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Adventures in Retailing Part VIII:
Procuring Dave


Ross M. Miller
Miller Risk Advisors
February 27, 2006

Locating DAVE, the Ikea laptop table introduced in the previous installment of this perpetual adventure, on the Internet was much easier than actually taking possession of him. I left the American Finance Association meetings as they were winding down on Sunday and after I had bluntly pointing out to one of the presenters of a paper about mutual funds that his mechanism for dividing funds into those targeted at individuals and institutions was bogus. (In case you were wondering, many funds with "institutional" in their names are marketed primarily to individuals in 401(k) and other retirement plans. They are "institutional" to the extent that the plan sponsor serves as an institutional intermediary between the fund and the individual investor.)

The new and currently the one and only Ikea in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is to be found in Stoughton. This seemingly bland town is located on a southern spur off Route 128 that leads to several Boston 'burbs that I am aware of only as the scenes of sensational and horrific crimes committed while I was teaching finance some years ago in Boston. I know nothing of the area other than that, as far as I know, no crime in Stoughton has merited a Lifetime movie of its own.

Ikea and I go back to the 1989 opening of the store in my childhood home of Elizabeth, N.J that put Ikea on the map in the U.S. That store is situated in a tax-advantaged enterprise zone adjacent to a containerized shipping facility that was, in turn, adjacent to Newark Airport and the Newark-Elizabeth port, that Ikea store became an instant New York phenomenon. (That port has recently been in the news as one of six that we are trading to the UAE for possible regrets to be named later.) Special buses to shuttle shoppers between Manhattan and Ikea Elizabeth on weekends began running back then and, according to the Internet, they still run. The Elizabeth Ikea was not the first American Ikea, but to New Yorkers places like Philadelphia simply do not count.

I used to frequent Ikea on an irregular basis because it provided a truly alien shopping experience and because I had a thing back then for Swedish coffee (and Swedish pancakes, but I don't think they sold those in their café). I rarely bought anything there. Indeed, prior to my acquisition of DAVE, the plain-vanilla side table, my only Ikea possessions were four matching bookcases and a sauté pan that cost about $2.50 and that is only used under exception circumstances, like for cooking experiments with the potential to destroy the utensil in which the experiment is being conducted.

New Yorkers of the breed that reads The New Yorker had a brief and tempestuous fling with Ikea that ended badly. (I get The New Yorker, but let other members of my family read it and tell me about it, making me vastly superior to those who either take it seriously or, far worse, write for it.)

I had been to various "hypermarkets" on European soil before I set foot in an Ikea, but the transplanted Swedish store had something special about it (and still does). The product names, for one thing, seem to be part of greater joke that I do not get. Did they hire one of Ibsen's grandchildren to affix absurdist appellations to them? And what is the deal with the ALL CAPS. I have known dozens of Daves in my life, but what is the deal with DAVE? It seems more than a tad impersonal to me.

The light Sunday traffic on the Mass Pike and Route 128 did not prepare me for what was to come at the Stoughton Ikea. I had once been to the Elizabeth Ikea on a Sunday, so I thought I knew what to expect. I was mistaken. At least I was able to get to the store's vast parking lot-I later learned that when the store opened a few months earlier that traffic on the roads leading to the store were backed up for miles. Getting into the parking lot, however, did not mean that I could secure a parking space. It was a free-for-all in the lot. If someone had returned to his car merely to retrieve a forgotten toddler or cell phone, he would likely have been forced by a mob of angry and disappointed prospective shoppers to drive away against his will. I figured that even if I did manage to muscle a parking space, I would be spending the rest of the day at Ikea, so I was quickly on my way to pursue other, more truly Bostonian, things. I knew that I would return in exactly ten days-on a Thursday afternoon no less.

Four days short of a fortnight later, I found the parking lot to be comfortably empty. Although the store layout had a few quirks, it was remarkably similar to the Elizabeth store. The greeters were armed with maps, pencils, and paper tape measures and the store had the usual display area, café, merchandise warehouse, checkout, and pick-up. Helpful Ikea employees were scarce once I was past the entrance, but DAVE was in the logical place among the office furniture. His height was infinitely adjustable and his price was $5.00 higher than the $29.95 quoted on the Internet. (The site warned that certain stores might charge a different, presumably higher, price for DAVE, but Stoughton was not-and still is not-on that list.) I jotted down DAVE's warehouse location knowing that if I did not that I might never find him. I also discovered LACK, a not-quite-matching side table that I figured that I could do something with.

I arrived at the store around the time of my afternoon caffeine infusion, so I stopped at the café for coffee and Swedish apple cake. The coffee tasted less Swedish and more Starbucks than I recalled and the apple cake was yummy enough. The restroom area was surrounded by large photographs that illustrated great moments in Ikea history. I learned that Ikea was actually an acronym, something that I would rather not have known, preferring to think of it as some exotic Swedish word as in "I am Curious (Ikea)." Perhaps all of the odd names for the items in the store were also acronyms, but I doubt it.

In the warehouse section of the store, I quickly located DAVE. It was obvious why they could not ship him. As an economy measure, DAVE had only the minimal cushioning necessary to keep the pieces from shifting around in the box. Nothing short of a dedicated courier could deliver it as it was packed without damaging it. I would be that courier. A matching white LACK was more difficult to find because it was not immediately adjacent to the LACKs of color.

I passed by the impulse item area without yielding to the temptation to purchase some useless item just because it was cheap. The checkout area was as overstaffed as the rest of the store was understaffed. For the novelty value, I decided to use an automated self-checkout kiosk, something absence from the Elizabeth Ikea of old. It conveniently had handheld scanners, so I did not have to lift DAVE and LACK. Although the instructions were written in English, it was unclear what I should do with my credit card. My obvious confusion gave one of the Ikea workers, a polite woman of advancing years, an opportunity to provide assistance, making my checkout something less than self.

I got back to my car by riding with my items on a long, downward-sloping conveyor belt that appeared to be tilted at angle that just keep my good from sliding off my cart and onto the belt. I hightailed it into Boston just ahead of the afternoon crunch. The rest of my visit was far more interesting than the Stoughton Ikea, but I am saving that material, which is the stuff of fiction, for sometime in the future.

Copyright 2006 by Miller Risk Advisors. Permission granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250 words or less provided a citation is made to