Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Inspired by IKEA

I was inspired this holiday weekend. Not only by the many friends and family that surrounded us... but by the coolest store in the universe! We spent Wednesday and Thursday with my family in St. Helens, then we drove up to the Seattle area to see Rob's family for the remainder of the weekend.

To take advantage of our cultural surroundings, Rob and I went to "Swedish Church" on Sunday. Code name: IKEA. I admit, I didn't go there to be inspired, and we didn't really intend for it to be "church", but it inspired me to think more creatively about church, and that's a wonderful thing!

I was so impressed with so many aspects of this store, that I feel it's necessary to write down my awe-inspiring experience so that I won't forget it. And hey... why not let you listen in?

As a Children's Ministry Director I've always got my Children's Ministry hat on, and it came full-force when we were still several blocks from the store. Here are some things I noticed:

A couple blocks away they had their own blue street sign. Cool! It was convenient and it was clear that we were going in the right direction.

There was clear sign-age (is that a word?) from the main street and there were several flags indicating that you were about to enter some place that's really fun.

As we turned into the parking area it was clearly marked who could park where. Signs read "Loading area, employees only etc." The COOLEST sign, however was the one that had universal signs for disability and FAMILY PARKING that was depicted by a stroller. Wow! Now that was COOL! This parking was under-cover and attached to the main building. Even-though Rob dropped Titus and I off while he and Leeann went to park in the other garage, I was honored that they thought of me. When I'm at a store, with both kids it's so frustrating to be far away from the carts, to walk in the rain, or through heavy traffic. It was good to see that someone had taken note of the plights of young moms!

By the time Leeann and Rob caught up with us, all of the little child-sized carts out-side were taken eagerly by young kids. They did have convenient little strollers though. Picture a short shopping cart, with just the area to seat the kid (i.e. you won't have to struggle to move about the store with the huge cumbersome shopping cart). Bonus- it had a place to hang the diaper bag, and even a place for me to hang my purse!

All this, and I haven't even entered the store yet! I strolled in with confidence knowing that this store wanted me (a young mom) as a customer, and that my children were welcome in their store. In a not-very-child-friendly world, this was like a breath of fresh air.

Inside the store their mission statement was written on the wall in bold letters:

The IKEA business idea is to offer a wide range of home furnishings with good design and function at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them. And still have money left!

Ah, another factor that spoke to my heart! Affordable, functional and a good design. I like that!

Just to the right as you walked into the store there was a play area for kids called small-land. There were check-in screens on the wall and many other cool features. I'll get to that later.

We didn't drop Leeann of at small-land, instead we took her shopping with us. I'm glad we did because it opened my eyes to many other things the store had to offer children.

Continue with me down the isles. Besides their awesome furniture, they had big arrows on the floor every 10 or 15 feet. It would be easy to get lost in such a big store with crazy displays... but it was impossible to get lost with a clear path. My convenient little stroller cart fit everywhere with ease, I'm confident that they made sure of that when setting up their displays. They don't seem to do anything on accident at that store.

One of the model homes set up in the store had clear sign-age indicating all of the ways in which this house was safe and functional for children. It made me want to move in! Now I know: IKEA keeps children in mind when creating their products. Nice.

About this time there is a kid-station that is a four-sided activity center. IKEA knows that this is about the time a young child might be getting restless. There was also a bathroom. For a mommy who's potty-training: extra nice!

About the time that Leeann was getting a little fidgety again, we strategically came upon the children's furniture section. There were lot's of beds set up, and many sample rooms. The bunk beds had Plexiglas over the stairs with a sign that said something about wanting to keep the kids safe by blocking their access to the electrical and lighting fixtures above. Many other stores would post a nasty sign telling me to keep my kids under control and off the furniture. I don't like those stores, I like IKEA!

Side Note: We're hoping to get Leeann a big girl bed for her 4th Birthday in July... so this section was extra fun. Bunk beds? Loft beds? Trundle beds? Canopy beds? Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Anyway, Rob and Leeann played hide an go seek from Titus and I, and it was fun. I honestly felt comfortable letting my child and my over-grown child play hide and go seek in the middle of a furniture store. I knew that I (and my kids) were their target audience by the way they purposefully designed it with so many things helpful for moms and fun for kids.

In this section there were little kid-sized doors that kids could crawl through to get from one display room to the other. Talk about fun!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, there was a whole big area with cool kids tables and chairs, and play centers, complete with a tent and crawl station that Leeann particularly enjoyed. Although small-land is there for the parent's shopping convenience, it was obvious that it's purpose was not simply to keep kids out of their store and off of their stuff.

We rounded through the dining section pretty quickly since we recently purchased our dining room table and chairs. We came through the kitchen section and ended up in a clearing where small-land was extremely visible.

There were essentially 3 different rooms that were brightly colored with murals on the wall. There was a huge ball-pit, a room designed for active play with a play structure and even plastic rocks to climb on! The biggest of the 3 rooms was divided into 3 different sections. There was a house-keeping area that looked like tons of fun. There was a creative area that had kid-sized tables and chairs where kids were drawing and playing games, and there was also a barn, that apparently had a t.v. located in it like a little club-house.

Needless to say, although we had already gone through the whole store... we wouldn't be good parents if we squashed Leeann's dream of being "on the inside" of this fantasy-land. We had a little talk about how she could go in for a little while, but she couldn't cry when it was time to go. (Okay, she ended up having a huge-fit anyway... but such is life).

In order to check her in, I had to use the computer screen on the wall to enter our names, address, birthday etc. Then I waited in a short line while the kids before us went through the routine. While I was standing in line there were big, bold, brightly colored information bubbles on the wall. My favorite? "All of our co-workers are trained in basic first-aid and CPR." Bonus! There were also signs that said kids ages 3-9 were welcome and they could stay for up to an hour while their parents remained in the store. Kids must be fully potty-trained. The same parent had to drop off and pick up their child, and photo ID is required to drop your child off. I was impressed! Of course, it took me about a total of 10 minutes to drop my child off, but I did so with confidence. I knew she wasn't escaping and I knew no one else would have access to her. Not only that, but it was obvious that she was going to have so much fun.

They printed out a card that had the information I entered on the screen and on the bottom it made provide a password and my signature. Then they asked for my photo ID. Then they proceeded to ask Leeann how old she was and they put a printed out sticker on her back that had some sort of code-information. They gave us matching bracelets that indicated that we were number 63. They also gave me an Olive-Garden style pager that had the number 63 on it and let me know that I had an hour to shop. On the wall there was a sign that said "Wait-time" O minutes. Added bonus: I knew they wouldn't exceed proper worker-to-child ratios, and it was obviously Leeann would receive proper care. I saw lot's of workers in each of the areas with children which gave me added comfort.

Since we'd already been through the store once and we were hungry we stopped at the cafe. First things I noticed? A place to park your cart. A sign that read "high chairs", and cheap kids meals. One of the things I was most impressed by was the fact that they sold baby food jars in their cafe. I can think of a time or two that I would have thought that was the biggest blessing ever! Again, I knew I was their target audience, and I felt like they were looking out for me.

Oh wait, it gets better. When I went to grab a strategically located high chair I noticed another children's play area. you could sit at a table and watch your kids play, or you could let them get up and play after they've finished their meal. When I'm having a good conversation with an adult at church, I could only wish there was a place like this nearby!

Titus was cranky and fussy and nearly inconsolable. He was tired, and it was far past bed-time and there was no where to lay his sleepy little head (we've carried him around in his infant car seat so long that he's had a ready-made bed everywhere he went!) After lunch I took him to the bathroom to change him. They had an infant seat in one of their stalls and it was clearly marked. A mom who's shopping with a baby Titus's age would find this absolutely necessary! There was a pail clearly marked "diapers only" and a changing station at the back of the bathroom. That was nice, I didn't have to flash everyone with Titus's bum as they walked in to use the restroom. One of my favorite things was just above the changing station (that was well stocked with liners I might add). "Extra diapers are located in small-land for your convenience." Wow. SUPER NICE! I happened to have plenty with me, but there have been a time or two where we've stayed somewhere longer than we would have anticipated and that can pose a problem for obvious reasons!

I also discovered that Titus had diaper rash, a little bit of a bleeding tooth where his top right tooth just came in, and an obvious top left tooth that was about to break in. No wonder he was fussy. Rob laid his blanket over his shoulder and Titus took a nap on daddy. That was especially sweet because Titus isn't a snuggler and he rarely falls asleep on anyone. He'd rather be left alone! We wandered around the store one last time to take a look at some things we were interested in. There was an end-table that we really wanted, but there was absolutely no room to get it home on this trip. Okay, there were a lot of things we really wanted, but the $14.99 end-table seemed like the most realistic item at this moment in time.

Side note: It was the van's turn to go to the doctors this time. It blew a head-gasket. Bummer. This was the morning we were leaving on vacation and the van is much roomier!

Oh well, we have plans to visit the store again in December, and hopefully we'll get to take a few things home then.

We started thinking that our hour must be getting close to being up so I returned to small-land to retrieve my daughter (at a much less-crowded exit-station). Leeann was in hysterics and didn't want to go, so one of the ladies had to physically carry her out to us. She said, "I'll let you hold her, but I'll need to get all of the tags off of both of you." So, she took the sticker off Leeann's back, retrieved my pager and removed our matching bracelets. I was grateful for their safety precautions!

Leeann absolutely did not want to leave their store. Everything about made me wish I could go back more often. If I lived closer I'd probably drop Leeann off a couple times a week and walk the store for exercise. We'd both have lot's of fun. I'd go there by myself with the kids... I won't even go to the grocery store by myself with the kids! Not to mention, my house would be a walking IKEA advertisement $20 at a time (my home-maintanance/decor budget is $20 a month!)

It was a good trip. I was inspired!

Can you imagine what a church would look like if you were it's target audience? For me, at my stage in life it would have many of the qualities that IKEA had. Of course, the content would be different, but the environment would probably be similar. I wonder what I can do with this IKEA inspiration to make people with children feel like we truly want them at our church... and what we can do to make life easier for them while they are there. Not to mention, how can we make it such an inviting place for kids that they'll cry when it's time to leave just like Leeann did. Hmmm...

IKEA is currently building a store in the Portland area. It's slated to be open in the Spring of 2007 and I'm excited! If I picked up that much on my first trip to IKEA, I wonder what might stand out on subsequent trips? And, it's 3 hours closer to my house, which makes purchasing furniture from there more of a reality. And that, I REALLY LIKE!!!

Well, if you made it this far, I hope that you too were inspired in some way, shape or form by this post. It was an amazing adventure!


becca said...

Very cool thoughts - I have yet to visit IKEA but have heard such great things about the company and the store.

My church is getting ready to remodel an area for Children's Ministry and in January we start demolition and plans for the new center. Your reflections give me some ideas that will carry through to the meeting in January! Thanks!

Jessi said...

You're such an awesome writer...I know that Ikea store very well! Spent many hours when I was living in Seattle. Hope that you're having a great day, it's snowing like crazy up here...took me 13.5 hours to get home on Sunday, normally only a 5.5 hour drive. Halle was an angel. We have 24" of snow and it's expected to keep snowing all night...who knows, I might have to do some quick grocery shopping right now to get us through the next couple of days, because from the looks of it...I won't be driving!

Shelly said...

24 inches?? Where do you live??

Suzy said...

We love IKEA too! A lot of the storage in my scrapbook room is from there. They have the best storage stuff. I definitely have plans to buy more. Once that store is in Portland, you're gonna have to up that home decor budget!