business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

In many ways, these are the scariest seven words I hear these days. I come home from a business trip and my wife says: “Your daughter and I went to Ikea.”

These words always are followed by the same question: “When can you go to her apartment to assemble what we bought?”

And so it begins.

As anyone who has visited Ikea knows, there is nothing to compare with the task of assembling the stuff the giant retailer calls furniture. It entails unpacking huge boxes, trying to decipher the incredible cryptic assembly instructions and then hours spent in back-breaking positions shredding your palms while using an Allen wrench to assemble the “songesand” or “poang” (those are actual products) to create tables, chairs, bookshelves and more.

As Tina Fey once joked on her sit-com “30 Rock,” Ikea is “where marriages go to die.”

Personally I believe it happens in the assembly process.

Except … it is important to remember that Ikea fills an important need, especially when one’s daughter is moving into a new place and looking to fill it with furniture on a budget.

MIT ‘s Sloan School of Management recently explained that what Ikea sells is not furniture or Swedish meatballs. Rather, the retailer sells “holes.” In other words, it provides furniture that can be easily assembled using only the thoughtfully provided wrench and the occasional screwdriver or mallet.

You can read the story here.

MIT explains that Ikea eliminates the needs for drilling or any kind of skills that evade most of us. By selling furniture with pre-cut holes for easy assembly, Ikea solves a consumer problem and succeeds.

The MIT article explains that problem resolution is a key to success, but only if companies understand the actual problem. For instance, InstantPot is hailed as a success story because it allows cooks to control it remotely with Bluetooth technology so that we can make sure the chili is cooking even from our offices. The Internet capability allows us to have a meal cooking remotely. As MIT explained, no one wanted an Internet enabled pressure cooker. They simply wanted an easier way to make dinner.

In contrast, a similar approach failed with espresso makers because no one wants to make an espresso when they aren’t there to actually drink it. As the MIT author explained, it’s like having the ability to turn on a massage chair from a remote location. The benefit of the chair comes from sitting in it, not from just turning it on.

There’s a valuable lesson in that especially as companies increasingly look for ways to solve customer problems to earn and retain their loyalty. Let’s remember that we need to solve actual problems and not just use technology for technology’s sake. The former is a path to success and loyalty. The latter simply results in an espresso getting cold while waiting for us to arrive.

Speaking of problem solving, my wife sent me the MIT article thinking it would make for a great MNB column.

Now she’ll probably want me to build a desk or something.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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