Today, IKEA has over 400 stores across 49 countries. Just as how its business has grown from strength to strength, its people, too, have seen their careers flourish alongside. At the heart of the world’s largest home furnishing retailer lies a diverse but dedicated team of co-workers who share the spirit of togetherness and innovation. One such employee is Cherry Vanessa Ku, who works as a Graphic Communication Manager at IKEA Tampines and shares how her career has been exciting and fulfilling so far.
You’re a designer. What attracted you to join IKEA?
I have a passion for both design and home furnishing, a result of my diverse upbringing in different countries. Since I grew up as a third culture kid, I knew I wanted to work in an international company or a company with a mix of multicultural co-workers. IKEA turned out to be the perfect fit. I was also drawn to IKEA’s emphasis on functional furniture designs that benefit people, which is summed up in our vision: to provide a better everyday life for the many people.
What are your roles and responsibilities? How does it contribute to your organisation’s objectives?
As Graphic Communication Manager, my main role is to lead and inspire co-workers across functions in maintaining IKEA’s brand identity. I also lead a team of graphic communicators in planning, designing and implementing effective in-store communication strategies - be it carpark billboards or specific price and product communication - to support customers’ shopping experience and ensure a good visual balance with the right message at the right place to support commerciality. Often, we try to introduce messages with a twinkle in the eye so that it can touch the hearts of our customers.
How is a typical work day like for you?
We report to work early, as there is a lot to do to get our store ready for our customers. During morning rounds, we examine all the in-store communications, ensuring price tags are tagged correctly, vinyl stickers are well-maintained and that customers can shop conveniently with the right support of communications. We also look at the overview in each department. Once the store is ready, we head back to office to plan communications for our next commercial calendar activity, such as the upcoming Christmas campaign.
How has IKEA groomed you to excel in your career?
In IKEA, our career development is taken care of the first day you come on board as a IKEA co-worker. We also have a buddy system in place to help orientate newbies. We also have cross-function training to pick up new skills and familiarise ourselves with the roles and responsibilities of other functions. When a co-worker is in the role, we may even be sent to other IKEA stores around the world for attachments and for supporting expansion plans. IKEA’s commitment to developing its co-workers allowed me to be promoted to an Assistant Manager from Graphic Communicator after two and half years of service. As a new manager, I was given leadership training which was invaluable in imparting techniques on how to develop and inspire my team.
Cherry Vanessa Ku Choi Yoke
Manager (IKEA Tampines)
Share with us a memorable episode you have had during your career.
One of my career highlights has to be participating in the Graphics Specialist Training. This is an intensive six-month programme for Graphic Communication Managers to visit IKEA stores in other countries in order to learn best practices and apply them back in your own store. Apart from getting to visit IKEA Pisa in Italy and IKEA Birmingham in the UK, I was especially thrilled to fly to Ålmhult, Sweden, to visit IKEA’s headquarters. We often talk about being a Swedish company, but to actually experience ‘Swedishness’ at the heart of IKEA itself was quite a life-changing experience!
For me, the biggest takeaway was a new-found appreciation for IKEA’s Swedish heritage. It made me realise that as much as we need to keep up with trends in Singapore, we should also stay true to our roots. Upon my return, during our recent Graphics inspiration session, my team painted a graffiti art mural depicting our founder together with the dalahäst (Dala horse), an authentic symbol of Sweden. The mural reminds us to challenge the expected when meeting our customers, while still staying true and remembering our Swedish roots.
In your opinion, what makes IKEA’s way of communication unique?
We are “different with a meaning.” When it comes to Graphic Communication, we believe in keeping it clear and simple, giving customers the right information at the right place and at the right time. If you enter a small room and see eight different big communication, that is a visual wall that is counterproductive in delivering any effective communication. Part of the Swedish culture is to be simple and straightforward. Less is definitely more.
You have been with them for five years. What keeps you motivated to stay on with IKEA?
The fact that my personal values overlap with IKEA’s values is one reason. One of our core values is the spirit of “togetherness”, which is best exemplified by the stone walls of Småland displayed in every IKEA store around the world. Just as how every stone contributes to forming a strong wall, everyone in IKEA collaborates in order to achieve our common goal.