Target says, “Au revoir, Canada”

15 Jan

Today, Target announces the closing of Canada retail operations. This comes after a bold entry to the North in 2013.

But as surprising as this announcement may come, it is a decision that came with much thought and analysis, according to Target’s new CEO, Brian Cornell. Read more about his decision, in his words, here.

The entry to Canada was a long time in the making. I remember the code word, “Project Bacon”, murmured through the halls of Target HQ starting in 2009. I’m sure the exploration into Canada began much earlier before the average Target team member caught wind of it.

This failed foray into Canada is a glimpse into how decisions at Target were made under the former CEO’s watch, which is, insular thinking. Go with the grain. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as you need a company culture and business processes that are consistent. But there is a tipping point which Target had reached…culminating in a drop in store traffic, negative to small sales growth comps, merchandise that no longer “surprises and delights”, a less than swift handling of the security breach (not so speed is life* now was it?), and now, the botched execution of the expansion into Canada.

So what does this mean for specialty brands? Well for one, under the new CEO’s reign, theoretically more specialty brands have a shot at getting into Target US Stores now than in the years past. But there are still some retail buyers who are risk averse, uncertain of how to proceed with the new cultural shift inside Merchandising, while others are going “balls to the wall” and bringing in new brands and fostering creative partnerships.

So what action can you take? Keep building your business case for Target as you ready yourself for their stores. Build strong sales history and distribution in stores just a tier below Target in size and stature. Keep supporting your marketing plans to build brand awareness and foster a “tribe”. And definitely measure the sales lifts from those marketing plans. And smooth out the bumps in your supply chain and business operations so that you’re able to handle the scale and demands of a large retailer.

But ultimately, small brands should take this lesson from Brian Cornell: Fail fast. If your product, your agency, or any project you’re working on is not hitting its goals and expectations, quickly evaluate and iterate. If you can no longer make refinements to improve the outcome, then make the hard decision to exit the project/product/relationship. Fast. Fail fast, friends. There are no failures, just lessons. Well, I take that back. Not failing fast is a failure. Now say that 10 times quickly.


Your friend in retail,

*Target team culture vernacular

PS: This blog post was not proofread in order to get this breaking news out quickly.

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