Largest branch in the Middle East includes kosher restaurant, Swedish food store, and felafel stand.
By RON FRIEDMAN
Swedish home design giant Ikea held a grand opening of its second Israeli store in Rishon Lezion on Tuesday.After four years of planning and NIS 400 million in investment, the largest Ikea store in the Middle East opened its doors to eager shoppers, nearly all of whom left with more products than they anticipated.The new store covers 34,000 square meters. Shoppers who follow the suggested shopping route will walk 2 kilometers from the entrance to the cash registers, passing through 46 meticulously designed showrooms and a giant warehouse-style storage center on the way.The store features amenities for families with children of all ages, a 500-seat kosher restaurant, a Swedish-food store and a first of its kind felafel stand.Unlike the flood of people who attended the opening of the first Ikea store in Netanya five years ago, which produced traffic jams that stretched to the freeway, in Rishon Lezion the reaction seemed more subdued. Ikea Israel CEO Shlomo Gabai explained that because of the location’s easy access from two major highways, and the store’s size, things only seemed more tranquil.“We had 3,500 shoppers in the first hour alone and expect to see 14,000 by the end of the day,” Gabai said. “There is a great feeling of accomplishment today. We are on a new path.”Gabai said the store had hired 500 workers from the region and employed hundreds more in auxiliary services. “The new store puts us at the forefront of Israel’s retail sector and we hope to use that position to revolutionize the way business is done. We Israelis deserve the best service possible and by providing that service here, we hope to lead others into doing the same,” he said.AdvertisementGabai said the management and staff had worked tirelessly for six months to have everything ready in time, including a full dress rehearsal in the form of a mock shopping day, in which the store invited hundreds of people to test the store’s readiness.“At this point I’m ready to go for a coffee and I’m certain that things will run smoothly without me,” said Gabai. He estimated that more than 2 million shoppers will visit the Rishon Lezion store in 2010, earning the company NIS 310m.Karen and Shani, two shoppers from Rehovot, said they couldn’t wait to visit the store. Confessed Ikea addicts, they said they had visited the store in Netanya dozens of times and were overjoyed that the new branch opened closer to where they live. “Together we spent more than NIS 1,000 on new furniture and bathware for our apartments. We took a day off from work especially so we could come here on opening day,” Shani said.“Shani just returned from India and the first thing she wanted to know after she landed was when the new Ikea is opening,” Karen said.Shani said that overall she was pleased with the new store, but was disappointed by the length of time it took to receive assistance from the staff. “I waited for 25 minutes for someone to approach me. When they came, they helped me with what I needed, but it shouldn’t take so long.”Ayelet Schori, from nearby Kibbutz Be’eri, said she came to celebrate her recent divorce. “This is a type of therapy for me. I came in planning to buy just a couple of items I saw in the catalogue, but as always, I left with more than I planned.”Schori said the new store was a “mini-Ikea” compared to some of the branches in Europe, but that she was able to find everything she wanted and was pleased with the service both in the showrooms and at the cash register.Yaakov Sela and Eti Itach, neighbors from Yavne, said they came onopening day because they thought it would be relatively empty. “We tookthe reverse psychology route, but it didn’t work,” Sela said.Like others, Itach said she was incapable of leaving the store withoutbuying something. “Originally we planned to come only to survey thestore, but came out with products worth NIS 200.”Both said they would return often and were pleased by the nearby location.“Today we celebrate Ikea Israel’s transformation into a chain, thehiring of 500 workers and the fruition of four years of hard work and avictory in a legal battle over regulations,” Ikea Israel owner MatthewBronfman said during the opening ceremony. “We celebrate a victory ofvision and determination. Today we are given the chance to offer theIsraeli consumer a range of products at reasonable prices. Today we areassisting in attaining a higher standard of living.”In his speech, Bronfman also spoke about his family’s tradition ofinvesting in Israel, ranging back 60 years since his grandfather Samuelhelped the fledgling state acquire arms to defend itself in the War ofIndependence.“Today I stand here, the third generation, and commit to continueddevelopment and expansion of the relationship in the future,” he said.Rishon Lezion Mayor Dov Tzur said the day was a holiday for the cityand the opening of the store was proof of how far it had come.The Rishon Lezion store is the newest addition to the 305-store chain,spread over 38 countries. The company’s global earnings in 2009 equaled€22.7 billion.