Entrepreneurs Seek To Capitalize On Ikea Opening Buzz

By Lisa Brown St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Flummoxed by Allen wrenches or loath to circle parking lots, hunting for a space?

The opening of the first Ikea store in St. Louis is still weeks away, but businesses and entrepreneurs in the region are already scrambling to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the new store.

They're offering a range of Ikea-related services, including furniture assembly, painting advice and free shuttles to the home furnishing retailer when it opens on Sept. 30.

Patrick Marsden, a veteran carpenter who lives in Hazelwood, is one of the folks hoping to cash in.

Marsden last month posted an ad on Craigslist, offering Ikea customers delivery and assembly services for a fee. "I have the knowledge and knack to put things together," Marsden said.

Ten years ago, Marsden renovated and flipped houses for a living, but that business dried up with the housing crash and recession.

With the new Ikea opening, Marsden foresees demand for his services from customers who want an Ikea bookshelf or other goods but feel overwhelmed by the need to put together the ready-to-assemble furniture. His ad lists a range of fees based on the value of merchandise a customer buys at Ikea, starting at $79 for goods up to $299, up to a $769 for goods over $3,000.

"I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and this has a lot of potential," said Marsden, who works in the IT industry but said he wants to restart his renovation and construction business.

When a new Ikea opened a year ago in Merriam, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, home remodeler and former professional painter David Helm quickly seized on the opportunity by opening a new business that focuses solely on installing Ikea cabinets.

The Kansas City-based business, Pro Kitchen Builders, charges more than $1,500 to install some Ikea cabinets.

"Most cabinet installers are used to putting in fully assembled cabinets, and Ikea products that have more pieces, it's a hurdle," said Helm, who plans to hire more employees to keep up with increased demand for his services. "I get calls from contractors all the time, where their regular cabinet installers are stuck, even for guys who have been in the industry for a long time."

Ikea has delivery available though a third-party contractor and offers assembly through a referral source, according to spokesman Joseph Roth. The flat fee for most deliveries within a 30-minute drive of the store is $59, Roth said.

Other business owners also see Ikea's St. Louis store opening as a chance to attract new customers.

Laurie Stephens, owner of Redposie, a St. Charles cabinet and furniture paint retailer, plans to hold workshops at her store to teach people how to custom paint Ikea furniture. Altering Ikea merchandise has become so widespread that the tips have a name: "Ikea hacks."

On her Redposie.com blog, Stephens touts the spray paint her store carries as Ikea-friendly and offers ideas how to transform Ikea furniture. Most of her customers buy paint and other materials for furniture handed down for generations, but Stephens said she sees Ikea's opening as a way to bring new customers to her store looking for ways to customize their purchases.

"I'm excited about it opening," she said.

In addition to offering assembly and delivery services, there's also an alternative available to bypass searching for a parking spot for Ikea's opening day in St. Louis. As with all its store openings, Ikea is expecting a big crowd on opening day, and will have some off-site parking available in addition to its 1,300 parking spaces.

To give its customers a chance to skip the hassle of parking, the Gramophone tavern and deli in the nearby Grove business and entertainment district is offering a shuttle to the store on Sept. 30. "Come get some sandwich fuel before taking the 3 hour walk through," the bar states on its Facebook page, calling it an "Ikea grand opening shuttle party." Several weeks before the store opens, more than 50 people had signed up for the Gramophone's shuttle on Facebook.

Businesses with services to offer aren't the only ones seeing opportunity in Ikea's opening. Dozens of owners of apartments, warehouse and office space now tout their proximity to Ikea as a selling point in their real estate listings on Craigslist.

Ikea's Roth said it's common to see entrepreneurs use Ikea's store openings as a way to propel their own businesses. "That is pretty consistent market to market," Roth said. "Typically, once we're open, a lot of contractors become masters of Ikea furniture and use that as a selling point."

Some hotels near Ikea stores in other markets have begun offering "Ikea packages" that include transportation to the stores, he said.

Not all businesses see Ikea's opening as a way to generate extra revenue, however. Ikea's new store has affected Expedite STL, a local service ran by Mark and Emily Schmitz that began taking monthly trips to Chicago several years ago to pick up and deliver Ikea merchandise for St. Louis customers for a fee. Now with the new store opening in the region, their long-distance service is no longer necessary.

"We announced in May that we're no longer making the trips," Emily Schmitz said. "The Ikea opening is bittersweet for us, but it is good for St. Louis."

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