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Seven Decades of Style

This year, Illums Bolighus not only celebrated seven successful decades in the retail business, but also became one of the top retailers in the world at the IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia).

When the Marketing Manager of Illums Bolighus, Sofie Molls, took to the stage at the IHA Global Innovation Awards in Chicago, there was a palpable sense of elation in the air. After a heartfelt speech, she finished with the comment: “We’ve waited 70 years for this.”Denmark_Ext


It’s an impressive accomplishment, to run a successful business for seven decades, and during that time, the three pillars that give Illums Bolighus its core identity have never changed: design, quality and superb service.

Established in 1941 in Copenhagen, Illums Bolighus now has seven stores across Scandinavia. They are like design centers, or department stores for design. Throughout the gradual expansion, the three pillars have been refined, but all staff today have the same aims that those before them did: showcasing superb design, always ensuring that the finest quality of products is on offer, and making sure that customers have an extraordinary experience every time they visit one of the seven stores.

“Illums Bolighus is an old lady who is turning 75 years this September,” says Sofie.  “The metaphor of a classy lady with good taste who never compromises might be the best way of describing Illums Bolighus. We stay true to our brand, and thus we do not disappoint our customers. Our customers expect to find a combination of classics and modern design, sublime customer service, and they expect that we are innovative while also remembering our DNA. Our philosophy is simple: we strive to give every single customer a total experience in recognizable surroundings, where we display handpicked Scandinavian design.”


Just like an exhibition at an art gallery, or a performance at a theatre, all staff at Illums Bolighus put so much effort into creating an experience to remember. “It’s crucial that every customer has a unique shopping experience, hence our engaged and service-minded employees are highly valued,” says Sofie. “Our vision is to maintain our position as a leading center for design, lifestyle and interior design, but to also continue being results-oriented, cost-efficient, and to focus on developing our cooperative agreements.”

Illums Bolighus aims to inspire visitors with outstanding visual merchandising, an inspiring product range, vibrant PR and advertising campaigns, and always, a trendsetting environment.

“The atmosphere and overall theme is inspired by Scandinavian minimalism, both in colors and materials selected,” explains Sofie. “Our stores are airy in the sense that we want to invite our customers into a universe of quality, not quantity. The same applies noise—we do not use any voice or music systems as this may distract or annoy customers. The only ‘noise’ is natural, which contributes to the comfortable, relaxed and stylish shopping environment.”


Being a go-to center for design, visual merchandising is taken very seriously at Illums Bolighus. “The visual merchandising team consists of well-educated, hand-picked creative spirits with a passion for design,” says Sofie. “We aim to educate our visual merchandisers, and many of them remain working with us after gaining their degrees.”

The team develops 10 annual themes in January, and those themes are then presented in window displays, color schemes and within decorations in-store. For example, Sea & Sky, Candy, and Dots & Pearls are some previous themes created by the visual merchandising team that incorporate the latest trends in material, colors and shapes.

“Our visual merchandising team puts great effort into creating the same universe and atmosphere in all of our seven stores,” Sofie says proudly. “They therefore travel between all stores making sure that themes, display windows and set designs are harmonious across all of Scandinavia.”

The gia jury and judges were impressed by Illums Bolighus’ marketing plan, which is executed in Denmark, Norway and Sweden simultaneously. They operate on a seasonal plan, which underlines the synergy between visual merchandising and marketing activities. “The 10 annual themes are presented in our window displays and in-store color schemes, and then followed through in our print advertising, newsletters and social media,” explains Sofie. “Our print advertising includes both brand-building image spreads and smaller advertising, focusing on special offers. And very importantly, our loyal photographers shoot all photos, as we never use ones from suppliers. This is because our advertising identity is largely relying on our trademark styling in photographs.”


Every year, Illums Bolighus produces a 148-pages catalogue, distributed to 500,000 customers in Scandinavia. “It is highly anticipated and is often referred to as ‘the catalogue’,” says Sofie.

Staff training is a major focus for this design mecca, because without staff confident about explaining, using and recommending new designer products, and understanding why the classics are so well loved, they would not have the reputation that they do.

Every new employee has a one-day introduction where they are taken through every aspect of the company, with the help of short movies instead of more typical PowerPoint presentations. Movies are shown to new staff members that illustrate the company’s DNA, how to gift-wrap, what good customer service means, and how their visual merchandising team works. Before the busy Christmas period arrives for instance, every staff member must have seen the new Christmas catalogue, know the thoughts and ideas behind the store decorations, and be acutely aware of product trends in order to advise customers on good purchase decisions. “So staff are well-prepared and informed when entering the Christmas shopping season, which results in satisfied customers and staff that are very secure in what they are saying and doing,” says Sofie.

Despite Illums Bolighus having been around for 75 years and the team having an incredible combined wealth of knowledge, being a part of gia was something that Sofie not only enjoyed, but also found to be a great learning curve. “Producing the requested material for entering gia was part of a big learning process, which made us see the brand with an outside perspective,” says Sofie. “Not only did we have to outline arguments as to why our brand is special, we also learned— through some in-depth arguments—that we’re actually unique. That was a confident boost for everyone!”

As Illums Bolighus is a veteran on the retail scene, they are well-placed to give some advice to new arrivals on the scene. “If you have strong vision, and good products and service, you will succeed with time. You should be prepared, because hard times will come. But when they come, be consistent, and do not change your vision and strategy, because if you do, you are changing the core of your brand, and then you lose the power of what you have already created. Ultimately, it is this strong sense of brand that ensures Illums Bolighus’ continued success.”

For more information about the gia (IHA Global Innovation Awards) program, the co-sponsors, or participating in 2016-2017, contact Piritta Törrö at piritta.torro@inspiredconnection.fi. Additional information on the gia program is also available online at www.housewares.org/show/gia-retail.

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IHSA Finalizes Ocean Contract Negotiations

After two months of negotiating with ocean carriers, the International Housewares Shippers Association (IHSA) is pleased to report that contract negotiations have been finalized.   IHSA’s 2016-17 ocean carrier program offers rates and services with 11 different ocean carriers capable of providing service to and from every major trade lane in the world.   The contract rates are valid for one year and are not subject to rate increases during the life of the contracts.


“Preliminary feedback from our members regarding the new freight rates has been very favorable,” says Jeff Bergmann, Executive Director for IHSA.  “For the past year, severe global overcapacity has put downward pressure on ocean freight rates.  Carrier executives privately admit that they will have no alternative but to eventually increase freight rates on cargo not protected under ocean contracts.   IHSA members will not only benefit by receiving 20% – 40% lower rates in our new contracts, but they will also be protected from increases when rates start trending upward.   We are excited about the advantages these new contract rates provide our members along with the opportunities they afford to secure new members.”

IHSA is comprised of logistics executives who work closely with an extensive portfolio of global and regional service providers.  Their focus is on offering reduced pricing while maintaining price stability and reputable service levels.   Membership in IHSA is free for regular members of the International Housewares Association.   For more information, you may contact Greg Marti at 513-489-4743 x171 or gmarti@shippersassociation.org.

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California Companies May be Eligible to Receive Export Support

California companies, ready to export but need help with their export promotion activities, are encouraged to learn more about services available through the Center for International Trade Development (CITD) .  CITD is a valuable resource for export promotion activities and through their STEP-ICEP program (State Trade Expansion Program-Individual Company Export Promotion) companies may be reimbursed up to $2,500 to support the following Export Promotion Activities.

  • Participation in global trade missions and international sales trips
  • Subscription to services of the U.S. Department of Commerce (Gold Key Service, International Partner Search Service)
  • Design of international marketing media and website translation fees
  • Costs associated with sample shipments
  • Costs associated with an export trade fair booths
  • Other non-travel related expenses necessary to implement export promotion activity, at California-STEP’s discretion

California companies interested in learning more, please visit www.citd.org/register or contact Ester Gordillo at +1.916.563.3229 or gordilm@losrios.edu for information about the STEP program.


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Kitchenware Veteran

One of five global honorees in the 2016 IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia) — Kitchen Shop in Malaysia — is out to help people live more healthily while also taking care of the environment. 

Next year, Katrin BJ, the Malaysian holding company for 25 homeware and kitchen retail specialty shops in Malaysia, including Kitchen Shop, House of Presentation (HOS), La Gourmet Shop, WWRD Boutique, BBQ King and Brabantia Shop, will be celebrating an impressive 35 years in business.

Katrin BJ is owned and run by savvy co-founders, Mr. Basri and Ms. Jean Yeap (thus the name of the company, BJ — which is a mix of Basri and Jean). This year in Chicago at the IHA Global Innovation Awards, it was Kitchen Shop’s time to shine. Established in 2008, the store is one of the holding company’s youngest offerings.

Being loud and bright, fancy, design-driven, über-modern or environmentally friendly are all ways to stand out from the crowd in the tough world of retail, but it’s none of these things alone that Kitchen Shop relies upon for its ongoing success. Its message and aim is actually quite subtle – hidden in the details of the carefully selected goods that the store stocks. Kitchen Shop doesn’t need to shout out its standpoint to the world, as its customers discover, after using the quality products, what the business is all about. And that is, health, and the environment.

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Kitchen Shop is based upon a dual philosophy that not only highlights Ms. Yeap and Mr. Basri’s well-proven understanding of sound business, but also showcases their love of healthy living and the environment. Which combined, result in happiness. The business is all about sustainability and providing a store and an environment that encourages and inspires customers to embrace a healthy lifestyle. The co-founders believe that through family and friends coming together and cooking, and through choosing the right products to do so, people can not only attain better health, but also help protect the environment.

This dual philosophy paved the way for the store becoming one of five honorees at this year’s IHA Global Innovation Awards, asserting it as one of the best stores in the world.

“We were so surprised,” says Ms. Yeap with heartfelt emotion. “I had tears in my eyes, and I was shaking when I went to the stage to accept the award. We didn’t even have a speech ready as we had no idea that we would win. There were so many other great retail stores competing with us. However now, looking back, we should have been confident, because we know that the store is a great success and the business is based upon great, solid principles. And we have a very loyal client base who really believe in what we do and what we offer.”


“The process of applying for the gia award gave us time to reflect,” adds Mr Basri. “You can become so caught up in whatever you’re doing every day when working in retail, but when answering questions about your store while filling out application forms, detailing your philosophy and how you operate – it makes you stop and think, and understand why you are doing what you are doing.”

A few years ago, Mr. Basri read an article about gia and thought: ‘We can win that. Kitchen Shop is a winning shop.’ He was right. The gia expert jury and industry judges (from home and housewares retail publications across the world) applauded the company’s approach to retail, and were very impressed by the company’s dedication to their staff and training. Kitchen Shop attracts some of the best retail staff in the country because people have heard about how well they are treated and the benefits they enjoy – such as healthcare, training, reward programs and great incentives.

Staff members are also offered lots of support in their quest to help customers. For example there’s always a manager on duty at Kitchen Shop’s headquarters, so that staff can call for urgent advice, also during the weekend. This means that solutions can be provided instantly, speeding up the process as well as generating high customer satisfaction. There’s even an IT care line, so that staff can call for urgent advice for things such as the internet not working or a computer malfunctioning after normal office hours.

There are many innovative elements that contribute to Kitchen Shop’s success  — such as an ambient in-store café area for people to gather in and share information and ideas. There are product demonstration areas, and a ‘try before you buy’ corner, and even a mini garden in the middle of the store to showcase the BBQ equipment and utensils. However again, it’s the things that you don’t at first see that uphold the two pillars of sustainability and healthy living.

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“We are all about conserving energy,” explains Ms. Yeap. “And on a commercial level, when it comes to products, we’re all about credibility, integrity and honesty – we don’t divert from this.”

And example of conserving energy is in how the company strives to educate their customers about why they should use particular products and how – for instance using ceramic pots to conserve heat. And teaching people to cook good, simple food for themselves and families, and how to avoid so much waste.

“We teach people how to have a healthier life and how to conserve energy in the kitchen,” says Ms. Yeap. “Even if we can get a product cheaper, and make more money from it, if it is not well made and not good for the environment, we will not take that path. We will not stock that product for ethical reasons. We then need to educate our customers to understand those decisions. And educate our staff so they know how to explain the products and the purchase choices behind them.”


The business is also based upon something that the co-founders hold close their heart: family values. “We believe very much in the values of love and gratitude,” says Mr. Basri. “When we hire new people, they need to fit into this family-based culture. If someone is very educated and knowledgeable and has the right experience for a role, but they have poor values, we would not hire them. Because to us, this store is like a real home – offering good value and a great experience to the customer.”

Kitchen Shop is also very much about offering their customers the best prices possible, and because they can access products straight from manufacturers, they can pass on savings. “We bring the best quality household products to our consumers at affordable pricing, uplifting the standards and quality of products that we put on the shelves in order to meet a customer’s needs, and improve our customers’ lifestyles,” says Mr. Basri.

So really, the ethos is simple, and yet the results are award winning. “Kitchen Shop believes that home cooking brings people together and creates a sense of belonging,” says Ms. Yeap. It’s not only a retail shop out to sell products, but a place to inspire customers to have better bonding with loved ones, and a healthy, happy lifestyle.”


For more information about the gia (IHA Global Innovation Award) program, the co-sponsors, or participating in 2016-2017, contact Piritta Törrö.

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Consumer Media Coverage Shines in Chicago! – Part 2

The International Home + Housewares Show generates more than 350 million consumer impressions.  To follow are select highlights of consumer coverage.  To see even more coverage, be sure to read Part 1 of this article series!

Chattanooga Time Free Press

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El Paso Times

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Chicago Tribune

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Miami Herald

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CBS MoneyWatch

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Akron Beacon Journal

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Philadelphia Inquirer

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Splash Magazine

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The Daily Meal

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ABC World News Now

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The Times (Northwest Indiana)

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The Steve Harvey Show

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The International Housewares Association helps members connect with the consumer throughout the year through The Inspired Home consumer-focused website and through consumer press events held in New York and London.