There are retail stores, and then there are legacies. Illums Bolighus – which was founded in 1925 by a Danish entrepreneur and given artistic direction from a Swedish designer – is a legacy that is continually growing and inspiring its many happy customers.
For anyone Scandinavian, Illums Bolighus is a household name. It is an up-market, meticulously curated department store with minimalist Nordic flair – Scandinavia’s leading department store for design, lifestyle, fashion and home furnishings.
The original flagship store was established in Copenhagen in 1928 by Danish entrepreneur Kaj Dessau. Working with a Swedish designer for artistic inspiration and aesthetic guidance, they did something no other retailer had done before – laid out striking interiors for its customers, bringing together furniture with textiles, installing artworks and precious pieces, so anyone stepping into the spaces was stepping into a world within a world, that they could potentially own. The philosophy grounding the store was all based on inspiration.
The ensembles of products were (and still are) like theatre sets or parts of a film studio, where you can walk into a world that might otherwise have been in someone’s imagination. Basically, much like IKEA does today, customers can see how their home might look should they buy the showcased products.
The company was renamed Illums Bolighus in 1941, and today it has stores in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany – with the Illums Bolighus Oslo store winning a gia Global Honoree award in 2023.
Just like the others bearing the same name, the Oslo store is grand in every sense of the word – from the chandelier hanging from a spectacular circular ceiling that is also a skylight, flooding the store with natural light, to the stark white columns and timeless pendant lights brightening lounging areas and hallways.
Walking around Illums Bolighus makes customers feel as though they are in a palace. Even the hallways that guide customers from one department to another are decorated with inspiring displays so that they become natural stopping points and areas for discussion about products and style. Customers are not rushed – in fact they are encouraged to linger longer and absorb the atmosphere, with the sophisticated lounge areas offering a place to relax, talk and digest ideas.
Tables are set with ideas to suit the seasons or occasions, and there is music and scents from aroma diffusers to match the themes so that visitors are completely absorbed in a setting that could be in their own home. All departments are themed to suit their target markets, and there are cash points in each so that no one has to walk far to purchase products.
For window displays, there are four set themes each year – in February it’s weddings and there is an annual collaboration with a wedding gown firm. In April and May there is a focus on inspiring people to get out and enjoy the sunshine, and in September (Fall) it is all about creating a warm, moody approach to embrace spending more time inside. In October, the Christmas mood is set – with some of the country’s most spectacular Christmas displays.
Despite this somewhat old-world feeling of grandeur, this is a department store that is modern in every way. The gia expert jury noted that “Illums Bolighus offers a full-universe shopping experience, whether it’s in-store, online or in digital media. To support cross channel sales, Illums Bolighus has a clever system for click and collect purchases, rewarding customers who come to the store.”
Perfecting a customer’s store experience is a major focus for the company, with enticing scents, calming music, highly attentive, professional staff and the use of new technology subtly embedded. For example, all window displays have QR codes for more information on the displayed products. There are QR codes at every entrance, window and cash point.
There are also screens so that customers can purchase products on the spot and have them sent straight to their homes, and television screens that show videos, campaigns and news.
The gia expert jury noted that the “Illums Bolighus website and social media channels have the same aspirational feeling and color-coding that is applied in-store – creating the same feeling of exclusivity and brand awareness. When online, it’s like you never left the store.”
There is also a beautifully presented 100-page Illums Bolighus catalogue in digital and print format that is filled with unique photography and endless ideas. The magazine is handed out to customers in the store for extra inspiration.
The regular in-store events for the company’s “No.1” loyalty club members are a big drawing card for visitation, and they are executed so well that people stay longer and thus form more of an attachment with the brands being showcased by the people behind them.
The gia experts commented that the “events give Illums Bolighus a lot of credibility. They’re authentic and very real, with live performances promoting craftsmanship.”
There are wine and food tastings hosted by famous chefs, workshops with artists, painting classes with Royal Copenhagen, art exhibitions, manicures and skin specialists sharing advice on products and approaches to health and beauty.
An example of a recent event was where French chocolatier Pascal Caffet (known as the creator of the best pralines in Paris) handed out his famous macarons, while special knives and other kitchenware was exhibited to inspire customers to try them.
Staff recruitment and training is one of the reasons behind Illums Bolighus’ success, and why it is considered one of the best places to work in Scandinavia. There is a focus on career advancement and staff training is at the company’s own school, with additional training by suppliers and heads of departments. Staff are immaculately dressed in formal dark suits – befitting the palace-like atmosphere – and there are many perks, such as morning yoga for staff and awards for employees of the month.
In fact, it would be fair to say that the staff enjoy Illums Bolighus as much as the happy customers who will ensure that the legacy of this inspiring department store continues.
Sponsored and organised by The Inspired Home Show and the International Housewares Association (IHA), gia (IHA Global Innovation Awards) is the world’s leading awards program honoring overall excellence, business innovation and creative merchandising in homegoods retailing. For more information about the gia retail program, the co-sponsors or participating in gia, contact Piritta Törrö at email@example.com. Additional information on gia is also available online at TheInspiredHomeShow.com/Awards/gia-Retailing.
For more information about The Inspired Home Show 2024, taking place in Chicago on 17-19 March 2024, and to pre-register for a free Show entrance badge, please visit TheInspiredHomeShow.com.