitable. That, says Haltia, is a challenge. “But this is the only way forward,” he says. “So we need to take that leap of faith and figure out what it takes to make this part of our business model.”
Before summer, all Ikea stores in Sweden are supposed to have a Cirkulärbutik, a circular store. The furniture sold there is given a second chance, either because it comes from an previous assortment or because customers have sold it back to Ikea. The main difference from the Ikea in ReTuna is that the products arriving at the circular store are in a good enough condition to be resold and are not in need of repairs.
Ikea says it gave 47 million products a second life last year.