A recent article in The New York Times noted the increasing popularity of Ikea's Smaland play centers. "Ikea estimates that Smaland attendance has jumped roughly 20 percent so far this year in its stores in major American cities."
Many of the parents using the free baby sitting service openly admit that they are not in the store to shop. As the article states, parents can be seen "depositing their children at Smaland and plopping into a display couch for an hour of peace and quiet, and then leaving without ever buying a thing."
In many companies, the operations group would note the increase in Smaland usage and quickly calculate the cost for the incremental staff required to maintain the 12-1 employee/child ratio in the centers. New rules or restrictions would be put in place to contain costs. Eventually, someone would dream up the requirement that parents submit a purchase receipt (dated that day) to liberate their child from Smaland. That's what happens when operations and marketing (or whoever is in charge of the brand) don't communicate. When push comes to shove, a tangible cost argument generally wins out over a fuzzy concept like brand affinity.
Not at Ikea. The company understands that the value accrued to the Ikea brand from the hour and a half playing in the ball pit, reading the paper or munching meat balls vastly outweighs the potential impact of any TV commercial, banner ad or online game for kids. The quantity and quality of the interaction is priceless. It's not a cost, it's an investment. Maybe that's why Ikea's sales were reported to be up 5% earlier this year.
What other companies get it like Ikea?
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