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The Name: Gekås Ullared

The Place: Tiny village of Ullared near Falkenberg on the west coast of Sweden

The Story: We’ll start with a quiz. What in your estimation might be the top tourist attraction in Sweden in terms of visitor numbers?

Ah, The Abba Experience centre: Nope.

Wait. The Absolut Vodka distillery tour: Not even close. One more guess.

This is it. The Pippi Longstocking memorial library: Pathetic and you made them all up. I shall tell you: 4.5 million people a year, out of a total population of 10 million, travel an average of 220km each way to visit Gekås Ullared. It is basically a huge discount warehouse – which those funny old Swedes count as a jolly holiday.

Get away: Well they do. The shop has built a motel, and saunas as well as a campsite and wants to open an adventure park. People holiday on the west coast and combine their annual holiday with a visit to the shop. It has been compared to a Disneyland for adults.

Aha, so it’s selling branded goods, quite high-end spec, it’s a kind of Hamley’s experience, interactive, something for everyone. Am I on the right lines? No. The biggest selling product is freezer bags (70 for 6 Kroner) and the shop sells 100,000 a day.

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This is just plain weird. People travel 220 km to buy freezer bags: And socks – 13 million pairs every year.

It’s the lack of light in winter, affects the brain: Well, it’s certainly a phenomena of some sort. The record number of visitors in one day is 27,500 in a store of 320,000 square feet. And on a ‘good’ day the store can take 35 million Kroner. And for this privilege you can expect to join a queue that begins before 6am and can stretch for 1.5km.

I’m totally struggling here: Hey, everyone’s different. The English like to scrap over televisions at 1am. The Swedes like to queue for hours to buy freezer bags.

Sell it to me again: Come to Gekås Ullared – you’ve seen it on the television (the store has been the subject of a very popular Scandinavian reality TV series for several years), now experience it in real life. Buy things at half the price you would pay in your usual high street shop, and then relax in one of our cosy chalets, have a sauna, play a round of golf, fish and relax in our on-site restaurants overlooking the countryside.

Actually when you put it like that… Can you see why this one unit counts for 1% of all Swedish retail sales.

It’s like a mad sexed-up Clarks Village with added socks: Well, that’s one way of looking at it, kind of.

So how come there’s only one of them: They don’t want to build any more.

How do you know that? Something about the way the company charters planes to bring people in from the extreme north of the country tells me that a second Gekås is not on the cards anywhere in Sweden. The management just don’t think it’s possible to do it again as good or as big a second time and of course you lose instantly the uniqueness.

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Average basket size at Gekås Ullared

OK, why isn’t anyone copying it then: Actually no one can really account for its success. Beating it on price is almost impossible unless an unfeasibly mammoth store is built and the whole thing just has a place in Swedish hearts that advertising cannot buy.

Which brings me to the issue of marketing… nothing to say. It’s all word of mouth, they spend nothing on advertising at all.

Well, that was admirably brief. Do they know who their core customer is? Ja. It’s a woman, she comes to the site twice a year to spend LOTS of money and she is about 43 (this age is coming down all the time which is good news for the privately-owned company as it probably means that people who came here as children are returning with their own brood).

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I’m sure we’ve forgotten something

And let’s not forget all of those children will one day have freezers: True, but there are 100,000 product lines, allegedly a fully-loaded truck arrives every 10 minutes, so it’s really not all about socks and stuff.

And how many of these customers avail themselves of the extra facilities each year? A staggering 350,000 stayed at least one night in 2013 – chalets and motel rooms at peak times are fully booked a long way in advance.

I still only half get it: Don’t worry. They make annual profits of 200 million Kroner in the one shop – just hang on to that when it gets confusing. Hey, where are you going?

Just need to check my supply of freezer bags. 70 for 6 kroner – that’s actually not to be sniffed at: Indeed, come join the revolution.

 

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