Hear the word IKEA, and a few conflicting ideas are likely to pop up in your mind: bargain furniture, awesome home decorations, and tasty meatballs, but also a labyrinthian store layout, confusing assembly instructions, and occasionally shoddy merchandise. When it comes to this Swedish chain, customers seem to both love it and hate it.
But what about its employees? Some of us have a hard enough time spending two hours a year there, but what happens when you spend 40 hours a week stationed inside one of IKEA’s gargantuan big-box stores? Well, we asked an longtime employee at the chain’s Brooklyn store to give us the inside scoop on what it’s really like to work at IKEA. (Yahoo Makers approached her directly, independent of IKEA’s marketing or PR departments. IKEA asked Makers to remove details about how the store handles reports of lost children, and asked that we not use the employee’s name.)
Of course, IKEA is a massive global chain with literally thousands of employees, and opinions and experiences will vary tremendously. Our employee can’t speak for anyone but herself, but her personal experience offers a little insight into what life is like on the other side of the big blue-and-yellow door.
What’s the most fun thing about working for IKEA?
The customers, the co-workers, and the parties. Me and my co-workers are all really close. And the parties are a lot of fun. We have Christmas parties, barbecues, Fourth of July firework parties by the water, and a yacht party.
What’s the worst part about working at IKEA?
There’s nothing really — it’s all pretty great.
Is it easy to get promoted?
It is. Once you spend time in all of the departments, you end up learning so much.
And another thing we do here is summer youth employment. We have kids come and work here during the summer. Ages 16-21. And a lot of them keep working here. Usually everybody gets hired. They get hourly pay and everything. And every year we get a raise too. Every December.
Do you like interacting with the customers?
Most of the time. Sometimes you get crazy customers with the funny stories; they want to tell you their whole life story. Like “I’m getting divorced, so I need this bag.” Ha-ha.
What the craziest thing that’s happened to you here?
I got cursed out by a customer over the phone. This guy called in and asked if we had some stuff in stock. And we did. But then two days later his friend comes in and says he hates IKEA already, and he asks me where the stuff is. But at this point we’re out of stock. So he puts the first guy on the phone and the guy curses me out so bad I hung up on him. And then I told his friend in the store that I couldn’t help him either.
And kids get lost.
Have you found a kid before?
Yeah, I’ve found plenty of kids.
Do the kids know they’re lost?
Yeah, they know they’re lost. The parents are in the next department half the time. The kids come up to me crying, or another customer brings them up to me. We’re not allowed to touch them; we just ask them what’s wrong. We can’t touch them — it’s protocol.
(Svelvik bed, $249. Photo credit: Jonathan Montgomery)
Do you have a favorite item?
My favorite products are the beds. The Svelvik bed is my favorite. I have a Svelvik, with the metal frame I like. And it’ll last forever. I’ve had this one for three years and have no problems. And I have two small boys, and they jump on the bed and everything.
(Tea light candles, 59 cents. Photo credit: Jonathan Montgomery)
And home decorations — I like their candles. I like the tea light candles. The tea light candles are the best. They have the little holders that are only 59 cents. They’re great, they’re perfect. They can be really intimate. So if you’re trying to do something intimate, yeah, they’re wonderful. Ha-ha.
Related: 8 Ikea Hacks We’re Crazy About
And your least favorite?
My least favorite department is Work IKEA. That’s the work spaces. It’s all the older people that work in that department. It can be slow-paced.
And my least favorite product? I don’t have one. I like it all.
Do you live in Brooklyn?
Yes, but it’s not easy to travel here. I live 1 ½ hours away. I live in Brownsville. I have to take one train and two buses. But it doesn’t bother me because when I get here, I get in a good mood. I’m gone for 11 hours a day.
(Meatballs, mashed potatoes, and a carrot cake cupcake for under $10. Photo credit: Jonathan Montgomery)
Do you like the food?
The food is great. The workers get different food than the customers. We have our own buffet in the back. For $3, you get as much as you want.
(File photo of IKEA store. Credit Getty images)
We have everything in the back — refrigerator, couches, TV, and a phone-charger station. It’s a lounge; it’s like a different world. It’s pretty comfy. And we have computers and Wi-Fi. Did you know the store has Wi-Fi?
What’s something you’d change about working here?
And you have no plans to leave?
No, not yet. I’ll be here for six years on June 8.
What else should we know?
We’re friendly! A lot of people think we’re not friendly. I’ve been reading on Yelp, and they said we’re not friendly. But we’re great!
(Tina Fey in a “30 Rock” scene at IKEA. Credit: NBC)
We also get to go away, to import in different stores. They pay for airfare and hotels and everything. “Import” means when they’re having a buildup, we’re starting a new store, in a different location. We get to help the new workers with the customers.
We also get benefits and a 401(k). That’s great. They make sure you get them. They make sure you start saving. They’ll pay for classes too, if you’re in school. For the classes and the books.
What are some tips for shopping here?
Ikea As Is is a great place to look. It’s great — they have a whole bunch of stuff. I always find candles I like in there. Everything I need I can find in there. So make sure you check the As Is section.