Some analysts and shoppers say Target has lost some of its je-ne-sais-quoi “Tar-zhay” magic. Mark Tritton doesn’t buy it.
“We haven’t lost anything,” said Tritton, who now is the ultimate decisionmaker on what products Target sells.
Legions of devoted shoppers in decades past adopted the Frenchified Tar-zhay nickname to reflect the elevated shopping experience the Minneapolis-based retailer created while still being a discount chain.
“How do we capitalize on that now and take it even further? It’s Tar-zhay plus or Tar-zhay squared,” said the newly crowned chief merchant.
What exactly that vision looks like remains to be seen.
For now, Tritton is calling it the “Target mojo” as he meets with vendors and his team to capture the spirit of innovation he wants to bring to merchandising and the shopping experience.
Tritton, a loquacious, exuberant man with thick dark-rimmed glasses and a big laugh, joined Target in June from Nordstrom. Thousands of Target employees will hear from him for the first time Thursday when he takes the stage at the company’s annual fall meeting at Target Center.
‘Refresh and redefine’
He’s already seen plenty of examples of forward movement. He lavishes mounds of praise on Target’s recently launched kids apparel line Cat & Jack. That line, which replaces two other longtime in-house Target brands, Cherokee and Circo, was developed before he arrived but is a big move in the right direction, he said.
He sees other private-label brands within Target that could be up for total reinvention, too.
“How do we leverage that level of refresh and redefine on our overall portfolio,” he said. “I think there’s opportunity for that.”
He’s not yet ready to discuss what may be coming up next, even a new women’s apparel line that is reportedly in the works.
“Uff da,” he said, laughing, when pressed for details. He had just learned the common Minnesota phrase the night before.
Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, also sees a lot of room for Target to revamp its offerings, especially as other fast-fashion retailers such as H&M, Zara and Forever 21 are more quickly offering customers the latest fashion trends.
“Target was always that perfect balance of need and want,” she said. “To me, that is really out of kilter right now.”
Tritton acknowledges he has his work cut out for him.
“It’s a really exciting time to join,” he said. “Lots to do — but no one’s saying that’s not the case. We’re very transparent about that.”
Last month, Target lowered its sales forecast for the year amid a troubling drop in store traffic. Executives think that is partly because they had not done a good enough job focusing on the second part of their “Expect More, Pay Less” brand promise. So now the company has been highlighting promotions in its ads and store displays, including a recent one-day sale with 10 percent off everything in the store and online.
Tritton also oversees one of Target’s biggest conundrums at the moment — its grocery department, which lacks clear positioning. The retailer is in the midst of a multiyear makeover of its food offerings, adding more organic and natural products. But so far, the changes have not led to the sales boost or traffic gain they desired.
CEO Brian Cornell has a deep background in groceries having previously worked at Sam’s Club and Safeway. But it’s not an area of expertise for Tritton, who, besides Nordstrom, previously worked at Nike and Timberland.
“If you’re a merchant, you’re a merchant,” Tritton said. “I’m doing a lot more listening than I am doing speaking in those spaces. For me, I’m putting together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle so I can see the bigger picture.”
He added that while Target is not yet where it needs to be in grocery, he thinks the company is headed in the right direction.
Electronics sales have emerged as a possible problem as well. They were surprisingly soft for Target last quarter, leading Cornell to charge Tritton with figuring out how to jazz up the retailer’s products.
Tritton recently met with representatives from Apple to discuss upcoming products for this holiday season and said he walked away from it feeling upbeat.
The right fit
A native of Australia, Tritton moved his wife and three young kids to the U.S. in 2001 to take the Nike job.
“We sold the house, we sold everything we owned — cars, refrigerators — and moved to the other side of the world. And where did we go shopping first? Target,” he said. “It’s so weird, right? It’s like a bookend experience.”
Tritton’s arrival had been highly anticipated at Target’s headquarters. His position, often considered the No. 2 role within a retailer, was left vacant for nearly a year as Cornell took his time poring through candidates to find a good fit.
The previous chief merchant, Kathee Tesija, relinquished her role last summer, one of several leadership changes since Cornell took over two years ago.
For Tritton’s part, he said he wasn’t looking to leave Nordstrom and usually brushed off headhunters. But in March, when he got a one-line e-mail from a search consultant asking if he was interested in the chief merchant job at Target, he immediately wrote back, “Yes.”
Cornell flew out to Seattle to meet Tritton the following week.
“We had a great conversation and clicked on the spot,” Tritton recalled. “I was like, ‘What is going on?’ Something just happened with that meeting.”
Cornell invited him to visit Minneapolis a couple weeks later. Tritton came — and it snowed. A lot. His wife took videos of herself walking against the snow and wind downtown.
But it was sunny the other days. And one night, members of the leadership team and their partners took them out for drinks at Marvel Bar in the North Loop.
“You don’t look for a job, you look for a home,” he said. “And so for me, it was like I kind of found my peeps.”
The first couple months have been a whirlwind, Tritton said, adding that his team has been kind to indulge him with his “27 questions” at each meeting.
He and his wife have bought a house in the Lowry Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis.
A foodie in his free time, the couple has been checking out many restaurants around town. Highly acclaimed Spoon and Stable is already one of Tritton’s favorites.
A voracious reader of magazines and blogs, he also usually checks about 20 retail websites a day both for research and fun. While he hasn’t had as much time to shop for himself lately, when he does it usually is mostly housewares since he’s furnishing his new home (and peppering Jill Sando, Target’s senior vice president of home, with his finds).
Tritton said he continues to dig into customer and industry data and research to guide his decisions. But he said it will come down to crafting a good story.
“I think when Target is at its best is when it’s a great storyteller,” he said. “I think we have great stories we’ve told and yet to tell.”