When clothing brands such as Merona and Mossimo helped propel Target Corp. to new heights in the 1990s and early 2000s, an H&M was not in every mall.
Online subscription services such as Stitch Fix were not yet on the horizon.
Amazon sold mostly books.
And department stores and shopping malls were still humming along instead of facing steep declines in sales and traffic.
As Target confronts the quickly changing landscape — one in which Amazon is poised this year to surpass Macy’s as the biggest apparel seller in the U.S. — the Minneapolis-based retailer is making dramatic changes to its lineup of goods. It is saying goodbye to well-known brands such as Merona and Mossimo and introducing new labels in an effort to not only make the retailer more relevant in the face of newer competition but also to pick up market share from those chains that are struggling.
“The guest is changing,” Mark Tritton, Target’s chief merchandising officer, said during a walk-through of the new brands at the retailer’s Minneapolis headquarters. “They’re not going to the malls. They’re looking for fresh ideas. And they’re not as wedded to those old brands that they used to know and love.”
Over the next 18 months, Target will launch more than a dozen new brands, four of which begin hitting stores in coming weeks. They will be accompanied by a “More in Store” marketing campaign that will feature TV and print ads, a big direct mail piece and an increased digital investment that includes tapping into social media.
The new product offerings are a linchpin of Target’s plan to revive sales, which have been sliding for a year. Target is spending $7 billion over the next three years in a top-to-bottom makeover that includes everything from remodeling stores to overhauling its supply chain.
Some analysts, as they prepare for Target’s second-quarter earnings report on Wednesday, wonder if it will be enough as Amazon and Walmart make big bets in the online space. But Target executives say they are already seeing initial efforts pay off and announced last month that sales have begun to rebound.
Out with the old, in with the new
Last year, Target parted ways with children’s apparel labels Cherokee and Circo and replaced them with Cat & Jack, an in-house brand that has been growing by double digits and just hit $2 billion in sales in its first year.
Building on that success, it now will phase out billion-dollar brands Merona and Mossimo over the next year.
In their place, Target is introducing A New Day, a more stylish women’s line featuring new pieces every month, instead of quarterly as with the older brands. Target is hoping the change, which brings it more in line with some of its competitors, will drive more frequent trips to see new merchandise.
The brand, aimed at a woman who shops at places like J. Crew and Zara, was designed to provide value-conscious shoppers with more versatile pieces for their wardrobe.
Target also is trying to make the men’s department more of a destination. Right now, the biggest sellers are socks and underwear, while elsewhere the men’s apparel category has been growing, Tritton said.
The retailer hopes to gain a share of that growth with its new Goodfellow & Co. brand — the name a nod to the department store in downtown Minneapolis that launched the Dayton family’s retail empire and eventually Target.
In addition to being more fashionable, Goodfellow clothes have been created with attention to how they feel and fit, offering several styles in pants.
A New Day and Goodfellow will be followed up with other women’s and men’s brands that also will have more distinct personalities than those being retired, which executives said had become too broad and, in the process, stale.
“We’re going to have a portfolio of brands that each stand for a specific point of view and a particular aesthetic,” said Rick Gomez, Target’s chief marketing officer. “They each have a tone and a voice. It’s very different than just slapping a label on a garment.”
In that vein, Target also saw an opening in the market for JoyLab, a new fashion-focused athleisure line aimed at a younger customer than the Lululemon crowd. Target decided to create a new brand for it rather than making it part of C9, another major Target athletic brand.
“Overburdening one brand with multiple aesthetics and trying to be too many things to too many people is the kiss of death for a brand,” Tritton said.
Target also is adding new brands to meet emerging trends in the market that were missing in its current assortment. For example, this fall it will debut a modern home-decor brand called Project 62, named after the year Target was founded during the mid-century modern movement.
Project 62 offers a lower-priced option for those looking for sleek, Scandinavian-type designs found at places such as West Elm and Design Within Reach. The brand also is designed with smaller, more urban living spaces in mind — think nesting tables that slide under one another and ottomans with storage built into them.
Target is also creating new experiences to accompany the new brands — both in the stores and online.
Its relatively new visual marketing team at headquarters has developed department store-like displays that include mannequins and splashy in-store signage from the advertising campaigns to help tell the story in stores.
And on Target.com, each brand will have its own landing page aimed at providing inspiration as well as features such as fit finders, 3-D shoppable rooms and curated content from social media showing real Target shoppers wearing pieces from the collections.
‘Re-embracing its DNA’
A shift back to focusing on the “Expect More” part of Target’s brand promise in apparel and home goods is smart because it drives differentiation and is the most profitable part of its business, said Leon Nicholas with Kantar Retail.
In recent years, Target has gotten somewhat distracted by trying to leverage groceries and household essentials as a way to drive traffic to the store, he said.
“This is Target re-embracing its DNA,” he said. “This takes them out of the game of competing directly against Amazon, and it drives excitement and energy into the store again in a way that consumables cannot.”
Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail, said Target needs to win back shoppers who were missing that feeling of surprise when they go to the store, turning to other places online or at off-price retailers such as T.J. Maxx.
“Part of it is that Target did leave the door open,” she said. “The other is that these other companies have filled a gap of immediacy and value.”
She added that Target should not take the Amazon threat lightly, especially as the online behemoth tries out new services such as Prime Wardrobe and adds to its growing roster of private-label clothing brands such as Lark & Ro for women and Buttoned Down for men.
Amazon’s private labels, while growing quickly, still have a long way to go in matching the sales of Target’s biggest brands as well as those of Macy’s and Nordstrom, according to data from Slice Intelligence. Target’s Cat & Jack, for example, saw nearly 15 times the volume of online sales as Lark & Ro in the past year.
At the same time, other big brands such as Nike now sell their products directly through Amazon, making that website a bigger destination for apparel.
Tritton is betting that Target’s reputation for style will help set it apart.
“There’s a real relationship with Target,” he said. “We’re more than just an algorithm. We’re an emotion to them.”
New pricing, brand strategy
Target began picking up the pace of its new brand development after Tritton joined Target in June 2016, filling a position that had been vacant for about a year. He came from Nordstrom where he was in charge of the high-end retailer’s portfolio of private labels.
When he got to Target, he jumped right into brand research and strategizing already underway.
“I was able to come in and go, ‘OK, let’s break it down and be strategic about it,’ but ‘Let’s go!’ ” he said. “We have the talent. We have the ideas. We just unleashed that potential and let Target be Tar-zhay.”
The new brands, he added, will have better-quality fabrics, but the prices will not be higher.
Target will start with more of an everyday low pricing strategy from the get-go. The idea is to move away from the cycle of marking items up and then relying on promotions to help move them back down.
The marketing campaign around the new brands will call attention to the price points.
As for the yet-to-be-unveiled brands coming down the pike, Tritton hinted that they won’t be limited to home and apparel.
“We’re looking for opportunities to refresh our whole portfolio and strengthen what we bring uniquely to the guest,” he said. “This is the beginning.”