The Do-It-Yourself Culture of Scandinavia

Throughout our visit, we’ve taken notice that Swedish businesses have a tendency to spend special attention to pushing tasks onto the consumer, or looking for solutions, which use less human capital entirely in the product or service process.

The realization of this trend came when dining in Gotland, yesterday. At the restaurant we stopped at for lunch, I noticed that the restaurant, like most other sit-down restaurants we had been to, had a table bussing station, which was to be used by the customers after the meal to clear their tables and sort dishes.

The underlying rationale for why this trend came to be can be linked back to the taxation system in Sweden. Due to such high taxation for employers and consumers (25% general sales tax), the cost of living rises significantly. This makes it extremely hard for employers to hire low cost labor, as it would likely put more upward pressure on prices and inflation.

In a way, this forces many Swedish companies to be more innovative in their delivery of the end-product or service and find alternatives that put more responsibility on the consumer. One such business example of this is IKEA’s business model, which employs consumers to both find the furniture on their own in their warehouses, and fully build the end-product themselves, giving the consumer only the individual pieces of the product. Further evidence of this innovation is apparent through a land development company we visited in Gotland, which provided us with a tour of a previously undeveloped peninsula on the island. Here, the company avoided hiring what would have been a very costly maintenance force to maintain and curb excessive vegetation growth on the peninsula by utilizing 200 sheeps that are kept on the peninsula to eat the shrubbery. Equally impressive is the company’s realization that they could use this solution by leaving the existing fencing around the peninsula, which was installed by the Swedish military in the 1960’s.

However, there is not always an easy solution, such as is the case for the company Eveo, based in Stockholm, which provides home care for the elderly and disabled through government stipends. Eveo mentioned that a main challenge they face is attracting part time laborers, due to the fact they will be paid less (a constraint due to the set government stipend the company will receive) and lose Swedish unemployment benefits. Here, Eveo is still an interesting case because they approach the problem by providing other, non-monetary benefits, such as Swedish language classes in order to help their part-time laborers ensure a better employment future.

We’ve come to realize that this kind of approach may not be taken often enough in the United States, and that companies back home may have a chance to cut costs if they look for more solutions, which belay some additional responsibility onto the customers.