The mere mention of an IKEA store coming to town can send civic and business leaders into an impassioned embrace of the home furnishings business — and spark a frenzy of excitement among potential customers.
The announcement last week that IKEA is proposing a 294,000-square-foot store at Interstate 295 and Gate Parkway was the talk of the town across the First Coast and at the JAX Chamber headquarters downtown and at City Hall.
But what makes IKEA so special — another big box retail store in a city that has many? Beyond the shopping outlet, IKEA has come to represent more than just commercial retail to many.
“It’s a very unique shopping experience to have the food, to have inspirational room servings, supervised play areas for children. … And the fact that we’re not everywhere certainly adds to the cache,” IKEA public relations manager Joseph Roth said, adding IKEA only settles on market areas that are supported by a population of about 2 million people.
IKEA officials say their stores are different: They have restaurants usually associated with them and there’s a plethora of other considerations for customers that usually involves a visit that can last several hours, Roth said.
Perhaps one of the biggest draws to IKEA is a cross-generational appeal, said Whitney Kantor, director of retail leasing at Franklin Street, a commercial real estate firm in Jacksonville.
“At IKEA it’s an adventure the whole family can participate in. Have a snack, coffee or something to eat. Really, where else can you go to an international brand and have that experience?” Kantor said. “It’s that recognizable brand that you’ve heard so much about that you’re going to stop at and have that experience.
Baby boomers need the IKEA products to settle down as they approach retirement. Members of Generation X and Generation Y, basically between ages 20 to 50, are settling down and raising families. The main customer base, which is really a diverse range, is looking for quality with affordability, Kantor said, and there’s a pop culture mystique.
“They [customers] are not as carefree and have less spending power and are conscious of rising costs,” Kantor said. “They can find something for their home. It’s going to be reasonable for my pocketbook. And you customize it for what you want. You can create your own experience.”
University of North Florida economist Paul Mason said the hoopla over the proposed IKEA store is understandable. Ultimately, he said, having an IKEA in town amounts to a bargaining chip in attracting additional business.
“It’s the kind of thing that when you can attract an IKEA, then you can attract other firms in the retail markets that are similar but haven’t come here before,” Mason said.
There are 41 IKEA stores in the United States. There are over 370 stores worldwide in 48 countries. The Jacksonville store will become the fifth IKEA location in Florida, if the city approves zoning and development applications.
“You talk to folks on the street, it’s simply a word; IKEA, people get it,” said Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. “One of the things that struck me when I was investigating them was they never say, ‘We’re trying to be the best.’ They always say, ‘We’re trying to be better.’ ”
“That’s a really powerful message, because even if you are the best, remember, you can always be better. That fits nicely with the space and direction that Jacksonville is heading,” Curry said.
Many retailers are hedging more toward Internet sales. But Mason said IKEA’s commitment to physical structures — the Jacksonville operation will hire 250 people — makes local communities all the more eager to land a store.
“In this age when more and more retailers are cutting back on store outlets because of Internet sales, they [IKEA] are willing to open a new retail store,” Mason said.
“As a company expands its Internet sales in Jacksonville or wherever its base is, that really doesn’t bring jobs here and that doesn’t bring retail outlets here and it doesn’t attract other retail companies here,” Mason said.
Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton represents Council District 11, the geographic Southside area where the IKEA store is proposed to be built. Becton said IKEA isn’t just another store. When the Swedish-based retailer decides to open a store in a community, it brings with it a certain civic status.
“It does validate Jacksonville as being a top-tier retailer [location]. As we look for other big retailers … this is like a domino. It puts us on an international level,” Becton said.
“When you say ‘IKEA,’ people know Orlando, they know Tampa and now they’re going to know Jacksonville as a major metropolitan city,” Becton said.
At a news conference announcing the IKEA proposal for the Jacksonville store, several community and business leaders said the IKEA store will put Jacksonville “on the map.”
Becton said cities are eager to land an IKEA because shoppers have loyalty to the brand that is similar to a “cult.”
“They’re going to travel from hundreds of miles,” Becton said. “Right now, you’re hearing [about] people from Jacksonville traveling to Orlando, traveling to Atlanta to get to IKEA.”