Erika Klaar and Michael Matteson are co-owners of Shop and Deliver by Lulu in Anchorage on Thursday. They buy and ship furniture from the Lower 48 for customers. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)
Maybe you've had this experience: You're shopping online for a couch or a table, finally land on something you like, and proceed to checkout only to discover the company won't ship your order to Alaska.
Plenty of home goods stores and other retailers have items that they don't ship up here. But there are a few companies in Anchorage whose business models are all about getting around that problem.
Erika Klaar and her fiance, Michael Matteson, own Shop and Deliver by Lulu on Tudor Road. Every week, one of them travels to Portland (and sometimes other parts of the Pacific Northwest) to do a shopping run for Alaska customers clamoring for furniture and more from Ikea, Anthropologie, Pottery Barn and other retailers.
Klaar or Matteson drives around and loads purchases into a truck they keep at their Portland warehouse. If a customer wants something that won't ship to Alaska from Amazon, or other retailers that don't have locations in Portland, Shop and Deliver will order it to the warehouse. Then they buy space on a cargo flight and send the goods north.
The idea started with Klaar and Matteson doing Ikea runs for friends when they would travel to Seattle to visit family, and it grew from there. The business has been around for about four years (previously under another owner, whom the couple bought it from).
"We would do a travel bag at a time and it grew to people asking, 'Can you do this? Can you do that?' " said Klaar. "We started moving larger furniture from Ikea and it became, 'Can you do beds?' 'Can you do kitchens?' "
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Right now, Klaar said, her company is filling 20 to 30 orders a month for full kitchens from Ikea alone.
According to an Ikea spokesperson, "home delivery is still a relatively new service" for the company, and so far they've focused on providing that service to areas near their stores. Currently, Ikea doesn't have the infrastructure to support home delivery in Alaska, the company said.
Tina Saephan lives in Eagle River and used another company, Constellation Shopping Services, to get her hands on a new West Elm dining room table a couple of years ago. When she tried to order it online, the website told her it couldn't be delivered to Alaska. But she was determined.
After doing some research, Saephan found that she could have the table sent to a freight service, but the process appeared to be long and complicated. So she went with Constellation instead.
Lindsay Nielsen launched Constellation in early 2016. A customer reaches out to her, she does the buying, and then gets the order shipped to Portland. Nielsen works with a carrier there to then have the goods shipped up, usually by air freight, and she charges customers a handling fee.
"Well-known national brands we see ads for either won't ship to Alaska or they pawn it off to their international department," she said, adding that a lot of large carriers have restrictions on the size of items they'll ship here. Sometimes, the cost of the delivery that is available is "astronomical," she said.
Her customers tell her they don't like what furniture they can find in town, especially not at lower price points.
Janna Kemper lives in Anchorage and used Constellation to get a bunk bed for her niece. She found what she wanted on Amazon, but it wouldn't deliver to Alaska.
Using Amazon Prime, she's been able to get some pieces delivered in the past.
"But 99 percent of the time when I try to order (furniture) online, it's impossible to get it up here," she said. And she has a hard time finding pieces shopping locally. "As far as good quality, reasonably priced furniture, I think it's a horrible market up here."
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Nielsen has gone down to Oregon a few times to do shopping in-store for people, to places like Ikea and West Elm, but more of her business is online.
Once, she flew down and back from Anchorage in the same day to do an entire Ikea kitchen design order for a couple in Valdez. The couple then came to Anchorage, loaded up a U-Haul with their new kitchen and drove back home.
Last fall, Alix Whipkey and her husband ordered a queen-sized Ikea bed and used Shop and Deliver to get it here (they live in Eagle River). They'd visited family in Ohio over the summer and stopped at Ikea while they were there and found plenty of designs they liked — something that's proven to be more of a challenge for them in Anchorage.
"When we got back, we were kinda bummed out because there's awesome furniture down in the Lower 48," Whipkey said, "and we can't get it here."
Annie Zak covers business and general assignments. She previously wrote for the Puget Sound Business Journal and the Orange County Register.