Target, the 2019 HomeWorld Business Retailer of the Year (see the May 27 issue), was the first mass retailer I could claim as my own.
Target, which had just moved into the Northeast as I started my career and family in the early 1990s, was an overnight sensation as an influential, progressive lifestyle outfitter. Just right for the times, it was a much-needed accessible, post-recession shopping haven.
Target became the “Shabby Chic” status symbol for young families— cool enough to keep them with the in-crowd, sensible enough for a new generation of budget consciousness.
As consumer devotion to Target grew, the housewares industry reveled in the promise of growth as Ron Johnson brought in the likes of Calphalon, Riedel Glass and, of course, the daring Michael Graves Design collection that ultimately did more to cement Target’s leading-edge fashion credibility than it did to bolster its bottom line.
The progressive image of Target remains vivid, and it continues to define its identity despite the blurry decision-making during the past decade that set the trendy mass retailer off course. Even the slightest veer off course can land you a long distance from your intended destination if it goes unchecked for too long. And Target veered, lulled by an all-too-common retailing urge to chase share and drive traffic by replicating the successful ways of the closest competitors.
What Target didn’t anticipate was how fast diving into fresh grocery and into Canada without the proper means to support such moves would set back the entire organization. Those distractions compromised Target’s longstanding assets at a precarious time for brick-and-mortar retailers.
Enter Brian Cornell, who made it among his first priorities to visit stores and canvass shoppers. He discovered loyal, maturing Target shoppers that had resisted abandoning the retailer, perhaps less aware of or less affected by the cracks in its foundation. What was missing was a younger generation of shoppers at the same age as those who had helped catapult Target to national retail superstardom more than two decades earlier.
That Target’s core remained largely intact gave Cornell the currency to remodel the retailer swiftly yet systematically without having to reinvent it desperately. By putting the Canada debacle behind it and by moderating overambitious grocery plans, Target renewed its commitment to its deep-rooted merchandising identity by curating a blend of upscale national brands joined by a new crop of exclusive lifestyle brands. That aligned Target, without alienating its devoted base, into the sights of a new generation of shoppers that find great value in sensibly fashionable styling, reliable quality, enriched practicality, personalized service and omnichannel seamlessness.
Neither shabby nor chic anymore, perhaps, Target is again just right for the times.
Target didn’t stray off course for too long. It’s good to have it back as a new generation of shoppers begin to claim Target as their own.