Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ikea opened, the media swooned ... and the public decided to leave it to the weekend

This morning all of Belfast ... no make that all of the local media ... was abuzz with the opening of the island’s first Ikea store. No more getting the bus on the ferry across to Scotland. No more flying across as Iris Robinson admitted on Not the Nolan Show this morning - you wouldn’t bring a big mattress back on the plane!

Closing the Ring film poster

(It wasn’t the only opening in Belfast with the locally filmed movie Closing the Ring - directed by Richard Attenborough - being premiered in Belfast before a short run in a small number of Irish and UK cinemas. Unfortunately, the film hasn’t found a large distributor, so is unlikely to recoup its costs.)

Image from opening of Ikea Belfast, (c) BBC

The three policemen that checked out the Ikea store opening in Malaga were on safe ground as a few hundred people supported by crowds of traditional media (and the odd blogger, ahem Mr Barnes) watched Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers saw his way through a Swedish log whilst Ian and Martin looked on.

I was lying sick tucked up in bed as all this happened. Even then I couldn’t miss it on the radio later.

On the way into Ikea Belfast

Popping out for a few messages this evening around 8 o’clock, I decided to chance Secret Sainsburys. No traffic problems on the A2 or the slip road down towards Holywood Exchange. And the lure of the blue and yellow store caught me in its Scandinavian grip, and pulled my car towards the multi-storey car park as if by tractor beam. We got held up briefly as a fire engine unexpectedly drove past the line of traffic and though a gateway into the land behind the main car park with its blue lights flashing.

Despite a low turnout for the opening this morning, lots of people had been encouraged to pop down for Geoff Duke before bedtime. The security/event team looking after the car park said that they’d filled the main car park this evening, but hadn’t needed as much of the overflow. (The top floor of the Ikea car park will be a great spot for plane spotters, with a great view over the Belfast City Airport runway and apron.)

Arches of balloons welcome visitors to Ikea Belfast on its opening day

So I decided to go in, and see how quickly I could escape from the one way system!

Up the stairs under the balloon arches, past the restaurant, and followed the Exit signs.

Took ten minutes.

Wonder what happens in an emergency? Should have looked for the green signs!

I’ve previously referred to Ikea as bringing kitsch to Belfast, and the photo below is proof! Colourful plastic kitchen gadgets galore.

Swedish kitsch on sale in Ikea Belfast

I bought a packet of paper napkins – we needed some for a birthday party on Saturday. Despite the dress rehearsal last Sunday when Ikea staff could each bring four friends or family to the store to browse and buy, the guy serving me on the till was still getting used to getting plastic cards to work in the PIN reader. (There’s a 70p surcharge for using credit cards, so you might want to use a Switch Maestro card if you’re only buying napkins.) Turns out that this is his second job. During the day he works as a civil servant. But at night he transforms into a blue and yellow super hero till operator. He explained that

“I always fancied the Ikea dream ... but I’m not sure I could stand this very long on top of a full time job!”

There may yet be more vacancies for co-workers at Ikea.

Out of order lifts on Ikea Belfast's opening day

Finally escaping the store, I wandered back over to the car park. Both lifts were now out of order – though people were getting into the right hand one on the first floor and wondering why they couldn’t make the doors close since the man in the yellow coat had only blocked off the ground floor door. Oops.

Home is the most important place in the world - sign outside entrance to Ikea Belfast

All in all, it’ll be fun to go back in a month or two. The sign outside the Ikea entrance summed up what Northern Ireland’s shoppers felt today ... it's where they chose to be. But I bet it’s bedlam on Saturday and Sunday afternoon!


Anonymous said...

Ahem ... "tractor" beam? She cannae take it, capt'n ...

Anonymous said...

There were less people on Saturday.

Jenny said...

I was convinced there would be major traffic problems and a big headache for transport planners when this store opened. Very interesting that I was wrong. I'm sure IKEA's market researchers are desperately trying to find out what's putting people off.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Maybe if they'd put up big SALE signs, we'd all have battered down their doors!

They claim 15,000 visited during the first day - just spread over the twelve hours they were open. Not bad.