Target is teaming up with small, independent shops to offer items that it hopes will reinforce its image as more than just another discounter.
Sharp-eyed shoppers may notice some subtle differences this week in their local Target store.
The Shops at Target have arrived. Announced with great fanfare in January, the tiny displays and boutiques were introduced quietly this week within the Minneapolis-based retailer's national web of 1,764 stores.
In a twist on its long-standing strategy of partnering with trendy designers, from Missoni to Thomas O'Brien, Target has struck deals with five independent retailers from San Francisco to Boston to curate collections of new products that bear each shop's unique imprint. Products currently in stores range from snickerdoodle doggie biscuits to a clothing line with a distinct South Beach flair -- all exclusive to the $70 billion retailer.
The shop owners aren't designers, but they do have an eye for presenting their goods in a unique and appealing way, according to Target spokesman Joshua Thomas. Target's in-house trendsters have traveled the country in search of interesting boutiques and outposts. "We've all been to places where we've come back and said, 'You have to see this store.'"
The idea, Thomas said, is to complement Target's existing stable of designers with new goods that are "constantly evolving." The Shops merchandise will remain in Target for six weeks (or until they sell out), and then a new round will debut on Sept. 9 -- at the height of the back-to-school shopping season.
Just as the first Shops collection hit stores this week, Target began announcing a second round of partnerships with four more independent merchants that will result in about 230 exclusive products. On Friday, Target will release the fourth merchant of the batch: Patch NYC, a hip home decor boutique in Boston.
Earlier this week, Target announced deals with Kirna Zabete, a trendy shop in Manhattan's SoHo district; Odin, three menswear boutiques in New York, and the Curiosity Shoppe, a San Francisco outpost featuring eclectic home accessories and gifts.
Thomas admits that few shoppers -- even the most-devoted Targetistas -- will have heard of their choices. New York retail consultant Robin Lewis said "some could argue that a lot of these stores aren't widely known, so they're probably not powerful enough to compel consumers to come to the store."
But, he added, "even if they're not known, it does create a certain amount of excitement."
It's also another way for Target to differentiate itself from the competition, and drive more customer traffic as a result, according to Dave Brennan, a marketing professor and co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence at the University of St. Thomas.
"It's a way of showing shoppers it's a different kind of store -- it's not Wal-Mart," he said.
Brennan said he suspects goods sold at the Shops at Target are largely discretionary items -- there to tempt shoppers to spend more than what's on the grocery list. The strategy depends on shoppers having extra cash for these items -- still an unknown in a tough economy. Prices at the Shops begin at $1 for a nail file to $159.99 for a pouf (a kind of Moroccan ottoman).
The first round of products in the Shops may prove a little baffling to shoppers. Some displays are located at the end of aisles, such as the Liver Bit of Love dog biscuits from the Polka Dog Bakery in Boston or the kelly-green dinnerware from the Privet House in Connecticut.
But the clothing line designed in conjunction with the Webster boutique in Miami is prominently featured in women's wear -- including a frothy skirt and top in a pink palm-frond-dotted fabric that is similar to the store's wallpaper.
And for those looking for the goods, signs throughout the stores direct them to most of the displays. They're also featured on www.target.com.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752