Ikea does many things right as an affordable housewares giant: flat-packing, DIY instructions, meatballs.
But one attempt failed spectacularly for the Swedish retailer. Twice.
How’s this for lightweight?
In 1995, furniture designer Jan Dranger contacted late Ikea founder Ingvar Kampard with an idea, per the Ikea Museum.
What if Ikea sold inflatable plastic furniture? Customers could easily carry it home, pump it up with a hair dryer, and cover it with fabric to look like a regular couch or chair.
Another win? Compared to standard furniture, this design reduced:
- The use of raw materials by 85%
- Transport volume by 90%
So, Ikea and Dranger’s company, SoftAir, formed a new company to manufacture what they called the “a.i.r.” series, launching with an easy chair and sofa in Stockholm, Hamburg, and Paris in 1997.
Not only did production cost more than expected, but also the furniture was too lightweight, floating around stores like, as one employee described, “a group of swollen hippos.” Prone to static electricity, they also attracted dust.
Once customers got their furniture home, they neglected to turn their hair dryers to the cool setting. The hot air melted the plastic, and the furniture deflated as the air cooled.
And because the valve leaked, the sofas squeaked when people sat on them and deflated over time.
In 1999, Ikea dissolved the separate company.
Try, try again
In 2001, Ikea came out with cute, animal-shaped inflatable cushions for children. People liked them, but, again, manufacturing costs were too high. Today, there are no more a.i.r. products at Ikea.
BTW: This was far from Ikea’s worst seating idea. In 1994, it released a couch with an internal compartment where owners could compost food scraps. Unsurprisingly, it took a lot of work to maintain and… it smelled.