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Entrepreneurial inspiration – Ingvar Kamprad and IKEA

By Samantha Garner | September 10, 2011

In our last post, we talked about some of the challenges faced by young entrepreneurs. So what better follow-up post than the story of a business started by a young entrepreneur?

You may have heard of it – a little place called IKEA.

Operational in 37 countries and with a seemingly endless array of products from stuffed alligators to entire kitchen systems, IKEA is arguably the world’s most popular furniture store. Not bad for a company founded by a teenager.

Ingvar Kamprad was born in the Swedish province of Småland. At age five, his entrepreneurial spirit materialized when he began selling matches to neighbours. Sounds cute, right? Maybe, but this young entrepreneur made money! He realized he could obtain bulk matches very cheaply in Stockholm and then re-sell them individually at a low price – but high enough for him to make a profit. Over the years, his small business went beyond matches to include Christmas tree ornaments, fish, seeds, ballpoint pens and pencils. In 1943, Kamprad’s father gave the 17-year-old money as a reward for doing well in school. Kamprad’s entrepreneurial spirit was proved once again here – this money went into the creation of IKEA.

At first, IKEA sold a variety of personal and household objects, such as picture frames, wallets and nylon stockings, which he sold on individual sales calls. Soon enough, his business was growing so quickly that needed to switch to a rudimentary mail-order service, using a milk van to deliver orders to the local train station. In 1948, IKEA began selling its first items of furniture, which were then complete pieces made by manufacturers in nearby forests. The furniture was such a hit that Kamprad realized he needed to re-focus his business.

In 1951, the first edition of the iconic IKEA catalogue was published after Kamprad realized how much it could help sell more furniture to more people. Two years later, another IKEA mainstay was created – the showroom. IKEA’s very first furniture showroom was opened to differentiate the company from the competition. IKEA’s in-house design was also born as a response to the competition (who actually convinced suppliers to boycott IKEA). Left with no other choice, IKEA began designing its own furniture in-house. The flat-pack concept was created when an employee discovered that removing the legs of a table made it easier to load into a customer’s car. From then on, IKEA began to produce its furniture for flat-pack transportation and in-home assembly.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, IKEA kept on growing. It opened stores throughout Scandinavia, moving to the rest of Europe, Australia and Canada. Popular items that are seen as IKEA classics, such as the POÄNG chair and BILLY bookcases, were first introduced in the 1970s.

So, Kamprad displayed the innovation, forward-thinking and adaptability typical of young entrepreneurs. And look where it got him – from selling matches to creating one of the most recognizable and popular businesses in the world.

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