Ikea has more than 250 stores in 34 countries, with over 310 million people visiting the low-cost home products retailer every year.
In Britain, according to one estimate, almost twice as many people visit an Ikea store on Sundays as attend church.
Not one percentile of Ikea’s annual visitor figures is likely to come from Lebanon anytime soon however, or indeed are Lebanese likely to read one of the 130 million copies of Ikea’s catalogue that were distributed last year. Neither is attendance at Lebanese places of worship likely to be rivaled by people opting to unpack and reassemble one of Ikea’s DIY wardrobes.
But why not? After all, the Swedish-created Ikea has had a presence in the Middle East since 1983 in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait in 1984, Dubai in 1991, and in Israel since 2001. In all locations the store has been a veritable hit, with enough demand in the UAE open a store in Abu Dhabi.
“We would love to be all over the world, and are growing with 20 new stores yearly,” said Charlotte Lindgren, Ikea’s corporate PR and media relations officer.
Stores are opening in China, two a year in Russia, and Japan is Ikea’s latest market.
So what’s wrong with Lebanon as a new store location? Firstly, it costs around $100 million to open one of Ikea’s aircraft hanger size stores, according to Lindgren, and involves a great deal of investment from not only Ikea but also franchisees—a price tag that would be equivalent to some of Lebanon’s larger shopping malls.
And secondly, just like there are no stores in South America or Africa, Lebanon arguably lacks enough people with the appropriate purchasing power necessary to make an Ikea store viable. Products would also have to be imported from Europe, and with the high rate of the euro right now could dampen Ikea’s competitiveness.
Equally, Lebanon does not have the expatriate population of the Gulf that needs to furnish new apartments on a regular basis as people come and go.
Although there would undoubtedly be a Lebanese market for Ikea’s designs, the Lebanese penchant for more traditional furnishings, such as handmade furniture and the ubiquitous Louis XVI style, would be an additional marketing obstacle.
And let us not even go into the state of the Lebanese economy, the political situation, and all the rest that is keeping foreign investors at an arms length.
But perhaps, and it is a big perhaps, some enterprising Lebanese might figure out a formula that could work here. After all, according to some sources, a Lebanese franchiser in Kaslik was interested several years ago in setting up an Ikea outlet.
The idea clearly remained a pipe dream however, and for the foreseeable future it would seem that Lebanese shoppers are to be confined to the traditional outlets, Khoury Home or BHV to supply furnishing needs.