Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Competitors unfazed by IKEA

Swedish furniture giant opening soon but other stores are ready to rumble

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Furniture retailers in Winnipeg whose names are not a four-letter acronym are ready for Wednesday.

That's the day IKEA opens one of the biggest retail spaces in Canada at Kenaston Boulevard and Sterling Lyon Parkway. For competitors of the European furniture giant, it is, quite simply, go time.

But don't expect to be stuck in traffic and see bus ads trumpeting a sale at EQ3.

"There's no reason for one. We sell different products. We don't have to get people in the door based on price," said Peter Tielmann, the company's president and CEO.

"We want to remind people that we're here and what we stand for."

That includes playing the patriotism card by informing consumers that more than half of everything it produces, including sofas, mattresses and wood products, is made in Canada.

Despite all the bluster, the christening of the giant blue and yellow building won't signal the death of the local furniture industry, Tielmann said. In fact, he said he believes IKEA will get a big percentage of Winnipeggers thinking about their homes -- and then spending on them -- and that's good for all competitors.

"In Toronto, we have three stores in the same area that they have four stores and Toronto is our best market. We compete against them in Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal, too. The market quickly finds out the difference," he said.

Mark Dufresne, CEO of Dufresne, agrees. He said the buzz will cause some people to buy from IKEA while others will continue to shop where they have for years.

"We aren't going, 'Oh, my goodness. What's going to become of us?' This is something we're looking forward to, just like everybody else," he said.

Dufresne said the family-run outfit decided to have some fun with IKEA's arrival. His team bought a number of different IKEA products and put them together -- while videotaping the assembly -- so they could get a firsthand look at what they are up against.

"We compete against IKEA in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. It's new for our Winnipeg team but our organization knows a lot more about IKEA than we ever have in our past," he said.

"They're going to be a force. They're going to have lineups and a lot of excitement in the community over their opening. Our experience is you're not going to stop that. It's best that you just join in," he said.

Cynthia Brick, co-owner of Brick's Fine Furniture, said she's going to wait about three weeks for some of the hype to die down.

"Otherwise, my advertising will get lost with all the excitement surrounding IKEA," she said.

Her pitch will be that Brick's offers furniture that could become family heirlooms and last for decades.

Brick said IKEA often appeals to university students living in dormitories, but once they get out into the real world, they start to walk into her store.

"I don't get them the first time -- I get them the second time," she said.

After 43 years in the furniture business, Brick said she knows what it takes when a new player enters the market.

"I've weathered enough of these storms. There will be a lot of hype surrounding IKEA, but when it dies down, there will be customers who appreciate what we have," she said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 B6

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