How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness

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By Michele Koh Morollo
To create a better everyday life for the many people—such was the vision of Ingvar Kamprad, who founded IKEA when he was only 17.

On January 28, 2018, Ingvar Kamprad passed away peacefully in his home at the age of 91. Born in 1926 in Småland, a province in southern Sweden, Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943 when he was just 17, revolutionizing the home furnishing industry in a big way.

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 1 of 14 - Ingvar Kamprad's motto and the ethos that guides the IKEA brand

Ingvar Kamprad's motto and the ethos that guides the IKEA brand

IKEA—whose name is an acronym of Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd (his family farm), and Agunnaryd (his home village)—followed an economic crisis in Sweden that instilled thrift, resourcefulness, and resilience as national virtues. By offering simplicity and value—and improving the design, manufacturing, and distribution of furniture and homes accessories—Kamprad made it easier and more convenient for everyone to live well in affordably and smartly furnished homes.

At first, IKEA was a mail-order service selling wares such as Christmas cards, seeds, fountain pens, wallets, picture frames, table runners, watches, jewelry, and nylon stockings. Local furniture makers in the Småland region prompted Kamprad to enter the competition in that field. 

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 2 of 14 - An exhibit on Kamprad's early entrepreneurial pursuits at the IKEA Museum

An exhibit on Kamprad's early entrepreneurial pursuits at the IKEA Museum

In The IKEA Story by journalist Bertil Torekull, Kamprad recounts an appeal he submitted to the farmers' national weekly paper. "You must have noticed that it is not easy to make ends meet," he wrote. "To a great extent this is due to the middlemen." At the opening of the first brick-and-mortar store, over a thousand people were lined up.

"It could be said that we simply transferred the family spirit from Elmtaryd: helpfulness, thrift, and a strong sense of responsibility," Kamprad tells Torekull in the book.

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 3 of 14 - Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943.

Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943.

In 2013, at the age of 87, Kamprad stepped down from the company's board but continued to serve as the senior advisor, sharing his knowledge and experience with the IKEA team, which now includes more than 180,000 employees. 

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 4 of 14 - In 2013, at the age of 87, Kamprad stepped down from the company's board but continued to serve as the senior advisor, sharing his knowledge and experience with the IKEA team.

In 2013, at the age of 87, Kamprad stepped down from the company's board but continued to serve as the senior advisor, sharing his knowledge and experience with the IKEA team.

"We are mourning the loss of our founder and dear friend Ingvar. His legacy will be admired for many years to come, and his vision—to create a better everyday life for the many people—will continue to guide and inspire us," says Jesper Brodin, CEO and president of the IKEA Group.

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 5 of 14 - Kitchen exhibits at The IKEA Musuem in Älmhult

Kitchen exhibits at The IKEA Musuem in Älmhult

Indeed, Kamprad’s legacy is one that touches the lives of many people. IKEA has been the world’s largest furniture retailer since 2008, and today, the brand has 335 stores in 29 countries. 

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 6 of 14 - An IKEA store in Belfast, Northern Ireland

An IKEA store in Belfast, Northern Ireland

It could be said that we simply transferred the family spirit from Elmtaryd: helpfulness, thrift, and a strong sense of responsibility.

—Ingvar Kamprad  

Over the years, the company improved its designs and business model to become more human-centric, eco-friendly, and sustainable. It stays current by adapting to changing lifestyle patterns, such as shrinking home sizes, which call for smarter, space-saving furniture and storage. Many of its products epitomize the essence of lagom—the Swedish spirit of minimalism and balance. 

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 7 of 14 - The Swedish spirit of lagom, which translates roughly to "not too little, not too much, but just right," is present in many IKEA products.

The Swedish spirit of lagom, which translates roughly to "not too little, not too much, but just right," is present in many IKEA products.

Here are some of the ways that IKEA has changed furniture retail:

Products For the People 

The core of IKEA’s philosophy is understanding people’s everyday needs at home. The brand’s product designers consider factors like affordability and limited living spaces, factors that guide most people’s purchasing decisions. Therefore, design elements are often decided on the IKEA factory floor, where the designers and manufacturers can work together to determine material choices, functionality, and aspects pertaining to environment and health. 

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 8 of 14 - Efficient and friendly home delivery services from IKEA

Efficient and friendly home delivery services from IKEA

Superior Shopping Experience 

IKEA stores are laid out in a zig-zagging floor plan that moves shoppers smoothly through one section of the home to another. For example, you can shop for everything you need for your bedroom in one zone, then proceed to another zone that specializes in large and small items for your study, bathroom, and then kitchen. Many IKEA stores around the world even have a small grocery section and café, where you can have some lunch, or bring home something for dinner after shopping. Measuring tapes on hand for you to use, a colorful catalogue, and a great online store also help take the shopping experience at IKEA to a new level. 

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 9 of 14 - The IKEA Museum in Älmhult allows guests to put themselves on the cover of a catalogue.

The IKEA Museum in Älmhult allows guests to put themselves on the cover of a catalogue.

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 10 of 14 - IKEA's signature blue Frakta shopping bags

IKEA's signature blue Frakta shopping bags

Furniture Logistics 

Not only does IKEA think about the ergonomics, efficiency, and aesthetics of home furnishing, but it also thinks about how you will get your furniture home. IKEA has many DIY kit products that you can easily assemble yourself. 

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 11 of 14 - DIY furniture from IKEA that you can assemble yourself

DIY furniture from IKEA that you can assemble yourself

Signature blue Frakta bags and trolleys allow for easier transportation to your car, while home furniture delivery and assembly services are available for an additional fee. 

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 12 of 14 - IKEA's efficient home delivery and furniture assembly services

IKEA's efficient home delivery and furniture assembly services

To discover more about Kamprad and IKEA, visit The IKEA Museum in Älmhult, Sweden, where the first IKEA store was built. 

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 13 of 14 - Ingvar Kamprad and his family

Ingvar Kamprad and his family

How IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad Built an Empire Out of Swedish Resourcefulness - Photo 14 of 14 - The IKEA Museum

The IKEA Museum

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