HYDERABAD (India) -- For Ashu Jain, a 47-year-old mother of two teenage children in India's southern Hyderabad city, Ikea has probably arrived at just the right time.
"I'm looking for furniture for my new house which is under construction," an excited Jain, who was among the first customers to arrive at Ikea's first Indian store on Thursday, told the Nikkei Asian Review. Customers were given a big welcome by Ikea Group's top management, including Chief Executive Jesper Brodin and Chief Financial Officer Juvencio Maeztu.
Jain said she heard about the opening of the Ikea store -- housing about 7,500 products -- from her husband, who works near the Swedish furniture giant's first outlet in India, and also through promotions on Facebook.
Ikea has also been promoting the store with colorful three-wheel auto rickshaws, or tuk-tuks, carrying the company's logo. They have been giving free rides to passengers and showing a three-minute video about the company and the new store for the past three months.
Thursday's opening came six years after the company announced ambitious long-term plans for 25 stores at a cost of 105 billion rupees ($1.5 billion). Ikea's next Indian outlet will open in the financial hub of Mumbai in 2019, followed by locations in the southern city of Bangalore, and Gurgaon near New Delhi.
The company will also launch its Indian e-commerce business next year in a bid to tap a growing online market now dominated by homegrown Flipkart and U.S.-based Amazon.com.
Mihika Baisya, 32, who works for an information technology company in Hyderabad, was another excited customer, and already had two full shopping bags within an hour of the outlet launch. "It's all knick-knacks basically -- cushion and pillow covers, rugs, stuffed toys, home decor, etc. There are 15-20 articles with me, each costing less than 500 rupees," added Baisya, who was very happy with the price and product range, and would like to visit the store again and again.
About 1,000 products in the store cost less than 200 rupees each, including cups, mugs and some other kitchen accessories, in a bid to target cost-conscious customers in India, where annual per capita income is close to $2,000. Ikea hopes to attract 6 million to 7 million customers to the store annually.
"I was part of the [Ikea] expansion in Russia in early 2000 and it made a difference there. Earlier they couldn't buy [such affordable homewares] and all of a sudden they got something nice," said Patrik Antoni, Ikea India deputy country manager, adding that Ikea will bring the same change to people's lives in India.
A young couple, who came to explore the store along with their two-year-old daughter, said they were looking to buy mattresses, a sofa and a study table for their house. "I have many things to buy from Ikea," said the husband, Prasad Reddy, as hundreds of Ikea staff cheered their first customers and executives and workers hugged each other to celebrate. Western music played in the store throughout the day.
However, some customers also found themselves a bit lost. Radhika, who goes by single name, said she was "confused" how to go about shopping. "It's a big store unlike ones we have in India where you can find everything in a small area. Here I need at least two or three visits to properly figure out what do they have and on which floor," said Radhika, who bought a few toys for her four-year-old son.
Spread over 37,000 sq. meters, the store houses a 1,000-seat cafeteria serving local dishes, but not Ikea's well-known meatballs, which will be replaced with chicken and vegetarian versions to accommodate Hindu and Muslim shoppers.
Many customers who came on the first day were seen eating local delicacies from the store restaurant. "I chose to eat here as I'm working the second shift in my office today starting at 2pm," said Rahul, who liked the concept of a store with an eating outlet, saying it saved time for people like him.