Interview: IKEA Greenwich Store Manager, Helen Aylett
IKEA Greenwich | 55-57 Bugsby’s Way, London, SE10 0QJ | Mon-Fri 10am-10pm, Sat 9am-10pm, Sun 11am-5pm
Following the high-energy opening of IKEA’s newest – and most sustainable – store in Greenwich, we caught up store manager Helen Aylett to talk about embracing community, keeping things local, working for a big brand, and escaping to the theatre!
Tell us about the new sustainable IKEA Greenwich store – what can customers expect and what’s different about it?
IKEA Greenwich is our leading sustainable store in the UK. The appearance of the store has been re-invented to provide better visual and physical connections with the surrounding area, whilst remaining true to the blue and yellow identity which is synonymous with the IKEA brand.
In addition to the traditional product range, inspirational room sets, crèche, restaurant, Bistro & IKEA Food Market, IKEA Greenwich offers unique facilities like the free green space and relaxation area on the roof pavilion, as well as lots of flexible eating and meeting spaces.
IKEA Greenwich has been designed with the community in mind and goes beyond a traditional store format as a place to meet, share, learn and shop. The store features a Learning Lab, a global first, which will host workshops to help people learn new skills such as how to upcycle and refurbish existing products, or provide tips and tricks to avoid food waste.
How long have you worked for IKEA and what drives you to manage such a high-profile store?
I have worked at IKEA for 15 years in Bristol, Lakeside, Glasgow and now Greenwich. The energy of working for a continually growing, developing and innovative business with people at the heart of everything is a big driving force for me.
Also, being a part of the city-centre approach for IKEA in London, making our range and solutions more accessible to many more of the 9 million people for whom London is home and supporting them in living a more sustainable life at home is really exciting.
What are the most important ingredients to making a good IKEA store?
In every IKEA store throughout the world, we truly care about people first and firmly believe they are at the core of what makes our business successful. Our co-workers are definitely the key ingredient when it comes to making an IKEA store come to life. Our motto is that happy co-workers equal happy customers.
Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do and at IKEA Greenwich, we want to inspire and enable our customers to live a better everyday life at home. At IKEA, we believe that a better life at home is a more sustainable and healthy life at home. The various workshops and demonstrations that we will host in the Greenwich store will help support our customers in achieving this.
We’ve always ensured that our products are kept at an affordable price for our many customers but it’s equally as important to make sure that each store reflects the local community and living trends. For example, we know that fifty per cent of residents in Greenwich live in rented accommodation, mostly in flats, resulting in a smaller living space. Our unique ‘neighbourhood roomsets’ have been designed to reflect this and to help provide relevant solutions.
We also have an area in store designed to showcase small businesses such as a bakery, florist and barber shop. We wanted to demonstrate how our products and solutions can support local businesses in and around the Greenwich area.
London is one of the most inclusive and diverse cities on earth – how does your store ensure that this diverse local community is a key stakeholder in its operation?
We put people at the heart of the IKEA business and we are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. We want to make sure every co-worker feels welcomed and valued, and has the opportunity to develop their potential. A diverse workforce leads to more creative thinking within our teams and ultimately reflects our customer-base.
Local recruitment is extremely important to us and at IKEA Greenwich, we have taken a completely new approach to recruiting. From the very beginning, we employed the first six co-workers to join the store team. These co-workers have since taken part in recruiting their managers and team leaders. This approach worked really well and helped to ensure that the co-workers are involved in all of the important decisions that shape the new store.
More than half of all 519 co-workers at IKEA Greenwich have been recruited directly from the Borough, which means they have a good understanding of the hopes and dreams that our customers in Greenwich may share.
What advice would you give people wanting to manage a store like IKEA?
I enjoy a fast paced environment where teamwork is important but also collaboration with our customers. To work in an environment where it is ok to be yourself, to have new ideas and to constantly test and try is a unique formula for retail. I also love our unique product range – I believe a passion for the range and life at home is essential when managing a store like IKEA.
I really care about people and I’m so proud of the workforce we have recruited at IKEA Greenwich. I believe it’s important to embrace diversity in lifestyle across each and every one of our co-workers. Traditionally in retail, people are given their hours and schedules with little or no flexibility. We want to create a smart working environment that fits around people’s needs and lifestyle.
It’s important for me that our co-workers feel IKEA Greenwich is a “home away from home”, so we’ve created areas especially for them where they can really relax in-between shifts and perhaps do any life administration that they might need to.
What are your favourite London haunts?
Being lucky enough to live in Greenwich, there are many places to visit and I think I have only just scratched the surface! I love trying new foods and Borough Market is a favourite when I’ve got time off, along with a nice walk along the South Bank.Hopefully I will have some more theatre visits very soon, as musicals are my guilty pleasure!
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like: nice pubs, film marathons, not doing real marathons, bad comedy, plays/musicals with shorter second halves, and the Oxford comma.