Ikea’s big-box store blueprint: Win over community
Big-box retailers that want to build in Red Hook may want to take a page from Ikea’s playbook.
The Swedish furniture maker turned residents of the neighborhood’s public housing projects – who make up about 70% of Red Hook’s population – as well as elected officials into allies, and got zoning changes and special permits to construct its Brooklyn waterfront megastore.
“We’ve become the benchmark by which other big development is evaluated,” boasted Joseph Roth, Ikea’s U.S. public affairs manager.
Opening a $500,000 work readiness program in a Van Brunt St. storefront was one of four pivotal moves, he said.
At the program, called Red Hook Works, residents get free training in résumé writing, retail certification classes that prepare them for jobs in the industry, and other assistance. Since it started last August, the program has helped more than 1,000 people.
Like Fairway, which opened nearby in 2006, Ikea’s second winning strategy was heavy local hiring for the store’s 500-plus positions.
For three weeks last winter, Ikea accepted job applications only from residents in Red Hook’s zip code, 11231, before opening the process to the public. The company originally promised a two-week head-start period, but extended it to three. Everyone from Red Hook who handed in an application during that time was granted an interview, Roth said.
Also, full medical and dental insurance for all employees who work 20 hours a week or more was a big plus.
Roth wouldn’t say how many jobs Ikea filled with neighborhood residents. The Daily News has reported that 200 of the 350 positions filled as of last month went to people from Red Hook.
Ikea’s third winning move was promising a 6.5-acre esplanade to provide public access to the waterfront. The park is landscaped with more than 9,000 plants, from roses to native grasses, and 558 trees.
As its fourth strategy, Ikea devised transportation options to cut down on car traffic, including signing a contract with New York Water Taxi for free ferry service from lower Manhattan and setting up free shuttle buses from three Brooklyn subway stops. Still, fears about traffic nightmares have not yet been overcome.
Broker Andy To of Eastman Real Estate – who has gotten calls from retailers about two available industrial buildings that sit side by side on Van Brunt and Seabring Sts. – was wowed by the retailer’s skill in wooing the community.
“Ikea defied all odds and got where they are now,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Roth offered succinct advice for big-box companies looking to follow in Ikea’s footsteps.
“Be proactive with your outreach and understand what the real needs of the community are,” he said. “Be upfront about what your plan and vision are. And don’t be afraid to say no – be true to your concept.”
By LORE CROGHAN