Amid the clattering and banging of a warehouse at work, Pam Andrews discussed how working for Ikea has changed her life.
She grew up in a village called Wilby in England, population 600. About 12 years ago, she was studying to be an occupational therapist when her then-boyfriend, Dean, had an idea.
“Instead of taking my final exams, my boyfriend asked me to marry him, so we got married and set up a home together. I needed a job, and I liked Ikea,” she said.
The Swedish home-retail giant’s culture of meritocracy set the stage for Andrews’ success. She’s helped run two distribution centers in the United Kingdom, where she also helped launch the company’s online retail operation. In 2010 she moved to California to run another center there.
Since January, Andrews, 38, has been the manager of the company’s distribution center in Fredrickson. It’s about 600,000 square feet and serves nine West Coast Ikea retail locations from Canada to California. For the first time, it’s on track to handle one million cubic meters of goods this fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31.
She supervises 105 people – about one-sixth of the population of her hometown village. About 60 percent of the workers are full time, she said, with the remaining on a flex schedule around 30 hours a week.
The News Tribune toured the warehouse, open since 2008, with Andrews last week. The interview has been condensed and edited.
How does the Fredrickson warehouse compare with Amazon’s operations?
Amazon is far more automated. And from my understanding of Amazon in the U.K., they used huge amounts of temporary labor to flex their business up and down with their peaks and troughs, which Ikea doesn’t do so much.
How much time do you spend thinking about Amazon?
Here, not so much. In the U.K., at the time I was doing that job, quite a lot. Because we needed to be competitive and I was very conscious that the solution we had was not to be singing and dancing. We tend to do things with small means. It’s one of our values. So it was about delivering things in a different way.
Who do you focus on around here?
Home Depot, and maybe some local furniture stores. But we’re more supportive from a global aspect of what Ikea is trying to do competitively. Locally I’m part of the Chamber of Commerce so I get to meet these guys, and it’s an open and honest dialogue. There’s not anything hidden. Ikea is renowned for retail. Is it really renowned as a logistics specialist? We want to be, but it’s about us learning from other businesses.
Not many people in your line of work are women – maybe about 17 percent, according to recent federal statistics. Most of them also have a college degree in the field.
When Ikea offers vacancies at this area, they prefer a degree in this area, but they also take practical experience. I’ve taken courses along the way. I didn’t set out to be a (distribution center) manager. But it became my goal when I started working with Ikea. I started as a general warehouse co-worker 10 years ago. Ikea gave me the opportunity to grow.
The company philosophy isn’t just: “This is how we do things. Get on and do it.” It was: “This is how we do things, but can we change it a little bit? What do you think about that? How would it work?”
In one job in England, while I was on maternity leave with my daughter, I took the role of deputy site manager. That’s kind of unusual. It doesn’t happen much in America, where you get the chance to apply for a job while on maternity leave.
When I first began working for Ikea, one of my frustrations was that nobody ever got back to me. So as a manager that’s something I hold very dear. If someone asks me a question, if I’m not able to answer it there, I always get back to them. It could be tiny, or mean the whole world to that person.
They ask me everything from how trucks are arranged for shipping to what soccer club I support.
And what club is that?
Arsenal. And Sounders!
You said one of your life goals was to give your children, Ben and Isobel, a different experience than you had growing up.
My mum and dad, if they were still alive, would still be in the house I grew up in and it would have been for 60 or 70 years. I was there until I got married – in the same village, in the same circle of people, everybody knew what was going on.
When we moved to California, my children were in a preschool with Spanish-speaking children. They were socializing differently; playing differently; the schools are different. They teach more about feelings and empathy here than they do in the U.K., so it’s great. We really like it.
We live in Puyallup, in the Silver Creek neighborhood. It’s the closest I’ve ever lived to work.
Is your house furnished in Ikea?
Not completely. We really like it for children’s storage solutions, and bedrooms. But we brought our sofa with us from the U.K.firstname.lastname@example.org