The opening of IKEA Bahrain is just a week away, store manager Fatima Gustafsson told the GDN on the sidelines of a Family Day event at the store yesterday.
The largest store in the region – spread over 37,000sqm – opens its doors to customers on September 5, the company announced on social media yesterday.
Around 1,500 guests were invited to the exclusive event, which served as an operational test, to get a first look of the store.
“Our employees each invited four family members to attend the event before the store officially opens,” said Ms Gustafsson.
“The IKEA Family Day is an opportunity to conduct an operational test wherein we invite people to shop and help us prepare to operate the store in the best way. This will identify if we have gaps in the process.
“From a safety perspective, it will allow us to take care of the store environment so both customers and IKEA store co-workers can be in safe environment,” she said.
Based on the team’s observations, insights and family interactions, adjustments may be made to the processes.
More than 7,800 products, including iconic brands like Billy bookcases, Poang chairs and Bang mugs, are on the shelves of the 6,200sqm showroom.
The BD47 million complex also incorporates a 6,000sqm market hall where rugs, linens, picture frames, clocks, kitchen accessories and home lighting can be bought.
On their way to the checkout counters, visitors will pass through a 5,000sqm self-serve section where they can pick up the flat-packages of items displayed in the room settings, she said.
“The packages are easy to transport, and help keep prices low for DIY customers.”
IKEA Bahrain, which is being operated by Saudi Arabia’s Ghassan Ahmed Al Sulaiman Furniture Trading Company, is also home to a 650-seat restaurant, the biggest in Bahrain, spread over 2,500sqm.
The restaurant serves the famous IKEA Swedish meatballs and smoked salmon along with local favourites such as shawarma, added Ms Gustafsson.
“There will also be organic and vegetarian options to appeal to our diverse customers.”
A bistro offering grab-and-go snacks and a Swedish food market selling lingonberry jam, coffee and chocolate takes up about 500sqm of the total area.
“In the future, the company will also look to locally source ingredients from Bahraini suppliers,” said Ms Gustafsson.
Sustainability, said Ms Gustafsson, is a key focus of the brand hence the Bahrain store features transparent roof hatches, minimised glazing, skylights and solvent-free paints.
“We have deployed technologies to optimise water flow in lavatories to save 50 per cent of water consumed and a smart lighting system will cut power consumption.
Recruitment at IKEA Bahrain began in September last year.
The store is expected to create up to 350 new jobs, when it is running at full tilt, and 320 will be on the payroll as the store opens its shutters in a week.
Ms Gustafsson said she expected locals to make up at least 50pc of the workforce eventually.
IKEA spent months researching the Bahraini market “to learn more about how people live here and how rooms are furnished,” she said, which has helped it customise products and concepts and get the right combination of form, function, quality, sustainability and price.
“We found storage solutions are a hot-seller in the region as homes are more spacious and families are bigger on average.”
IKEA is expecting the store’s 220sqm play facility, called Smaland (named after the small town in Sweden where it all started), to be a big attraction with families.
“Children can be left in the care of IKEA staff free of charge while parents shop to their heart’s content,” said Ms Gustafsson.
The store will also have more than 1,200 parking spaces spread over two levels.
IKEA Bahrain is expecting over 1.5m visitors annually.
There are currently over 400 IKEA stores in 49 different markets around the world – 11 of these are in seven Middle Eastern countries.