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.”
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 email@example.com. Additional information on the gia program is also available online at www.housewares.org/show/gia-retail.