The line outside the store the opening day

30 years of eye-KEY-ah

It was plastered on billboards and repeated in radio and television ads all over Philadelphia when a big blue-and-yellow store from Sweden opened its doors in America in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, on June 12, 1985.

“Back in 1985, few people in the U.S. knew how to pronounce IKEA, how to assemble flat pack furniture, or what a LACK table was,” says Lars Petersson, IKEA US President. “Now we are pleased to say that during these past 30 years the IKEA US business has experienced steady growth due to the tremendous contribution of our co-workers and the great interest of Americans in our home furnishings, and our unique IKEA shopping experience.”

IKEA stores all over the United States—now 41 strong—celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the first U.S. store with nostalgic Instagram posts, fun trivia games, their oldest IKEA t-shirts and an ‘80s photo booth. Many shared stories about what it was like to work in the first U.S. store in those early days.

“Back then, everything was done by hand,” says Bob Mayer, warehouse manager in the IKEA Perryville distribution center, who started in the full serve warehouse in 1985. “You had to hand-write everything. You had to staple it to a pallet. Literally, everything was by hand.”

Back in 1985, few people in the U.S. knew how to pronounce IKEA, how to assemble flat pack furniture, or what a LACK table was

There were no computers used in the stores in 1985. Four people in a room fielded all customer service calls. Checking inventory meant looking at a TV monitor that displayed a live video from the warehouse of a handwritten piece of paper. And customers had no idea what to do with European-sized bed sheets.

No doubt technology is one of the most obvious changes over the last three decades. But co-workers who have been there from the beginning say what’s at the heart of the IKEA Concept hasn’t changed at all.

Recruitment ad

“Over the 30 years, I would say things that have stayed the same are our core values. I mean, it’s hard as you get bigger, but it’s still there,” says Marisa Balestra, who started as a part-time sales co-worker and is now a visual merchandising specialist.

Anne Drinkwater, showroom group leader back in 1985 and now sales leader in the US Service Office, has a similar reflection. “Things that have stayed the same? Really, it’s the IKEA culture. And I think we hire great people. People who want to make a difference and make a change. So, yeah, I think it’s the people—that’s the most important thing.”

Those people, IKEA US co-workers, now top 14,000, and IKEA US now represents 12% of IKEA worldwide business. And, yes, millions of Americans now know how to say eye-KEY-ah.
“We see this as just the beginning,” Lars says. “We want to be accessible to more Americans in the future by opening new stores, improving existing stores, developing our service offer, and growing our e-commerce business.”

BILLY bookcase $82 in 1985; today $59.99


POANG chair $148 in 1985; today $69


LACK side table $25 in 1985; today $9.99


KLIPPAN sofa $395 in 1985; today $299

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