Yesterday was a great day to be working at Ikea, even though it was the weekend. In a generous if savvy move, Ikea promises to hand all the company's sales from yesterday right back to its employees, not a cent to go into the company coffers.
Workers at the Ikea at Potomac Mills Mall were visibly pumped up, everyone wearing T-shirts that exclaimed "Thanks!" to the customers, who were being treated to some incredible service.
"I'm asking people if they need four sofas to go with their chair," joked Gillian Powell, who was working at the Woodbridge store yesterday, even though her job is with Ikea's corporate headquarters near Philadelphia. "I need a new computer."
At every one of Ikea's 152 stores worldwide, including 13 in the United States, employees--or co-workers, as the company likes to call them--were selling hard and sounding happy.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal that a company would forgo [total sales] for a day," said Michael Thaylor, co-worker in the Potomac Mills store. He and others such as Larry Ouztz, a 25-year-old senior studying biology and chemistry at George Mason University, had been begging friends and family to hold off on buying products until the big day. Ouztz has worked on and off at the Woodbridge Ikea for almost two years.
"They allow very flexible schedules" for students, Ouztz said. He said he'll use his check to help pay for tuition.
In a highly publicized act that included full-page newspaper ads, Ikea promises to divvy up at least $65 million, company officials estimate, which would come to about $1,600 for each of its roughly 40,000 employees. For some workers, such as those in China, that check would equal three months' salary.
Full-time employees get a higher cut than the part-timers, and people who started working at Ikea after the announcement of the "Big Thank You Event" was made in mid-July will get a flat $250.
Stores were open longer yesterday to maximize spending--the Potomac Mills store from 7 a.m. to midnight, and the 14 stores in Sweden for 24 hours.
Employees did anything to attract customers. Those working for the store in Paris rollerbladed around the city to persuade people to skip the boutiques and come to Ikea. Some employees in Philadelphia were following suit. And most items were discounted for the day.
The Potomac Mills store, filled with Ikea's signature assembly-required pieces, kitchen cabinets and accessories, is usually busy, employees said. But not like yesterday.
Brady and Joy Wolcott came to the Potomac Mills store from Prince George's County. "We held off specifically for this," said Brady Wolcott, who was standing in a maze of coffee tables. "We didn't know about the sales; we came for the employees."
The Ikea at Potomac Mills normally pulls in about $550,000 on a Saturday, said store manager Tomas Franzen. He expected sales yesterday to hit about $750,000.
The scene at the Ikea at White Marsh Mall, near Baltimore, was similar to that at Potomac Mills. "It's crazy here," said store manager Mike Lahey. "Everyone's pumped up." He said the store was hoping for sales of about $500,000, compared with $250,000--"what we make on a good Saturday."
Ikea employees have been logging long hours recently to make sure there would be extra stock and the store would be in good shape for the big day, he said.
Customers also reaped a benefit or two--every hour, two customers chosen at random won their entire purchase. About 8 a.m. yesterday, one young couple--the second winners of the day at the Woodbridge store--won their purchases: $7,000 worth.
There were free professional foot and back massages, demonstrations on furniture staining and assembly, clowns, face painting and free balloons for the children.
Ingvar Kamprad, founder of Ikea, said he was making the gesture to thank co-workers for contributing to the company's success for the last 54 years. This year marks Ikea's 55th anniversary. The company pulled in $8 billion in revenue in the fiscal year that ended in August.
Ikea employees are paid $8 to $10 an hour for entry-level positions on the sales floor. They receive a bonus every year--this year, most employees pocketed an extra $900. Full-time and part-time employees receive full health and dental care, a 401(k) plan, tuition reimbursement and a 50 percent discount on Ikea products.
"You could never find a company that treats employees so well," Thaylor said. He's been with Ikea for more than a year.
Isaac Lagnado, president of Tactical Retail Solutions, a New York-based market research firm, said an event like yesterday's gives a company known for its environmental awareness an even stronger reputation as a socially conscious corporation. It also, he said, "may shrewdly keep unions at bay, which is a constant push for a company like Ikea."
Lump all that together, he said, "and it's a nice, magnanimous act."
CAPTION: Customers pack the Potomac Mills Mall's Ikea store, looking for bargains. All the chain's sales for the day were to be divvied up among employees.
CAPTION: Larry Ouztz, a two-year Ikea employee, says the bonus he gets from yesterday's sales will go toward his tuition bill at George Mason University, where he is a senior. The bonus is expected to be about $1,600 per worker.