Monday, September 5, 2011
Just don't say 'Ikea' at Netanya's new furniture giant
The Kika store in Netanya.
Kika, a European home design store, is coming to Netanya with thousands of products and no paths to follow when shopping.
The preliminary tour at Kika - the international furniture and home design chain opening next week in Netanya - took an hour and a half. It was forbidden to utter one word: Ikea. Like Lord Voldemort in "Harry Potter," the scariest enemy of all. No one dares to utter the name and talk of "the one whose name must not be spoken."
Avi Avraham, the VP for trade and purchase, spoke of the building's unique structure with an impressive rotunda (like at the Guggenheim museum ) in the center. Avraham pointed out how everything is spread before the customer and arranged so someone standing in the middle of the store can see all the products in every part of it. "We are a very friendly family store," he said. "From everywhere you can get to everywhere else."
Elit Ben Basat Nuriel, the marketing director, added: "Because we are in a transparent building you can get to exactly where you want to be. You don't need to follow any path to get to the department you want."
Gal Kremer, the chief commercial designer, summed up: "There is no maze here; there is always full transparency." A quarter of an hour after the start of the tour, I gathered my courage and asked: Could I say "Ikea."
"We don't talk about Ikea at all," replied Avraham. "Ikea is a worthy store in the State of Israel and I hope you have already formed the impression that here is an endless variety of products for every part of the population, which I am not sure can be said about the variety there is at other places."
Harry Potter and his friends realized after a while that in order to fight evil it is necessary to be able to speak its name. When Kemer talked about Kika's display rooms, he said: "The display room method is not like at the place you mentioned before, because it shows a collection. At the place you mentioned before, they use what there is and they build a life situation, something functional. Here it's still functional," he said, pointing to one of the rooms. "It's clear there's a room here, that is a living room, and for us this is a place to give a total look to the collection. There is an international look, an urban-modern look, a conservative and up-to-date look, a classic-contemporary look, a country-romantic look and a colonial-traditional look."
Indeed Kika's variety of possibilities is one of the largest, if not the largest, under a single roof in the State of Israel. That should suit Israelis, who like a lot of everything. Here's a glance at the numbers: The total store area is 27,000 square meters, including parking. The commercial floor space is 18,000 square meters spread over four stories. On the ground floor are accessories, lighting and a cafe. The first floor is devoted to the public spaces in the home - living rooms and kitchens; the second floor is devoted to private areas - bedrooms, rooms for teens, offices and bathrooms; and the top floor is the world of babies and children's rooms and another cafe and a Gymboree for kids to play in.
The flagship store in Netanya will apparently be joined by a store at Hutzot Hamifratz in the Haifa area, with construction starting in about three months. It's slated to open in 2013.
Kika is a large store in the European style - calm, not gaudy, pleasant. Its more than 25,000 products include 70 seating suites for the living room, about 30 kitchens, 60 dining sets, more than 100 kinds of chairs, 42 kinds of bathroom cabinets, 25 towel sets, more than 30 kinds of desks, 50 desk chairs, 30 different possibilities for children's rooms and 1,270 square meters of toys, babies' rooms and strollers.
Kika is coming to Netanya 10 years after the Swedish furniture giant Ikea landed there. It is an Austrian chain, one of the five largest furniture and home design stores in Europe. The first Kika store opened in 1973. Today, the chain's 72 stores can be found in eight countries on the Continent. Its annual sales volume tops 1.2 billion euros, and it employs more than 8,200 workers.
Ikea, for the sake of comparison, was founded in 1953 and now has 323 stores around the world. Kika offers a wider range of products and prices so shoppers could range from young people on a budget to a wealthier clientele. The products are arranged by price level - low, middling and high, parallel to the quality - good, better and best.
Another difference is in the sales method: Thirty percent of the furniture mix at Kika in Israel will be based on the "cash and carry" method and 70 percent will be based on ordering customized items, which will be supplied to the customer within a reasonable time, as is customary in the Israeli furniture world.
The main difference is in style. In the Kika furniture catalogue it is possible to find everything expected of a traditional European furniture maker - furniture items made mostly of wood in clean and classical lines. Compared to Ikea, the design looks a bit more sophisticated and ornate, and the aesthetic seems a bit overblown to those accustomed to Scandanavian minimalism. There is also extensive use of colors, mainly in the accessories but also in the more basic furniture items, the wallpapers, the bed linens and the like.
Ben Basat Nuriel explains: "We are not appealing to a single, specific target audience but rather to a tremendous variety of audiences." So, he adds, "You can find a towel in our store at prices ranging from NIS 5 to NIS 300 and bed linens ranging from NIS 150 to NIS 4,000."
The desire to please everyone shows in the focus on families and children and adaptations here. "In Austria, tables that expand for hospitality constitute 5 to 10 percent of the display and in Israel they are 50 percent," says Ben Basat Nuriel. "The whole area of disposable hospitality items and birthday party accessories - we've developed that department and it's unique to us."
Avraham beams over the variety of baby carriages. "We have more than 40 strollers and 40 car seats in the display. We offer all the options in one place."
"This department is three times larger than the parallel departments in Europe," adds Ben Basat Nuriel. However, it's hard to understand how a Monopoly set or a baby carriage is connected to a design and furniture chain, while the Kika people don't want the definition of a department store, even if anyone who has visited a European department store would see this as a compliment.
What does a baby carriage or board games have to do with interior decor?
"The entire world of content connected to babies, children and the home is here, and games and toys give added value to this world. This is a store for furniture and home accessories that shows both design and a lifestyle."
But what does that have to do with strollers?
"It's something that you need."
But I also need an iPad, glasses and a watch. I need a lot of things.
"This is part of comprehensive solution we offer for every stage in life. In order to give everything in one place we offer you the purchase of the whole birth package in one place. We want to give you the possibility of not running around from place to place. We aren't an electrical appliance store either, but when you buy a kitchen from us, it comes with all the appliances. Why? Precisely from the same way of looking at things. This is one of our messages."
Can't the abundance deter?
Avraham: "I am giving you the unmediated possibility of touching everything. Of seeing all the kinds of lighting, faucets, extras, textures of the doors, the finishes...."
There's something very European here. What is suited to the Israeli audience? Ben Basat Nuriel: "We Israelis love to see what is happening abroad, we love to get up to date and yes, we want to give something different here. This isn't just another chain that sells furniture or accessories on some platform that repeats itself. This is a chain with a European flavor that's coming to Israel."
What will be considered success?
"Being the customers' preferred chain when it comes to decorating his home. When you are before a renovation or a move, when the children are going into first grade, the first thing you will do is get in the car and come to Kika and get up to date on what's new."
At that other, unmentionable, place a visit is not complete without stopping in the cafeteria for Swedish meatballs or a sausage in a roll. What is the flagship dish at Kika?
"Strudel," smiles Avraham. "What else could it be?"