Rose Taylor got busy when she learned two years ago that Ikea, the furniture industry's equivalent of Wal-Mart, was moving in, only about a mile up Route 1 from her shop, Watercraft Bedrooms.
Determined not to become the latest small-business owner who lost her livelihood to a big-box retailer from out of town, Taylor made some changes to her 35-year-old College Park store.
To make sure that Watercraft Bedrooms wasn't overlooked, she tied an 18-foot-tall balloon sign outside her shop, advertising her high-quality futons. She also moved some merchandise to an outdoor display to lure the casual shopper. She studied the Swedish retailer's Euro-designed, low-cost products, "so that I could position myself and position my business correctly."
Taylor's efforts worked. Her futon sales jumped 40 percent from the year before.
Although they still grumble about clogged roads, four owners of furniture and home stores near Ikea -- located at Route 1 and the Beltway -- say their businesses are actually benefiting from the retailer's presence. Although one store, Home Office Furniture Inc., closed five months after Ikea's opening on June 18, 2003, the others think the big competitor has been a draw for an area that had been looking for such an economic boost.
Ikea is effectively acting as an anchor store in a shopping mall, drawing more customers to the Baltimore Avenue corridor, says Roland Rust, a University of Maryland professor and chairman of the marketing department in the business school.
"The Ikea store situation is a little different from Wal-Mart because it's a little bit more specialized. It's still an attractive store that attracts a lot of people. But it doesn't kill off all the small businesses in the area," said Rust, a former editorial board member of the Journal of Retailing, an academic periodical.
Michael Richards, vice president of Will's Home Decorating in Beltsville, less than a mile up the road, considers Ikea "an excellent neighbor." Richards said Ikea spends several hundred dollars at his shop every few weeks, buying 40 to 50 gallons of paint for the constantly changing store displays.
Richards said he has seen more customers visiting his interior decorating store, buying such items as glass cabinets and vases. He said the store's merchandise complements Ikea's. Many customers, he said, come to his store to mix and match.
Ikea also makes it easier for shoppers to find Will's Home Decorating. In the past, Richards would describe his store location, knowing that he was leaving customers befuddled. Now, he just tells them the store is down the road from Ikea. "People now know exactly where we are," Richards said.
Emily Kane, 25, of New Market said she has seen big improvements and a lot more traffic in the area since she graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with an economics degree in 2002.
"A big store like this with a big-name brand, with a big advertising budget, draws a lot of people," said Kane, who was shopping at Ikea for storage bins and tables for her new home. "They're going to shop in stores that they weren't probably shopping in before, and that's just going to benefit everybody."
Patrick Burke, owner of Dinette Gallery Inc., a few doors down from Watercraft Bedrooms on Baltimore Avenue, called it the "trickle effect." He said people come to shop at Ikea, see stores like his, stop in to browse and maybe buy. He said that more customers are browsing and that store sales are slightly up from last year.
Burke said he considers the store a bit more upscale than Ikea. Dinette Gallery's dinette of the month -- called the "Hike," a round, chiseled-edge glass table with four wrought-iron, upholstered-seat chairs -- costs $599. He said Ikea has also relieved him of an inconvenience by luring the college students from nearby University of Maryland who used to stop by his store looking for cheap furnishings. "Ikea is good for college kids," he said.
Many of the local shop owners said they differentiate themselves from Ikea by offering higher-quality products and better customer service.
Kevin Haslam, vice president of Showcase Furniture, two miles south of Ikea on Route 1, said his store has not been affected by Ikea's opening because it serves a different, more upscale market.
"We carry traditional American furniture," Haslam said. "Ikea is very contemporary. We're not."
Taylor of Watercraft Bedrooms said she sold her store July 1, not because of Ikea but because she had been running the place since 1976 and was simply tired of the demanding business. New owners Bob Bilmanis and Van Bou are trying to make the store more distinctive and as different from Ikea as possible.
Watercraft is adding sales of carpeting and flooring to the store's primary business of waterbeds and bedroom sets. Longtime customers will be offered a discount of 10 to 15 percent on the carpets and flooring, Bilmanis said.
Ikea is "what I would call a completely different animal," Bilmanis said.