Clouds and silver linings and all that…
Last month, IKEA announced plans to close its Coventry store in the Summer, 13 years after it first opened, citing the reason as ‘substantially lower visitor numbers’, the result of changing customer habits – most notably an increasing desire to shop online.
In the statement that accompanied the announcement, the company accepted it would have to enter a ‘consolidation’ period with the 352 workers employed at the Coventry store to discuss the ‘next steps and proposals’ and that:
‘IKEA has the ambition to retain as many people as possible within IKEA and, where this isn’t possible, support them to find new employment. Our priorities are to seek redeployment opportunities, minimise compulsory redundancies and secure the best deal we can for our members’
What might be hugely disappointing news for the city as a whole could yet prove to be a blessing in disguise for Coventry Rugby, with the club apparently in discussions with the Swedish company to ensure that although soon gone, it will never be forgotten.
At least not by Coventry Rugby.
Although IKEA’s founder, business magnate Ingvar Kamprad, sadly passed away in 2018, he had visited the city a number of times and had made it clear how much he’d enjoyed himself when he stayed at the Ramada Hotel, close to the BPA.
Kamprad had watched Cov play on a couple of occasions and had apparently loved the ground and the atmosphere it generates and it appears that whilst he came to rugby late in life, he was a big England fan and enjoyed watching the game live.
As I understand it, Kamprad had followed Cov Rugby’s fortunes closely before his death two years ago.
IKEA’s Head Office in Milton Keynes decided to get in touch with the Cov Board soon after the announcement of the impending closure of its Coventry store when it was made aware of the RFU’s decision to cut funding to the Championship.
They realised the likely impact that would have on Cov and wanted to do something to support the club that Kamprad had grown to love in his final years.
Initially, it appears Cov were offered first refusal on any of the surplus stock left after the summer closure of the Coventry store at no cost to the club – in itself a generous offer. With IKEA selling anything from tables and chairs to storage and outdoor furnishings, Cov could certainly make use of such a generous gift.
But I understand IKEA’s support doesn’t end there.
Aware of potential damage a sustained Coronavirus lockdown could have on the club’s finances, meetings with Cov Rugby have increased of late. Rumour has it that, and this is only a rumour, IKEA is to totally re-equip the kitchens/catering areas at the club and will use staff made redundant by the closure of IKEA (and paid for by IKEA) to augment Coventry’s own catering team.
Apparently, it intends to offer some of the standard IKEA fayre so popular at its stores’ cafes and restaurants, including Swedish meatballs with lingonberry jam, chips and cream sauce, SjÖrapport salmon and Iste BjÖrksmak – provided there is a demand for it.
I can think of two interested parties on a match day, for sure!
Whilst this has yet to be confirmed, it does fit in with IKEA’s February statement that it was anxious to seek redeployment opportunities for its work force.
Furthermore, IKEA is in negotiations with Volvo, with whom it has a number of partnerships, to explore a major sponsorship deal including cars for the coaches, players and support staff and coaches both for the players and the CRSC for use on match days.
Not content with stopping there, IKEA is also exploring the possibility of also involving telecommunications giants Ericsson as they look at further ways of strengthening their bond with Coventry Rugby – I understand this would include a new public address system, better use of the scoreboard and further boards elsewhere around the ground.
With the likelihood of further ground expansion, having IKEA on board so early could be a real coup for the club.
Speaking from Sweden, IKEA’s UK Operations Manager, Loof Lirpa, commented:
The company has tried a number of initiatives to keep the store open but these have not resolved the fundamental challenges connected to the location and the format of the store…an attempt by IKEA to downsize or redevelop the site was not a realistic option.
(We) have already started a consultation with the 352 workers affected and we have the ambition to retain as many people as possible within IKEA and, where this isn’t possible, support them to find new employment…
Who knows what the future holds in the light of these current discussions – Nordic Hotels opening their first hotel on site, an H&M store perhaps or even a drive-through Smörgåsbord store, perhaps?