- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2003

Paget Ingham is counting down the days to the official grand opening of the new Ikea store in College Park. The manager of the recently built, 371,000-square-foot Swedish home-furnishing store roams through her domain, giving pep talks to employees and making sure that everything is in readiness for the June 18 opening.

“For me it’s more than just the big day, it’s about life after,” Mrs. Ingham said. “Once we open, real life kicks in.”

On this day, just a week before the doors officially open to the public — construction workers are continuing to work on the massive building and the parking lot. County inspectors and the fire marshal are also making their rounds.

Inside, the newly trained Ikea employees are filing through the store, unloading boxes, placing products on display and pricing the merchandise.

Mrs. Ingham, dressed in jeans and a pink button-down shirt with her name tag attached, combs through the first floor of the store, which is filled with thousands of products for every room of the house.

She says hello to each of the employees she passes. It’s an essential part of her job.

“I want them to know me,” she said. “Yes, I’m the store manager but I’m also an employee.”

Mrs. Ingham has been involved in the hiring process of the 450 full- and part-time workers needed to make the store run smoothly. Just 43 vacant positions are left.

She says it’s important for her to meet the employees and for them to know about her.

Earlier in the day she had a “rally” on the docks to get the employees receiving the merchandise excited about their work. Three trailers full of items was being delivered that day. Eight were delivered the day before.

“I have a job to pump people up,” she says. “When you’re excited and have spirit, it comes out to our customers.”

Wednesday began with an 8 a.m. meeting with about 30 key people —both from the store and the construction team. The hourlong meeting gave the group an idea of the store’s progress.

Next Mrs. Ingham had a meeting with a core group of store managers to discuss scheduling and the grand-opening festivities.

For most of the day, Mrs. Ingham is visible. As she strolls through the new displays, she keeps an eye out for anything that doesn’t look right. She wants rows to be lined up perfectly and merchandise to be displayed properly.

“I am a stickler for detail,” she says.

At one point, she notices an opening behind a display of framed pictures in the corner of the store. To Mrs. Ingham’s surprise the wall behind the display is being worked on by the construction crew. Cranes are removing part of the wall leaving a gaping hole to the outside.

She quickly has the handful of employees working the area move to another location in case the merchandise comes crashing down. She makes a mental note to talk to the project manager later in the day.

“I have no control over the exterior [work being done],” she says. “But it could impact what we’ve done in here.”

Mrs. Ingham seems unaffected bythe 13- to 14-hour days she’s been working or the fact that the area is bustling with construction workers just seven days before the grand opening. Instead, she’s enthusiastic and confident the work will get done in time.

“Everything the customer will see will be done,” she says.

Mrs. Ingham, 43, knows the retail business.

The Toronto native has been in the industry for more than 25 years. She started out with a Canadian catalog company before joining Ikea more than 10 years ago. She worked at stores in Canada and traveled for the company.

Last summer she accepted the job to come to the United States and open the area’s third Ikea. The College Park location on Baltimore Avenue is between one store in White Marsh, Md., and another in Woodbridge, Va. It’s part of the company’s expansion plan to open 50 new stores in North America during the next 10 years.

In January, Mrs. Ingham, along with her husband, Steve, and 12-year-old son Mathew, moved to Severna Park, Md., and started her new job.

Her connection with Ikea doesn’t stop at the office. Mrs. Ingham’s home is filled with the company’s brand. Mathew’s bedroom, the living room and the kitchen are all furnished with Ikea furnishings, she says.

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