Swedish Furniture Customizer Makes Ikea's Success Its Own

A Swedish firm is now helping American customers to "hack"--or personalize--Ikea furniture.

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Is it smart to start a company that is entirely dependent upon another business's success? If that other business is as ubiquitous as Ikea, it can be.

Parts of Sweden has made a cottage industry out of helping people alter Ikea furniture. The four-year-old Swedish company sells parts and accessories, from bed legs to drawer pulls, to customize Ikea goods. The company recently began marketing its products to a U.S. audience with a new English-language site, and has also added worldwide shipping.

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"Our mission is to become like the Amazon of customization products for Ikea," says Mikael Olsson, the company's CEO.

It may never reach Amazon-esque sales levels, but the company is growing by leaps and bounds. Over the last nine months, Olsson estimates, the company's sales have grown by as much as 65 percent. He attributes that in part to the company's still relatively small size, but expanding into overseas markets has allowed him to up his expectations.

"I think that we could probably grow with double or more" of Parts of Sweden's current rate of growth, says Olsson.

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ABOVE: An Ikea dresser spruced up with stickers from Parts of Sweden.

As of Wednesday, traffic at the company's website was already up 411 percent over last week's.

Olsson credits a new cooperation with ikeahackers.net, a popular blog on which people post their furniture alterations. The trend of "Ikea hacking," in which people alter the furniture for looks or utility, has a bustling Internet following, with adherents posting step-by-step instructions for their alterations.

Some of these procedures go beyond cosmetic changes and into the realm of major furniture surgery. One popular hack involves making a desk for users who want to stand rather than sit, which some people do by combining Ikea shelves and parts from other sets. Ikea says it does not encourage combining parts from separate sets, and in most lines, the company does not sell components individually.

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"We do not recommend it, simply because we can't be assured that it will meet all the high safety standards of our products," says Janice Simonsen, a company spokesperson.

A bedside table made out of parts from Ikea furniture for $96 modeled after a $700 table from Anthropologie.

ABOVE: A bedside table made out of parts from Ikea furniture for $96 modeled after a $700 table from Anthropologie.

Still, many hacks are mostly cosmetic, involving applications of paint or new trim—a notion that Ikea does promote.

"We know that people love to express their creativity to customize and individualize their homes. That's something we do encourage," says Simonsen, who adds that the company also encourages using products in ways for which they were not originally intended. In her office conference room, she says, a shoeholder houses whiteboard markers.

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Parts of Sweden's products fall almost entirely into the accessories category. And though his company is far smaller than Ikea, with five employees currently, Olsson says he thinks that Parts of Sweden helps to boost Ikea's business.

"I would say that we drive some sales of core products from Ikea from our site," says Olsson, as people look up what they'd like to make, then go to Ikea to purchase the components.

Simonsen also says that hacking likely not only helps Ikea's business but has driven the company to create new goods, like a line of unfinished wood dressers that customers can decorate as they like.

It makes for a symbiotic relationship, albeit a very uneven one, and there are a handful of other companies working to make a profit off of the same concept. One firm, the U.S.-based Panyl, creates colored doors and drawers for Ikea shelves, and Bemz, based in Sweden, sells slipcovers for sofas and chairs. With the addition of Parts of Sweden, it could mean more colors (and umlauts) in U.S. houses.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.