Why You May Be Renting Your Next Kitchen Sink From Ikea

February 5, 2019, 3:04 PM UTC

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You know the acronym SaaS for “Software as a Service” and probably IaaS for “Infrastructure as a Service.” Are you ready for KaaS (Kitchen as a Service), SCaaS (Spice Cabinet as a Service), or BBaaS, for Billy Bookcase as a Service? That’s right, the global king of traditional furniture sales is getting hip to this whole digital sharing strategy. Ikea announced on Monday a new offering to lease its wares via “scalable subscription services,” quickly dubbed in the press as the “Netflix of furniture.”

The announcement and the glowing coverage immediately raise the same question that’s come up over a few other kinds of sharing. Is WeWork a new model for the future of work or just an office landlord dressed up in fancy terminology? Or, in a worst case scenario, could the new Ikea plans end up like the shady rent-to-own industry that preys on low-income neighborhoods across the country?

Inter Ikea CEO Torbjorn Loof says the big idea is to reduce waste and be more green. “When that leasing period is over, you hand it back and you might lease something else,” he tells the Financial Times. “And instead of throwing those away, we refurbish them a little and we could sell them, prolonging the lifecycle of the products.”

But whichever way you come down, let’s agree to give the relatively new CEO the benefit of the doubt for trying something new. Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, who died just over a year ago, was one of the most brilliant minds in retail, building the global furniture empire over decades and generating one of the greatest fortunes in history. He took advantage of 20th century mega-trends like suburbanization and rising car ownership to stoke sales of his convenient, low-cost Nordic designs that you assembled yourself. Now the company faces the threat of a more recent billionaire, Amazon’s (AMZN) Jeff Bezos, capitalizing on the mega-trends of this century, like the spread of the Internet and electronic commerce.

That puts Loof somewhat in the same situation as Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook, still atop a mightily successful enterprise but with growth slowing and challengers nipping. And we’ve gotten subscription phone upgrades and now subscription kitchens. At the very least, I think you have to admire Loof’s approach: “We have to be the fastest learners . . . daring to test things and make mistakes, but also again correct them,” he says.

Whether he can fill those big shoes left by the visionary founder remains an open question.

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