It seemed all roads led to India's first IKEA store that opened in Hyderabad on Thursday. Outside was a huge traffic jam and inside people were lapping up a global shopping experience with a local touch. The Swedish home furnishing giant's debut is the direct outcome of less stringent foreign investment norms in India. Rajini Venugopal was the first customer to be let into the IKEA India store. "I got myself dropped here by my son at 7 am. I have shopped at IKEA in Singapore and I didn't want to miss this one, first day, first show,'' she said.
As customers walked in, most of them armed with a mobile in hand shooting the enormous new store, they were given a rousing welcome. However, the crow kept swelling outside.
"This is worse than getting into the line for a darshan of Lord Balaji at Tirumala on auspicious days," Vidya said, even as she battled the pushing crowds awaiting her turn to enter the store. To manage the crowd the store allowed a staggered entry today. Everyone was given bottled water, to help cope with the stuffy and hot conditions at the basement.
"Are you a great fan of IKEA or is this curiosity following all the hype about the brand," we ask one of the women waiting. "I am a great fan of IKEA alright but now I feel I have chosen the wrong day to come here. May be I should have waited a couple of weeks.''
The store is spread over 4 lakh square feet, an area of nearly eight football fields. Harini Ganti says the opening came as a godsend at a time when they are moving into a new office. "I am super excited. All these years I have been carrying stuff from abroad, now I can avoid all that extra luggage. Neighbours envy, owners pride totally applies here. People from Delhi and Mumbai will now visit Hyderabad more often since it is easier to come here than go abroad.''
The store is over two floors. One floor is called the showroom, where pre-designed rooms and items are on display. All you need to do is put down the item codes on pamphlets provided to you, along with a pencil and chart. You get to know the price and you see what it looks like. Once you opt for it and pay, it gets delivered home.
"It is convenient. You don't have to think too much. You just need to choose what you like and they promise to replicate it in your home. The prices look competitive and the stuff looks great. So I am thrilled to be here,'' says Priyanka, who is building a a new house along with her husband.
Another floor houses the market room and that has items that you can directly pick up and take home. These include cutlery, kitchen utensils, furnishing and knick-knacks. The store claims it is selling 7,500 products, at least 1,000 of them priced below Rs 200.
What IKEA is bringing to India is a foreign direct investment of 10,500 crore rupees. It has taken IKEA 12 years to open the first of the 25 stores it plans here.
Peter Betzel, CEO of IKEA India, says he is overjoyed with the response. "We have visited some 1,000 homes to understand how Indians live, what they eat, what they would like, so we can tailor-make our products to suit Indian taste and need.''
IKEA is already employing 950 people, 90 per cent of them locals and nearly 50 per cent are women. They also intend to dramatically increase sourcing of supplies locally.
"We already have 60 suppliers, 20 per cent of volumes already comes from India. Long term we will have 50 per cent sourced from India. So its a wonderful journey and a wonderful story to tell.''
Hyderabad will have the exclusive edge in India at least till August next year when IKEA will open in Mumbai, followed by Bengaluru and Gurgaon.
KT Rama Rao, Telangana's IT minister, says he experienced IKEA more than two decades ago when his home, as a young man living abroad, was full of IKEA products.
"It is a global brand that has done a lot of customisation and localisation. They have started sourcing locally, working with local carpenters, artists, women worked with govt and delighted with how it has shaped up. As IKEA expands in India, I do believe, Indianisation, not just localistaion, is a cue to succeed in India and knowing IKEA, they will start picking up those cues from the environment. They are fairly inexpensive. Indian urban middle class will lap it up like never before.''
The store recommends that you download an app on your phone, to navigate through the products and make shopping in the store more easy. There is free WiFi connectivity but it didn't really help speed up perhaps as the numbers at the store were big.
There is no seating available in the store while you shop unless you simply relax on the furniture and furnishings on display. So it can tire you out even though the variety of products just keeps you going from counter to counter.
So you will be thrilled to finally take a break at the cafeteria, that's a 1000-seater and one of India's biggest. This is also part of the IKEA experience and the items are reasonably priced with a coffee at Rs 35 and a plate of biryani at Rs 95. But you won't get pork and beef meat balls here in keeping with Indian cultural sensitivities. Instead there will be biryani, chicken and vegetarian options to suit local tastes.
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