With thousands of Target store employees in town this week for an annual meeting, their bosses wanted to make one thing clear: Innovation is alive and well.
With pressure coming from behemoths like Amazon and Walmart and tiny technology startups alike, Target executives said they are placing a premium on inventiveness.
The retailer is expected to announce Tuesday that it has partnered with BCG Digital Ventures on an intensive 14-week effort to pump out real-world ideas in short order.
Working out of offices in New York and Los Angeles, five middle managers across various Target divisions will step outside their current jobs to team with an array of Digital Ventures experts, including designers, engineers, ethnographers and investors.
Target refers to it as an “innovation sprint,” aimed at developing concepts worthy of getting the go-ahead from upper management.
About 11,000 store workers bedecked in red and khaki outfits will descend on Xcel Center in St. Paul Tuesday afternoon for the company’s fall employee meeting, which also serves as a kickoff and pep rally to get the troops fired up for the critical holiday season.
The annual event includes performances by musical heavyweights with business ties to Target. Officials were mum on the surprise headliner for Tuesday’s event, but last year Target landed Bon Jovi, Gwen Stefani and Garth Brooks.
On Monday, as part of a weeklong series of events, Target opened up an expansive space across from its downtown offices on Nicollet Mall for a sneak peek at some of the company’s latest cutting-edge ideas.
At the event, set up to feel like a science fair, were more than 15 booths demonstrating products developed at the company’s Brooklyn Park outpost.
In one booth, employees were demonstrating a “room setting” demonstration. Portions of the technology are already being used on Target.com, where users can take a photo of their living room and plunk down digital chairs and tables to see how they look in the space.
The work began in a garage with PVC pipes, duct tape and a regular camera. Managers thought the idea was so good they sunk some real money into it and fast-tracked it.
Another booth showcased new self-checkout technology, created by Target software designers, that makes the process simpler and more like the mobile app.
Mike McNamara, Target’s executive vice president, chief information and digital officer, said the fair was a way to show off the spirit of entrepreneurship among the rank-and-file. Monday’s fair was a pared-down version of a quarterly event involving 90 or so products.
“Most of the ideas will see the light of day,” McNamara said. “Just one or two are pigs flying — a little far out.”
In recent months, Target has reeled in several blue skies projects, including a robot-building project in Silicon Valley and a food lab in Cambridge, Mass. Target CEO Brian Cornell found that the ideas were perhaps drifting too far from Target’s core business.
Cornell said he wants to embed innovation efforts across the company, including the current private-label brand launches, store remodels and remaking of its supply chain for the digital era.