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Cheap, chic and modern businesses fulfill consumer expectations
Posted May 14, 2007

Customers stream onto the airplane and breathe a sigh of relief. There’s no first class – everyone gets his or her own television and fluffy leather seat. No, this isn’t Virgin Atlantic; this is JetBlue, today’s hippest airline cruising the skies. And with friendly flight attendants clad in stylish uniforms serving gourmet snacks, JetBlue has changed the art of flying.

Shopping for a deal has never felt better since the arrival of the hip retailer H&M. Suddenly customers can walk into one store, buy absolutely any of the cheaply priced and chicly styled merchandise, and walk out looking like a fashionista. This store has the hottest trends at the absolute lowest prices, so it’s no surprise when the grand openings of these stores contain spaghetti long lines of eager shoppers waiting to pounce on the latest trends.

Home decorating has also taken a turn for the better with the arrival of IKEA. All of a sudden, the newest fashions in home decorating are affordable to even the most destitute of consumers. From five-dollar lamps to daycare and a gourmet restaurant, IKEA is today’s main attraction when it comes to all things decorating.

These businesses are part of a growing trend in America today; a trend of cheap, chic service with a smile.

Americans find the somewhat outlandish designs from these two Swedish based companies, H&M and IKEA, to be exotic and uber trendy.  In Europe, people like IKEA so much that one estimate from an article on concluded that 10% of Europeans are conceived on an IKEA bed.

They have found very unique ways to market their products to a larger audience, but in a fiscally responsible way, therefore enabling them to keep their prices low. IKEA keeps all its products in a warehouse-sized store where customers must do all the hauling, assembling and bagging of furniture themselves. This might sound like a pain at first, but another thing that keeps IKEA ahead of the game is that it does all this in a non-offensive way to the customer.

Everything in the store seems easy because they present it easily. Yes – you must bag your own stuff, but they make it seem as if this is the coolest and hippest way of doing it by reminding customers of how it’s things like that which keep their prices low.

Day care, decorating advice and even a restaurant are just part of a day at IKEA – and it’s always a daylong event. One study done in Brittan asserted that there are twice as many people in IKEA on Sundays than in church.

“In Sweden, IKEA is insane,” Fredrick Bartoft, a former home furnishing installer from Sweden, said. “I’m surprised that only twice as many people go to IKEA on Sundays as church. I’m guessing that about 80% of the Swedish population has at least something from IKEA.”

This is a revolution when it comes to sales, IKEA has found the holy grail of business plans and it all comes down to a few simple characteristics: self-assembled, cheap and chic items. In addition to this, style also plays a major role in drawing customers through this businesses door.

“It’s more modern than other stores”, Monique Carrean, an IKEA customer said.

Another customer named Armando Uribe agreed. He felt that IKEA had many of the same items as big box retailers like Target and Pier One, but that it charged only a fraction of the price. It seems as though today’s customer is interested in the modern designs that IKEA provides in its products. And, not only are these items stylish; they are also affordable.

H&M is another cheap and chic business that has blown away its competition through its very cool and innovative new fashions that all sell at stunningly low prices.

This retailer has found new ways to attract fashionistas all over the world by hiring celebrity designers to draw out collections for them, and then mass marketing their styles.

“The designer collaborations really appeal to people,” Lisa Sandberg, H&M United States communications director said. With a supposed trend turnover rate of about three weeks, H&M has taken the cutting edge of fashion to new levels and left its competitors breathless and far behind.

Madonna, Chloe and Karl Lagerfield are just some of the many celeb designers who have created sharp eye catching trends for even the most starving of students. Taking fashion to a new level is what this Swedish clothing company is all about. For years they won the hearts of East coasters, but slowly H&M has swarmed the West coast, starting with a store in San Francisco and then most recently opening a two stores in Los Angeles.

Cheap and chic has not only invaded the fashion and furniture world, but it has also taken to the skies with the new airline, JetBlue. This is the coolest way to fly nowadays.

With countless channels of Direct TV and all leather seating, these planes take passengers high into blissful euphoria. And, with catchy slogans and cheerful flight attendants, its no wonder that JetBlue has created a fast following.

“People like the service, the leather seats – the TV’s,” Jennifer Rampersand, a JetBlue employee said. There is no first class on this airline either, which enables every customer to feel special and equal – there are leather seats for everyone.

In a time when most airlines are cutting back their services and luxuries, JetBlue is increasing them. For example, now all customers who board a night flight from the west coast will receive a sleep kit. This includes lotion, a facemask, lip-gloss and a mint.

This enables all passengers to feel a little bit spoiled which is a rare emotion on airplanes nowadays. On American Airlines today, they charge for meals, and drinks are served in plastic cups rather than individual cans.

However, JetBlue serves their customers bottled water at any time throughout the flight, as well as gourmet snacks. And, at the end of a long night flight, JetBlue gives each passenger a hot towel and small refreshment.

The price is right when it comes to these retailers. A 99 cent mixing spoon, a seven-dollar halter top or a flight for under $59 won’t put many people in the red, so customers flock over these businesses and all the goodies they have to offer.

And, while customers are reeling from the unbelievably cool new deal they’ve just scored, one CEO, Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA and one of the worlds richest men, is reeling from the unbelievably large prophets he is gaining from his ever-growing business. However, Kamprad is not a greedy man.

“People who know about IKEA know that the man who started this business has always just wanted to keep people working,” Deanna Dumm, an IKEA customer service representative said. “He wants to help people who are not as wealthy as he.”

Even though his business is booming, Kamprad is still finding ways to give back to the community as well as the environment. For example, recently IKEA has begun charging customers five cents per plastic bag in an effort to control the massive waste of plastic bags in America.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States currently uses 380 billion plastic bags and like products a year, but only recycles about 1% of them. This is a huge problem and IKEA is one of the first companies to put its foot down to make a difference.

“We want those who come after us to have a beautiful place to live, so we don’t waste our natural resources,” Dumm said. “This last year we didn’t even bring in live Christmas trees for the same reason; instead we brought in nice artificial ones.”

IKEA will donate the profits they make on theses plastic bag sales to the conservation organization known as American Forests. This is just one way among many that IKEA is sharing its wealth. This is also what makes this company continuously hip and cool.

Nowadays, being environmentally friendly or charity friendly is a way for a company to draw modern attention to itself, since many people in their twenties and thirties are becoming more and more world and environmentally conscious.

Examples of this can also be seen in the food market with risingly popular businesses like Whole Foods and Trader Joes that have mass appeal due to their promotion of an organic and healthy lifestyle, which follows this pro environment trend.

H&M has just created a line of clothing that is made from organic cotton. According to the H&M magazine, “Environmental awareness is chic, and more fashion houses are understanding how important it is to do their part.”

And JetBlue, currently flies eleven environmentally friendly planes designed by Airbus.

From environmentally friendly to unbelievably cheap and chic, many businesses today find that consumers want more in a product and are looking towards companies that can provide this.

Many of these businesses have seen great results in states like California where great value is placed on fashion and a healthy lifestyle.

“Southern California, as a whole, really has a global impact on style and fashion,” Sandberg said. “(H&M) has been expanding in Los Angeles a lot because we’ve had a fantastic reaction from the people there.”

A grand opening of this store will usually consist of massive piles of desperately hip and trendy kids sleeping on stone sidewalks in front of the store so as to be the first one through the doors.

Very few other retailers can boast of this type of frenzy. So what’s their secret? It’s the fragility of the fashion world – everything should be perishable and timely, otherwise it couldn’t be trendy.

This is why this retailer brings in new merchandise every three weeks as well as price slashing sale racks strewn throughout every store. Their motto seems to be: here today gone tomorrow.

And, well, that’s OK with their customers. Since being one of the most profitable fashion retailers in all of Europe this company knows how to bring in the “bengimens” and it’s customers seem to love its affordability and kaleidoscope reeling fashion sense.

“Nowadays people get board easily and always want new things,” Bartoft said. “Instead of spending money on quality they spend it on design so that they can always update it.”

The modern woman always wants to look en vogue, even if that means updating her wardrobe every three weeks. And, with stores out there like H&M, this won’t weigh heavily on her pocket book. She can still wear a new chiffon white blouse designed by Chloe, but not be out hundreds of dollars since H&M would sell this blouse for maybe $39. Today it’s all about cheap and chic, and luckily for H&M, they’ve caught on faster than anyone else.

JetBlue has discovered that it is in those small luxuries and soft-spoken flight attendants where they really make an impact on their passengers.

“It’s comfortable, it’s convenient and it’s good service,” Lori Umanzio, a JetBlue passenger said.

Traveling shouldn’t have to be a nightmare, and traveling comfortably shouldn’t have to cost and arm and a leg and JetBlue has proven this. With it’s stylish flight crew, genuinely friendly service, and gourmet snacks, JetBlue has discovered how to draw in a large passenger base through simply being cool.

In the past, department stores were one of the only places customers could go to get a good deal on clothing; small and privately owned furniture stores were some of the only places to find chic home accessories and the airline industry was left with companies like Pan Am, which eventually went bust, to provide the best service in the sky. Luckily though, because of a growing desire from customers for low priced stylish items, companies are realizing that it takes more than just a price to attract today’s consumer.

People young and old alike are swarming to these new up and coming businesses because of their hip demeanor that accents their cheap and chic products. Today people want to feel cool, and these companies are satisfying that desire.

Now, even though these companies have found new ways to sell to the modern consumer there are some pitfalls. Jet blue, for example, is a young business that unfortunately doesn’t fly out of all cities and therefore customers can many times find that their trips don’t coincide with JetBlue hubs.

For IKEA, it’s a great relief to buy a $99 couch until the customer gets home, only to realize that he must assemble the entire couch himself, since everything from IKEA requires self-assembly.

And or course H&M has many pieces of beautiful clothing, but after a few turns in the washing machine; these once fabulous items begin to resemble something more along the lines of a rag. Due to their incredibly low prices, many items in this store are almost disposable.

“We don’t look for long term value; we don’t try to hold onto things anymore,” George Huang, economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation said. “I think this is an irreversible trend…you could call this disposable consumerism.”

Style should not have to be expensive. Its’ not about money, it’s about imagination. In the past, purchasing something that was cutting edge could break the bank, but today, with new companies like IKEA, H&M and JetBlue, style has become affordable due to a great deal of imagination and creativity.

Customers just want to feel fabulous and cool, and if a company can provide these feelings in an affordable package, their bound to be a success. All it takes is a little bit of imagination and a lot of drive, but the companies of the future are here, and they’re out running the dinosaurs in the business with their new and inventive way of being cool.

Katherine Hillier can be reached at