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  • 15 Sep 2014 12:02 PM | TB OWIT (Administrator)

    "Taking a Major Retailer on the International Path Undefined - An IKEA Retrospective
    from Sweden, to the U.S. and Beyond"


    By a show of hands - Who’s heard of IKEA before?  Who’s been to the store in Tampa?  It’s surprising to learn that 38% of the population in Tampa doesn’t know what IKEA is or that there is a IKEA store in Tampa.  This is one challenge that IKEA faces according to our latest TBOWIT luncheon speaker, Monica Varela, Manager of the Tampa store.  If you missed Monica’s presentation this past Thursday, August 28th, you missed a fascinating talk about mixing cultures and IKEA’s entrance to the US market.

    Monica has worked for IKEA since 1989 and her enthusiasm for her company was contagious and her knowledge was extensive.  Monica is an IKEA expert having worked at the US corporate headquarters in charge of various product “ranges”, worked abroad as manager of European ranges/stores/regions, and now as  manager of the Tampa store. This lady knows her stuff – IKEA stuff! The overarching theme of Monica’s presentation was – how do you mix cultures and modify products for a particular market without turning your back on corporate culture. How do you go about planting IKEA’s Swedish culture and values of functionality, sustainability, equality, and stewardship into the US market? How do you overcome the challenges that will inevitably come up?

    The answer is two-prong – educate your market and educate the home office in Sweden to where they modify the “range” (product line).  Here are a few examples of challenges faced-

    Bedding - IKEA was the first to introduce the concept of a duvet cover. IKEA US had to educate their public on the use and practicality of a duvet cover. On the flip side, IKEA US had to help Sweden realize that Americans want flat sheets (Swedish people don’t sleep with flat sheets). IKEA now sells flat sheets.

    Lighting – Sweden doesn’t get as much light as we do here in the US. It’s actually quite dark. The Swedish people use “points of light” in the rooms of their home. They will have a specific light for a specific purpose usually at a lower wattage. The Swedish will turn off and on lights as they move around a room. Conversely, in the US, we typically use a higher wattage bulb for the whole room.  For the US market, IKEA had to come up with a higher wattage bulb. As info, by 2016, all of IKEA’s lights globally will be LED.

    Candles – For the Swede, candles are functional. Not so in the US, we use candles for decoration and for their scent. There was a long battle to get the go-ahead to sell scented candles in the US. Today, they are the number one seller around the world!

    Glassware – No, that’s not a pitcher for water. That’s the size of the glass that Americans want to use. In Sweden, they do not use ice so their glasses are taller and narrower.  IKEA US was given the go ahead to move glass production to the US and we now have our “normal” size glasses.

    Kids Dept – IKEA tries to sell products and to show their customers that kids are not to be isolated or protected in the home. Kids should have a central place in every room of the house. For instance, IKEA sells a porcelain tea service. They want kids to learn that if you drop something it’ll break and you might get a cut. One thing that IKEA has not been allowed to sell in the US though that they sell in Europe – a tool kit with a real hammer and saw (!).


    While there have been some challenges when it comes to the range, IKEA (which in Sweden is pronounced ee-kay-a) has had great success with planting their Swedish corporate culture in not only the US stores, but IKEA stores globally. Here are a few of IKEA’s ethos.

    Diversity – At IKEA stores, diversity is invited, welcomed, and accepted. It doesn’t matter if you have pink hair, tattoos, or piercings for instance. IKEA co-workers don’t have to hide who they are. Co-workers are supported in their individual expression and uniqueness.

    Equality – At IKEA, there is no sense of strict hierarchy. There are no offices or cubicles. Monica’s desk is a room with several other desks. Everyone wears the same uniform. Everyone goes by their first name. Monica told a humorous story that happened recently when a new hire thought that Monica was a pusher-of-carts because that is where she had first seen her.

    Energy – The best ideas come from the bottom up across all lines. September starts the IKEA business year. To come up with the next year business plan, IKEA Tampa took 14 of their employees from across the spectrum thru a SWOT analysis and this group comes up with the business plan. This group of employees not only comes up with the plan, but then presents the plan to the IKEA board. Monica is proud to say that this year’s plan was deemed “the best ever!”.

    Work/life balance – Apparently Europeans have the following to say about us in the U.S., “Europeans work to live and Americans live to work.” At IKEA all managers are expected to work around 40 hours per week not 50/60/70 per week. If someone is working these many hours than there is something wrong. IKEA will work with a person to  make sure that their job can be completed in around  40 hours.


    Monica’s presentation was chock full of interesting tidbits, stories, and strategies to entwine two cultures. Monica also delved into current opportunities that IKEA faces such as e-commerce and evolving self-serve for customers who want to be served more (ex. picking and assembly).  After Monica’s presentation, she fielded many questions from the audience and we could have peppered her for about another hour. I’m so glad that she answered so many questions, because through the answers we learned the origins of IKEA’s heart/hug plush, IKEA’s expansion plans both in the US and globally, a few stories of culture clashes between Sweden and other countries, how IKEA cares for their suppliers and invests in their suppliers, local in-store events, and local philanthropy.

    Best of all, Monica ended her presentation with a raffle for about a dozen IKEA items – everything from lights to duvet covers to office storage to, of course, a heart/hug plush pillow & more!


    If you missed Monica’s presentation, you missed an energetic, highly informative, excellent talk about IKEA. But don’t worry, you can always visit the store!



    by - Christyna Doege

  • 02 Jun 2014 5:34 PM | TB OWIT (Administrator)

    “SHIFTING DIRECTIONS: Challenges of Managing Growth Driven by the International Customer"


    It’s not often that you get to listen to the CEO of a NASDAQ-traded company give pointers on how to successfully engage in international business.


    How lucky were we then to hear Mr. Ermanno P. Santilli, CEO of MagneGas this past Thursday at TBOWIT’s March luncheon.  I won’t pretend to understand the process behind MagneGas’ product except that I know it’s called –Plasma Arc Flow.


    Their technology gasifies or sterilizes hazardous liquid wastes and produces a fuel which they have called MagneGas. This gas and process is at the forefront of green technology. MagneGas fuel has the lowest green house emissions of any fuel out there on the market today.   And it’s cost competitive to boot.


    How then do you take this marvelous product and sell it overseas while safeguarding your proprietary rights?


    Ermanno gave a lot of pointers and here are a few.


    One, Recognize that you can’t do it alone–you need trusted and responsible individuals on the ground overseas who know the local taxes, customs, and etc. Two, from the very start make it clear that you follow the FCPA guidelines (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act). Three, Pay attention to red flags such as high commissions, a different payment address from a legal address, or someone not wanting to meet at the company location. Four, Follow up, insist on meeting the client at their place of work, get their business card, and then after the meeting call both their office number and the main office number to speak to the individual. Five, Be on the offensive when it comes to protecting your international patents - have overlapping IP protections to keep copy cats away, service your own products, know who your client is, and keep your negotiations on the down low.  It wouldn’t surprise me if one day Mr. Santilli writes a book because he had a lot of good information to share.

    What a great opportunity we had to listen and ask questions of this successful CEO!


    By Christyna Doege


  • 02 Jun 2014 5:30 PM | TB OWIT (Administrator)

    "Battles and Victories from Women-Owned Businesses: Defense Contractors of the Not-So-Weaker Sex"


    What do top secret clearance, Libyan dictators, and government contracts have in common -the answer is one woman, Sally Woodward, Partner at Shutts & Bowen, LLP.


    If you missed January's TBOWIT's lunch meeting, you missed a fascinating conversation covering a crash course on government contracting, the importance of having knowledgeable consultants & support, and real-life examples from the world of government contracts. A little-known fact that Sally pointed out is that the Tampa Bay area is the 3rd largest federal government contract area in the nation. That's right, the 3rd largest. We would re-cap some of those adventurous stories that Sally told except they are now cloaked in OWIT secrecy & you will need OWIT clearance (This is a joke!).


    Sally also explained to the OWIT audience how a "domestic" contract can quickly become international when a company's contract is extended to embassies, bases, or agencies established overseas and, even more complicated, a formerly domestic contract extended to a foreign government under the auspicious of the US federal government. Sally capably and eagerly held our hand thru some of the nuances of government contracting explaining about FARS, the benefits available to women-owned companies, profit margins, government accounting, the fine line between money paid overseas for necessary procedures & to secure a bid (ahem..we mean a bribe -which Sally quickly pointed out is one reason you need wise counsel by your side). Sally covered so much ground that frankly, expert is probably a mild form of praise.


    Government contracting requires a lot of up-front work, but can be quite lucrative. It's refreshing to hear about successful women-owned businesses in the Tampa Bay area that are involved in this arena and that we have such a resource in women like Sally who can offer the support and expertise needed to thrive.  Sally started to the TBOWIT year off with a bang! (no pun intended) 


    Thank you Sally!


    By Christyna Doege

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The Tampa Bay Chapter (TBOWIT), established in 1997, is one of more than 30 + chapters worldwide under the umbrella of OWIT, the Organization of Women in International Trade, a dynamic organization created to enhance the status and interests of women in the field of international business.

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