Ikea Canada's president talks business, furniture assembly and winter

TORONTO – Ikea Canada’s new president has an eye towards expansion in 2015 but is not saying whether the Swedish furniture giant will add to its 12 Canadian stores or open pickup locations.

Stefan Sjostrand, who took on the job last September, says shoppers can expect this year to see a revamped website that is easier to navigate, as the retailer aims to double its online business to 10 per cent of overall sales.

Ikea Canada’s overall sales numbers jump more than five per cent to $1.6 billion in 2014.

Most known for its affordable, do-it-yourself furniture with tongue-twister names, the retailer will also be pushing improved services for Canadian shoppers including home delivery, personal shopping services, old mattress return and kitchen and bathroom installations.

Ikea will also continue with a number of sustainability initiatives this year that included the recent purchase of a 20-turbine wind farm in Pincher Creek, Alta., which produces enough energy for 50,000 homes or 32 Ikea stores.

Sjostrand sat down this week with The Canadian Press to talk about moving to Canada and offer tips on putting together the ubiquitous Ikea furniture.

The Canadian Press: You are from Sweden and have worked for Ikea in Sweden, the Netherlands, and most recently Paris. How have you found the transition to Canada?

Stefan Sjostrand: For me and my family, it has been very easy to integrate into society. I love the Canadians. I love the city of Toronto. We have only been here for five months and it feels like we’ve been here a long, long time. I think that’s a good sign that we like it here. As a Swede, we are quite used to winter as well. I’m a winter person and an outdoor person. I like to be out and we like to go skating, go skiing. We’re going to Whistler in March. We really like to explore Canada as well as a family.

CP: Besides a love for hockey, how are Canadians like the Swedes?

SS: Canadians are very similar to Swedish people actually. Maybe that’s why I like the city so much. The Swedish like to be outdoors. The home is very important, taking care of your home. Also Canadians like to travel a lot. People in Sweden like to travel a lot. There are a lot of similarities.

CP: What differences have you noticed so far about Canadian Ikea shoppers?

SS: The biggest difference from a consumer perspective is that Canadians are keen on services. Services are a big thing for Canadians. One of my goals when I came here is to have services as a growth driver in Canada.

CP: Who is your target customer at Ikea?

SS: Women are super important to us. Women and families with children, that’s the people we want to reach out to. Women make most of the decisions at home and women work more in Canada as well, that’s why there’s an interest in services. In some countries, only one of the family members is working.

CP: How much of your house is furnished by Ikea and do you put together your own furniture?

SS: About 60 to 70 per cent. It was quite funny (when I went shopping at Ikea in Toronto) because no one in the store knew who I was. When I had to come to the checkout, I had to show my ID, and then I became famous in the store. I’m not handy. I have my thumbs here in the middle. (My tip is) if you just follow the instructions, you’re always successful. I do it mainly with my two daughters. I have a methodology when I do it. I open the box, I sort the screws, I start to read and say where do we start? I’m very methodical doing it.

CP: Be honest: as a Swede, do you find it offensive when customers mispronounce the IKEA product names?

SS: Not at all. The story behind the names is that the founder was dyslexic so he designed it by names instead of numbers. So the products are names of different cities in Sweden. For example, our sofas have names around a specific region and our outdoor furniture have names after Swedish islands.

CP: Do you think Ikea will ever do away with Allen keys and having customers assemble their own furniture?

SS: In the beginning, Ikea had assembled furniture but one of the designers found out that if we made it smarter, and we made the packages smaller and more condensed, we can make the product cheaper. That’s how it started. So we made the furniture knocked down: that you do your part, we do our part and together we save money. That we will never go away from. That’s the fundamental concept and that’s what has made us successful over the years.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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