Odd, True (and Clever) Entrepreneurial Story

How the Maritimes looks to Ikea-lovers

Ikea opened its first store in North America in Dartmouth Nova Scotia in 1975, but it closed due to low sales. In general, big box operators “can’t make efficiencies in Atlantic Canada” according to Michael Smith, because although there are about 1.8 million people in the region “we’re spread out all over the place.”

Michael Smith is based in Halifax Nova Scotia in Canada and he started a company called MyBoxBuyer (https://www.facebook.com/MyBoxBuyer) that buys and delivers Ikea products for the Ikea-impoverished Maritimers. Writes Dylan C. Robertson:

The idea came in the spring of 2011, when Smith and his wife were renovating and struggling with an Ikea shipping catalogue they found pricey and limited in selection. “We needed things in Halifax and we couldn’t get certain items,” he said. “The ones we could, the shipping for items was too high.”

With Canada’s easternmost Ikea in the Montreal suburb of Boucherville, Que., Smith figured he could save big by pooling a few friends’ purchases and renting a truck. Word got around, and the 37-year-old ended up trucking $20,000 of booty on the 14-hour one-way journey. But the people of Halifax wanted more. “The second trip was a fluke; people ordered double.”

Smith now charges 20 per cent commission on each item’s pre-tax price. That’s up to four times cheaper than Ikea shipping rates, with access to all the company’s 12,000 products. Kim MacMillan used to shop at Ikea as a student in Montreal. She ordered her daughter’s bedroom set last month, with a small fee to have it delivered to her doorstep in Charlottetown. “Shipping doesn’t make up for it. But this is super-affordable, and accessible,” said MacMillan, who’s “obsessed with Ikea.” “My friends are now relieved they don’t have to pick up random dishes (for me) when they’re out west,” she laughed.

Patricia Gregory of Caledon ordered $11,000 of furniture in June to furnish the PEI summer home she built. “You can easily be jaded; a lot of people on the Internet you can’t trust,” said Gregory. “But I tried his company and it was fabulous.”

The company now rents trucks, but Smith and his staff do all the buying and loading, playing “the ultimate game of Tetris” to sort goods by weight. He replaces any products damaged in transit. It’s part of running a mom-and-pop operation, whose office number is Smith’s cellphone. He even calls customers when he can’t find the precise item in store.

Since operating as a business last fall, the six-day venture now takes two, and Smith flies in to supervise instead of driving trucks himself. With no advertising, Smith says he’s seen 20-per-cent growth each month. He’s expanded buying runs to the three Ikea locations between Ottawa and Montreal, and delivers to cities in each Atlantic province. The company expanded last month to Toronto, shipping goods from Mobilia and Crate & Barrel to Montreal, where they’re packed along with Ikea purchases.

Michael Smith of My Box Buyer