CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In the home state of America's furniture industry, where competition from abroad has shuttered dozens of manufacturing plants and led to thousands of lost jobs, a foreign invader is on the way.
The iconic Swedish home-furnishings retailer Ikea plans to open its first store in the Carolinas in 2009, not far from the marketplace that's the largest gathering in the business.
But experts said furniture manufacturers and retailers here shouldn't feel threatened by the 345,000-square-foot, bright-blue-and-yellow Ikea store, packed with inexpensive places to sit and sleep.
In fact, they think it might even help sales of the good stuff.
"The fact that Ikea is coming - it will definitely encourage consumers to spruce up their homes," said Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance. "Those that like Ikea will buy it. Consumers who want something more will take a look at it and decide to buy something else somewhere else."
And that "something more" is what consumers can get from the manufacturers - including those from North Carolina - who feature their products at the annual home-furnishings market in nearby High Point, Hirschhaut said.
The Ikea concept was created in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, then a 17-year-old who made pencils, stools and matchboxes on his family farm and sold them in neighboring villages. The company, which has its North American headquarters in Conshohocken, now sells inexpensive lamps, linens, cooking utensils, storage units, wall decor and more to go along with its modern furniture, most of which can be assembled with simple tools.
While the brand appeals to many, Ikea's wares - flat-packed and ready to assemble yourself - are often favored by younger consumers, said Mary Frye, president of the Home Furnishings International Association, a Dallas-based trade group.
"Consumers' needs help determine a piece of furniture's value," Frye said. "You may want to put a $200 Ikea bed in your guest room, and you may think you deserve a $2,000 Thomasville bed in your room."
That's the kind of furniture produced in places such as Thomasville, N.C., a town built around furniture-manufacturing plants, and sold at the twice-a-year trade show in High Point, about an hour north of the planned Ikea. The market is not open to the public, but almost 85,000 industry insiders did business there in October in 12 million square feet of showroom space.
Ikea isn't among the thousands of manufacturers from around the world that show off their products at the market. Many are high-end producers whose furniture is sold at much smaller independent showrooms and stores.
Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth said more than 150,000 North and South Carolina residents already travel to shop at its stores or shop online. The retailer opened its first U.S. store in Plymouth Meeting in 1985 and has 29 U.S. locations primarily up and down the East and West coasts.
The company is currently "focused on building a presence in the South," Roth said. Ikea already operates a store in Atlanta and has two more under construction in Florida.