Benno and Billy dismembered

Years ago we had a runaway bestseller over here in Germany trashing “Nieten in Nadelstreifen“, which translates best as “Losers in Pinstripe Suits“. It was a real hoot and basically gave a detailed account of really bad business decisions instigated by seemingly incapable managers and outlined the full breadth of stupidity rampant in the upper echelons of German companies. Needless to say, nothing has changed since then, the German economy is down the drain, and we are chugging along as if nothing happened.

Enter IKEA, that leaping cheapo and cuddly family-oriented Swedish furniture emporium that likes to pride itself on customer relations which, if my experience is any indication, are simply non-existant. No matter, you think, after all I can get storage systems that cost less than the cardboard they are packaged in and, with a bit of experience, even the most untalented person can get them set up in no time. Who cares about (over here) their outsourced shipping and delivery which is usually so unbelievably inefficient that it hurts. You can’t take a day off? Then don’t buy from us! Who cares about the fact that quality control – at least in my eyes – has dropped significantly these past years. Just don’t think about it. If your order does arrive, and if it does actually contain what you ordered and if, last but not least, what’s inside hasn’t been shredded to bits, it was, err, cheap. We can take all the abuse, the stupid ordering system that let’s you know things are in stock when they aren’t, the friendly ladies that don’t answer the phone until you’ve heard each and every badly-recorded pop song of the last millennium (at full volume), and everything else that can cause a premature exitus.

But now IKEA has topped all of this, once again. You might recall that in the past IKEA actually decided to discontinue Billy, their most popular shelf system, by simply leaving it out of the catalog. Much like the community that sprung up around the attempt to resurrect George Lucas’ original cuts of the Star Wars films, Billy fans wrote letters of protest, got into group huddles and altogether threw hissy fits until IKEA repented. Billy was back.

This time, things are done more strategically. Had I not chanced on a thread on one of my favorite German DVD forums, I would have never known. A bit of research then uncovered one (!) brief news item (German “Handelsblatt”) confirming it: The Billy and Benno systems are being streamlined. What does that mean? Well, all the Billy 60cm wide shelves as well as the corner ones are being discontinued, and so are the silver and dark gray Benno CD/DVD shelves.

Right, you say. We still have the 80cm wide Billys, we don’t have any corners we want to ruin by placing Billys there, and silver and dark gray suck anyway. That’s the usual customer response to one of IKEA’s surprise moves.

But let’s analyze this a bit further. If you spend tons of your time online with film and music fans you know two things: Firstly, the 60cm wide Billys are owned by just about each and every collector, and if you look at the myriad of images posted of DVD collections, you can’t help but notice that 99% of all of those are stored in sliver and dark gray Bennos.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

It makes you wonder who makes decisions at IKEA and it also makes you doubt that any serious amount of IQ plays a significant role in the selection process for management positions. The short news piece I found basically put it the same way, albeit a bit more diplomatically, when it explained that surprisingly, IKEA was discontinuing some of their most popular items. On top of that, and that’s the real kicker, in the same article IKEA is quoted, admitting that the discontinued products were, err, amongst their most popular.

But, wait, we’re not done here yet. Because the Internet grapevine is such a wonderful thing, it didn’t take long to hear how IKEA was going about this, giving us an even better insight into the internal workings of this outfit. The above-mentioned DVD forum suddenly sprouted posts describing how some IKEA centers in Germany had simply stuck a “discontinued” sticker on every BIlly shelf available. They just didn’t know that only certain elements were about to be buried. To say that this caused anxiety and a virtual shopping frenzy (I know of preemptive strike forces who basically bought up every available element, anticipating the continuing growth of their already substantial collections). When it became known that the two Benno colors were going out, you could actually watch customers slapping potential rivals around the head with silver and dark gray Bennos trying to secure larger numbers for themselves. Darwinism in its purest form.

Just last week I stood in front of the last 19 silver Bennos in an IKEA (location undisclosed), pondering if I should just buy the whole lot. At the speed my DVD collection has been growing (thanks, by the way, to those people who bought substantial numbers of the things from my Amazon.co.uk wishlist for me to show their support for this site here), I would probably need all of them within the next few years. After about 30 to 40 minutes of forlornly enjoying the warehouse charme of the location, I meandered off to the hot dog stand and stuffed myself before leaving. Considering how many of the silver Bennos I had to return in the past because the things had mistakes a’ plenty on them and remembering the two that looked like toothsticks when I unpacked them, buying 19 of them and storing them away until I needed them just didn’t seem to be an option.

So, I walked out into the pouring rain, said my last goodbyes to the silver and dark gray Bennos as well as the 60cm and corner Billys and promised myself to keep a pinstripe suit handy, should I ever run into one of the head honchos at IKEA. Mind you, I wouldn’t give one to them, but I’d sure like to beat each and every one silly with it. Idiots.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. hey, just wanted to say great site you’ve got here. keep up the good work.

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  2. Matt, thanks for your encouranging words. I’m checking out your site, basically as I’m writing this.

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  3. Harald Hofmann06/06/2006 at 7:54 pm

    Maybe I’m responsible for Ikea’s business decisions… Last time I moved I trashed my last Billy shelves (ahh wait – I may still have one in use in my garage – anybody want to start bidding??) And my CDs and DVDs live in Bertby shelves and Ivar closets. Of course I only own a few hundred – donations are welcome, Volkher knows how to get them to me 🙂

    Oh, by the way, I think the guy who owns IKEA is among the 10 richest people in the world. I guess he must be doing SOMETHING right, don’t you think? Or maybe he’s just leaning back in some old Po

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  4. What sets collectors apart from normal people is that they think Bertby shelves are gay. All looks and not enough clout. 😉

    Nice to see you wonder down south for a sentence or two, bro. If anyone wants to pass some donations to Harald, do not pass them to me … I’m in dire need of more shelves. I’ll hook you up so you can transfer directly.

    I think Ingvar Kamprad is indeed sitting in that Po

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  5. You hit the nail on head Volher.

    How annoyed I am – they (IKEA) discontinued the corner pieces and the 60cm shelves whilst the bloody Catalogue was still current here in Australia – we had had our room designed utilising the old corner pieces which would be the last piece in some corners.(the new galvinised bits can’t do that!!).

    Anyway I have found some 60cm full length shelves in white and oak – they are at the new Logan store in Brisbane if anybody wants them. Unfortunately no medium-brown corner pieces which is my need.

    It is so pathetic to see a company run by a spreadsheet and they try and brainwash the staff to tell you everything is fine.

    i would actually like mr ik to pay me for all the time I talke to train his staff.

    Why is ther only one ikea?

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  6. sorry – Volkher!!!

    (I can’t edit my posting – is there a trick?)

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  7. Hi Mark,

    yeah, when it comes to customer satisfaction, IKEA is not exactly the company to side with. I’ve had that several times that they discontinued series, changed the design of some or simply ran out of certain pieces at the most inopportune moments (for their customers).

    On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if we are not expecting too much? Most other companies don’t give a guarantee either so you might well run into those kinds of problems sooner with them than with IKEA.

    Sorry about the missing edit function. I could use one myself sometimes. 😉

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  8. Mark Harrison12/11/2006 at 6:34 am

    For the record as I keep wotking on my rumpus room room with the restricted range of Billy – I need to point out that the Billy produced in China (c1999) which I bought today is of a much better better qulity than the Billy produced in Germany recently which I bought last week.

    For a start the packing – the Chinese version has tiisue paper between the sides- the Medium brown timber effect looks better and the pre-drilled holes work perfectly when inserting the wooden bits or metal shelf supports(or put them in by hand). I need to use a small hammer with German Billy.

    This rationalisation of the product has reduced quality perhaps.

    Has the back for 80cm Bily always been a folding 3 piece? The single 40cm from China is laminated on both sides!!

    (btw I am not having a go at Germany just ikea production methods).

    Also what is the connection between IKEA and Hettisch (A very good German company) – many of the parts that ikea use can be found in their catalogues – in fact many of ikeas office/wardrode/kitchen products have almost identical versions in the hettisch design manuals.

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  9. First of all, you have an amazing site. It is frustrating that they seems never have plans for their products but that’s part of their marketing. Always new and fresh. They made you love something then you can never get it so you want it even more…

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  10. Hey,

    nice page indeed. I’m searching for the 60cm blackbrown Billy in 2m when stopping at your blog. If you still don’t know: The silver Benno seems to be alive at least in germany: http://www.ikea.com/de/de/catalog/products/07305310

    And, what doe you say about those awful looking new billys?

    http://www.ikea.com/de/de/catalog/products/83688210

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  11. Hi Marcus,

    yes, the silver Bennos are still available but the problem is that over the years, the color has changed quite a bit. I now have three different sets, silver, lighter silver and … gray. Sucks.

    The Billys are pretty good (and certainly NOT new). I have 9 vitrine cupboards (birch, with glass doors) and they’re great. There used to be an add-on (CD-Dividers) available, which was pretty nifty; but I have no idea what happened to that one.

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