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General Manager of IKEA Kuwait, Ahmed Al Humaidhi with CEO of SYH Retail, Marino Maganto and the IKEA team.
IKEA to make shopping experience better with technology Company plans to expand its operations in Kuwait: CEO

KUWAIT CITY, April 15: CEO of SYH Retail, Marino was born in 1972 in Madrid, Spain. He joined IKEA in 1996 in the IKEA Food and Beverage Department of the Madrid store. During the years he has assumed different responsibilities within IKEA, from Store Sales Manager or Store Manager, to Deputy Managing Director for IKEA Germany, the biggest IKEA market with more than forty stores. In September 2013 he joined Al-Homaizi Group as CEO for SYH Retail, with responsibility for IKEA operations in Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco.

Question: What are the long-term commitments to the people and how do you plan to achieve them?
Answer: The people part is crucial. I am part of internal growth in IKEA so I believe in internal growth. I think this is one of the biggest responsibilities we have to take forward; developing the people of the country we exist in. It should be more and more locals taking the lead in key positions. I think this is crucial for success in any company and I think the task is to build upon the successes. I am a strong believer in that. It’s all about passion.

Q: How long would it take to implement the technology you want to use?
A: There are some things that are already on the way, some things we are actively working on. For example to merge the digital media with the mobile technology so you can actually create a shopping list at home, bring it with you to the store on your phone and then have it transferred and picked up at the info points at the same time. Free Wi-Fi will be available in the store; this is something that we can set up very soon. We were talking about video conference; its about you sitting at home, sending us the measurements of your kitchen and we are actually planning your kitchen from here and you will see the development and be talking the whole time to the person making your kitchen. That is possible today.
Technology is available to do all that. Applying for (The loyalty scheme) ‘Ikea family’ will be a self-serve kiosk where you will not have to wait for your card anymore, you’ll have your card printed within three minutes of filling your application. It will be done in a very confidential way. You put in the data, you get your card and then start enjoying the family benefits immediately. Touch screens are coming into the store very soon so you can see different expressions of the same room settings, like what it would look like with a different sofa or a different coloured wall.

Q: How do you think these innovations will bring in customers?
A: I think our task here is to make the shopping experience more comfortable while in the store. Customers should come because they love the brand I don’t think anyone would come here because we give them free Wi-Fi. There’s free Wi-Fi all over the place and you have Internet on your mobile, but it’s about making the shopping experience better, making it more enjoyable to make sure they can access email and relax because sometimes, in the world we’re living in, because of technology, we need to check our work email every now and then or that phone call or WhatsApp message.

Q: How do you find out the needs of the customers in Kuwait?
A: We actually visit them; we go to their homes. On the Internet we ask for volunteers that are willing to show us their homes and we have groups of people that go to the homes and we sit with the customer. We take measurements and pictures and we ask, okay, what is your biggest frustration at home? And there’s always that one bedroom, that one small bathroom, there’s always something. We take those findings back and then ask them what they would like or what is their ideal home and we put the findings together. Sometimes we do focus groups in store and we bring people to the store and ask them what would you like to see us change or what would you like us to keep the same, what do you feel we are doing well. We have a very humanistic approach, and we understand that we don’t know everything.

Q: Do you find it difficult catering to the diverse customers in Kuwait?
A: No, I think we have the same roots overall. No matter who you are, how big your house is, when your first child is born, your whole structure changes, and the needs are the same. You need a place for the baby to sleep. What will change is the dimensions of the room that the baby is in but you will still need a cot, a changing area, so the needs remain very similar. We all need to eat, we all need to sleep, and of course the surrounding environment of where you eat and sleep is what changes but the needs remain very much the same.

Q: You said you intend to rebuild the entire Avenues branch of IKEA. What does this entail?
A: We have visited homes since September and are now tailoring every single room setting to the customer needs. We now know what the sizes of the wardrobes they have at home are, and we will show similar sizes in our room settings. We know what are the preferred colours or styles and what are the preferred combinations. We have a style in the kitchen department that is brand new. There you can see these big beautiful kitchens and small fantastic functional kitchens as well.

Q: Do you intend to expand to other locations in Kuwait?
A: What we do is create a development plan every three years. That is what we are doing now, exploring the needs not only now but also in 5 years and 10 years. What will the store be like in 10 years? Will it still be big enough? Will we need a second store? We are in the process of exploring that for the time being.

Q: In other countries IKEA hopes to have a store no more than one hour away from any person. Is this plan the same for Kuwait?
A: That’s right, it’s the same plan. Also Kuwait is now expanding. We can see development in the south and we can see development in the north. We are now going in deeper to understand what this development is about.

Q: You recently opened a new branch in Jordan. Why did you decide Jordan?
A: Jordan is a very stable, safe country with a safe environment with an economy, which is stable and can develop in a very positive way. We also feel that Jordanians were already purchasing — already big customers of IKEA. They were travelling to Kuwait, the Emirates, and other places to purchase IKEA products so it made sense to put a store there. It’s actually the biggest store in the Middle East and provided 400 direct jobs, plus more or less the same in indirect jobs, like hiring cleaning companies, security guards, suppliers, even bakers.

Q: Is the Jordanian branch progressing as expected?
A: It is actually going better than we expected.

Q: Do you hope to expand anywhere else within the region?
A: We are now looking into Morocco so we are already working on the layout of the store, like what the store is going to look like and so far Kuwait, Morocco and Jordan are the only places we have for the time being.

Q: Are all IKEA stores the same?
A: The frame is the same but the inside of the store is different from market to market. This is where you get the local flavour brought in to the store. A diwaniya is something that only exists in this region whilst you need a green room in the Nordic countries because plants will freeze to death outside. Conceptually it is all very much the same.

Q: How does the Middle East compare with other regions you’ve worked in?
A: I have only been here 7 months so I’m fresh to the country. I worked in Spain first and then Germany. From an IKEA point of view it’s the same. It’s the IKEA brand with IKEA values. It’s a very easy going country here. I love Kuwait, I love the people. Being Spanish also makes it easier for me because culturally we have a lot of similarities with the Arab world because of the heritage so from a family perspective it’s wonderful, everything is really family friendly and it’s a really easy country to integrate into and to live in. You get spoiled very quickly

Q: In your speech you mentioned the ‘wow’ factor. What is the ‘wow’ factor?
A: The ‘wow’ factor is we do not only sell products, and this is one of the strong messages I tried to teach my team. We are here to provide solutions to needs, and many times we don’t even know what our needs are. During the home visits, one of the questions I liked to ask was how many pairs of shoes do you have in this house?, and 99 percent of the people do not know how many pairs of shoes they have. Then I would ask can we count them together? And then we count pairs of shoes and people suddenly realize that they have a big problem with shoes. If it’s a family of five and you count slippers, flip flops and running shoes, that’s already three pairs and for each member that ends up at 15 pairs, which means there’s 30 shoes and you’re not counting dressing up shoes or school shoes. You’ll see you end up having 200, 300 shoes. We all do the same, we store them in boxes, then we can’t find the bag that matches them or the belt that matches them, and the ‘wow’ factor is when you come to the store and you see that solution that says ‘aha, I can fit 300 pairs of shoes in 2 meters, wow’ so it’s actually getting people to identify needs that they don’t know they have or they are needs that are in the back of your mind because it’s always been like that.
The shoes have always been piled together on shelves or in boxes. Also, providing a fantastic experience for the kids. I think it’s very important to be able to at the price we have that would make parents say “This is amazing, how can these guys do that? That’s crazy” I think it’s a lot more about small things that make a difference, and not one ‘wow’ thing. You can see that every now and then we changes dishes, and we bring in more. We need men’s food which is like the big pieces of steak and then we need more female food that isn’t a large or harsh. It doesn’t mean a lady won’t eat steak but it’s what guys enjoy. We cater to who is coming here and what they like to eat and how we can accommodate that.

Q: What is the favourite IKEA product sold here in Kuwait?
A: I think it depends on who you ask. Wardrobes are fantastic. They love our wardrobes because of the storage solutions, the fantastic flexibility, the different possibilities. Sofas are also a very important range because the living room area is very important part of the home here in this part of the world. On the other hand I can say we have these small candles that is one of our top sellers. You have everything from a big wardrobe to a candle. It depends very much on the need, the mood, even the season.

Q: What kind of products are being developed to target 11-15 year olds?
A: That is being developed. It will be based on the needs of these teenagers. One of these needs is relaxation, so we will have a range focused on how to relax like video gaming and reading. You can see we already have started developing a range for when it comes to studying; there are chairs that are ergonomic for the kids, to keep their backs straight while they’re doing their homework so they don’t end up with back pain.
There will be catwalks with huge mirrors for the little princesses who want to play models, there are new bed solutions that are truly beautiful that integrate wardrobe storage solutions with a tall bed in a very nice wood with a fantastic wood which is vey princess-like for a girl, and very manly for the guy. New textile collections are coming in to cater to this age. There is a fantastic art collection we are going to bring in next week as part of ten collections we plan to bring in. They’re about art and about young artists who actually work with graffiti and paint and it is a really beautiful limited edition set.

Q: What do you expect to achieve in the next 30 years?
A: I believe we need to invest in developing our people because they are the key to success. Nothing gets done from an office, everything happens on the floor. When the cashier meets a customer or the restaurant guys serving the food to the customer, so it is actually empowering our people, developing our people to make sure the people grow with the company and then embracing technology. It’s one of those assignments that we have pending today that needs developing to take things to the next step.

IKEA celebrates 30th anniversary in Kuwait

KUWAIT CITY, April 15: Swedish home furnishing specialist, IKEA, held a press conference to celebrate their 30th anniversary in Kuwait at their store in The Avenues. The event was hosted by CEO of SYH Retail, Marino Maganto and Store Manager of IKEA Kuwait, Ahmad Al Humaidhi.
Since the first IKEA opened in Kuwait in 1984, the store has become five times its original size to accommodate more than 25 million visitors. The Swedish home furnishing specialist brand provides a wide range functional home furnishing solutions at affordable prices. The IKEA promise is to continuously lower the price of all their products each year, which is delivered through finding new ways to be more efficient.

Al Humaidhi emphasized the significance of the 30-year milestone, and commented: “As the population of Kuwait grew, and with it a demand for a greater selection of home furnishing solutions, so did our commitment to work constantly to offer our customers inspiration, innovative solutions and an excellent customer experience.”
Commenting on IKEA’s history in Kuwait, Maganto said: “For the last 30 years, we have offered our customers a fun day for the whole family, with more than 25 million visitors, and we will continue to welcome them for many years to come. At IKEA we are proud of the long and rich relationship we have with the local community. Since 1984 to today, we continue to support different social initiatives. As an important part of our values, sustainability is always considered in everything we do. Two good examples: we recycle all the cartons we use and very soon all the light bulbs we sell will be LED. These lights use 80% less energy than normal light bulbs.”

Maganto also expressed his optimism over planned technological developments that will be implemented in the near future to improve the entire shopping experience: “A future of growth based on innovation, offering new ways of shopping, new ways of getting inspiration, like digital catalogues, IKEA apps or our website.  We will soon offer free Wi-Fi across the whole store to improve the shopping experience. We are developing tools that will help you build your dream kitchen or the perfect wardrobe even from the comfort of your own home, an IKEA that is accessible whenever, wherever and however the consumer wants, a better IKEA for our customers and for our people.”

“Over the years IKEA has grown to play an important role inspiring the many people in Kuwait by providing functional, good quality home furnishing solutions,” said Al Humaidhi, “we continuously work to understand the needs of the Kuwait market to be able to offer solutions that are relevant to our local customers,” he continued.
Accordingly, IKEA has also become a second home for many families in Kuwait, with a restaurant, a bistro and a supervised children’s play area, Smaland. In fact, IKEA Restaurant has served more than 45 million meatballs since the opening in 1984.
The original IKEA Kuwait had the first navigation tower of any IKEA worldwide.  Since 1984, IKEA’s iconic catalogue has been distributed in Kuwait.

By Dina Naser
Arab Times Staff

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