Target Corp. and the Dayton family are reuniting once again to help spread the gospel of the “North.”
While the founding family of one of Minnesota’s biggest corporations hasn’t had a direct connection to it in years, the two are joining forces on a limited-time collection of North-branded goods that will hit Twin Cities stores next month leading up to a big moment for Minnesota.
In addition to a zipline across the Mississippi River, it’s one of the latest initiatives inspired by the Super Bowl coming to town.
Target is famous for its designer partnerships, creating more affordable items in collaboration with high-end design houses such as Missoni and Lilly Pulitzer.
Eric Dayton, the great-great grandson of the founder of the company that became Target, has been a prominent voice pushing for the rebranding of this part of the country as the “North,” and celebrating the cold as an asset instead of a liability. He sells “North” winter hats and other such branded goods at Askov Finlayson, the North Loop shop he runs with brother Andrew.
While his store mostly sells items for men or unisex products, the “Askov Finlayson for Target” collection will feature 50-plus items that are also geared toward women and kids and are focused on helping people enjoy winter: hats and scarves, but also thermals, throws, candles, mugs and even a snow tube.
“It’s our message to the rest of the country and the rest of the world with all eyes on Minnesota,” Dayton said. “This partnership further amplifies that we’re all proud living here and showing them a strong, proud message of who we are and what makes this place great.”
The branding has been catching on, hitting a crescendo with many Super Bowl events being marketed around the “Bold North” theme.
The Target collection, with prices ranging from $5 to $40, will be sold from Jan. 14 to Feb. 24, or while supplies last, in 38 stores around the Twin Cities as well as nationally on Target.com. Select items also will be sold at Askov Finlayson.
With the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Target knew it wanted to be a part of it. The question was the best way to get involved, especially for a retailer that hasn’t done much with Super Bowl commercials in the past.
“What was so important to us, because so many people are trying to break through and be a part of the Super Bowl, was that we do it in a way that is unmistakably Target and is really authentic to our brand,” said Rick Gomez, Target’s chief marketing officer. “What better way to show up for the Super Bowl than doing something we’ve had a long history of doing, which is these designer collaborations? This seemed like a natural fit.”
Target reached out to Dayton about a year ago with the idea of partnering on a collection.
“It was a no-brainer,” Dayton said. “Even setting aside my family’s connection, I think for any small business to get to work with a company like Target is a huge opportunity and a big thrill and honor. Add to that the connection I have and grew up with made it even more meaningful.”
Dayton, son of Gov. Mark Dayton, briefly worked at Target as a business analyst after college. In the past decade, he has been forging his own path, focusing his efforts on the North Loop neighborhood that he and his brother have helped to reinvigorate with their store and their popular restaurant, Bachelor Farmer, next door.
The Askov Finlayson North hats quickly sold out when they first launched them in 2013. Since then, Askov has sold about 20,000 more. It also sells an expanding array of items designed in house such as men’s pants, sweaters and shorts in addition to other local and national brands.
In coming up with the “Askov Finlayson for Target” collection, Dayton wanted to keep the integrity of the brand by making sure many of the items were sourced from the U.S., and when possible, in Minnesota. The mugs and ceramic candle holders, for example, come from Red Wing. And the hats for Target are being made in the same northern Minnesota town where the hats in his store are made.
“One thing that was important to us is that these North hats are made in Cloquet in the same small factory, which is a big deal for that factory,” he said, noting that Askov has now become the factory’s second-biggest customer behind the University of Minnesota. “We nudged out the University of Wisconsin (from the No. 2 spot), which we were very proud of.”
The North hats sold in the Target collection, which won’t have the pom on the top, will be about half the price of the ones he sells in his shop, $15 compared to $29.
With every North hat Askov sells, it makes a donation to an organization that fights climate change as part of its Keep the North Cold campaign. In a similar spirit, both Target and Askov have pledged to make matching grants to Wilderness Inquiry, a local nonprofit that exposes underprivileged children to outdoor adventures.
Dayton is hoping that the partnership with Target also will help bring more visibility to his brand, especially as Askov plans to focus on growing its online business next year. He is planning to soon relaunch the website and hire a designer to help the company expand its product lines.
“Everything Askov has done up until now has been my brother and me serving as the designers,” he said. “I don’t consider myself a designer, which is why we really need one.”
So working with Target’s design team on the collaboration was a good learning experience for him, he added.
In addition to the Askov partnership, Target is taking part in the Super Bowl festivities in other ways. It designed the Super Bowl volunteer uniforms. It is working on creating some new graphical designs for the lights on the top of its headquarters, a prominent part of the downtown skyline.
And because its headquarters is along Nicollet Mall, a major hub of Super Bowl activities, the company is for the first time opening up one of its spaces, Target Plaza Commons, to the public. From Jan. 26 to Feb. 4, Twin Cities residents and tourists coming downtown will be able to come inside and warm up, take part in activities and recharge with refreshments.
“We’re going to transform this space into a winter wonderland,” Gomez said.
Target’s flagship store on Nicollet Mall also is getting prepped, expecting big crowds the week of the Super Bowl. It will be stocked with lots of cold weather gear and Super Bowl-themed products as well as a big selection of items from the Askov collection.