Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hello from Philadelphia!

I am typing from Mary's apartment. Today is Wednesday. We arrived Monday afternoon about 4:30PM after a beautiful ride up the Shenandoah Valley from Greensboro, via Roanoke. It was a week ago this morning that we left Miami Springs for our vacation, and events have tumbled over themselves, one right after another, since then.

Here in Philadelphia, the three of us have had a good time setting Mary up for the coming year. Yesterday, early, we visited the nearby Ikea store. That was a first for Carol and me, and what an interesting place! Whoever created that way of designing household items and marketing them has struck just the right pitch of the younger American. Ikea seems to know just what that consumer's felt needs are for useful, inexpensive things, for clever, pleasant design, and for a sense of personal participation in the acquisition process, whether the consumer is in a family or by himself.

We spent the entire morning there, making a list of what seemed necessary. Then we had lunch in the Ikea restaurant to review the list of what we thought Mary needed, did some further circuits in the store, and finally arrived at the warehouse area where we assembled as much of Mary's selections as we could fit in our SUV. (We're going back this morning to get one more large piece, a sofa.) We topped the visit off with an ice cream cone at a smaller restaurant right on the other side of the check-out counters. I would never imagined myself having such an enjoyable time shopping! Of all things!

We arrived back at Mary's apartment with all Mary's loot, and spent the rest of the afternoon assembling everything, which was no small task. My personal project was putting together the small dining/kitchen table with four chairs. I had no problem with the table, but the first chair didn't come out right because I misread the illustrated instructions (nothing written: just graphics). But once I figured out what was wrong, I disassembled the first chair, reassembled it, and finished the remaining three. I found the assembly one level above "easy", which was fine. But you have to be careful, and it all takes time, of course. I propose to call all that time "sweat equity", which made the products we purchased well priced.

The entire Ikea process involves a carefully designed DIY approach. Ikea has wrung as much of its own paid labor out of its delivery of things, whether its all the way down stream during the assembly at home; further up at the self-serve warehouse area; even further up at the way Ikea presents a basic product with a number of variations (mainly with coverings) that allows the shopper to complete the design himself: and finally in the clever design of the object itself, in a way that leaves the final manufacturing process to the buyer after he brings the thing home.

We did consult employees from time to time: they were always knowledgeable; they didn't hang around us at all, but they always seemed to be nearby; and if you stood there long enough with a puzzled look on your face, one of them seemed to show up and offer to help. And then, again, what one purchases is something not finished but requires assembly. The whole process involves a sort of partnership of consumer and seller that seems just to fit the need for inexpensive things and the buyer's desire to participate in - what would be the word? fabrication? assembly? maybe creation? - of what he is purchasing, rejecting the idea tha we are simply passive, slightly stupid creatures, simply to be "served".

1 comment:

Kellsey said...

Man, I love IKEA!

Good meatballs, too.

Honor liked them and the mac'n'cheese. Aidan and Macon are big fans of the chicken strips, though.

Very fun to see pictures. I can't wait to see pictures of the finished product!