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Colonie Center

15 Feb

Colonie (suburban Albany), New York USA

Quick Review

This is easily my favorite mall in the Albany area. On the one hand, according to the Wikipedia, it’s the oldest enclosed mall in the region, opening in 1966. On the other hand, it’s one of the most recently really renovated mall in the area and offers a more comfortable shopping experience and one of the most unique selections of stores available in a mall.

Part of what makes this mall special is three primary anchors: Macy’s, Sears, and Boscov’s. The Macy’s is the only one in the region that was actually built as a Macys (rather than a former Filene’s or Jordan Marsh converted to a Macys), and follows the once-standard Macy’s layout (which is a heck of a lot easier to traverse than any of the elongated, hike-a-thons that Filenes seemed to prefer). Sears features a nicer-than-typical selection, including a special in-store Land’s End boutique. (Although, to save its sorry finances, Sear’s chopped off a chunk of its first floor to rent to Whole Foods, giving the first floor a bizarre layout.) And Boscov’s is a throwback to department stores of yore, with departments that have long-since disappeared from other stores, like furniture, appliances, and greeting cards.

Part of what makes this mall special is its secondary anchors: some are one-of-a-kind between Montreal and the New York or Boston suburbs: LL Bean (which has an amazing selection displayed in such a way that even a couch potato like me wants to be an outdoorsperson), Christmas Tree Shops (where one can find close-out merchandise from Target and Pepperidge Farm, among other retailers), a Barnes & Noble (complete with café), a huge multi-plex movie theatre, a Whole Foods (great for a grab-and-go dinner, though grabbing takes an hour because the selection is stunning), and the newest addition, Nordstrom Rack. The Rack is special not only because it features Nordstrom merchandise at a price a civil servant can afford, but also because it filled a long-gaping vacancy in the Sears wing of the mall, and makes the mall feel fully occupied.

Part of what makes this mall special are one-of-a-kind services and stores, like a musical instrument store (rarely found in regional malls) and a US Post Office.

Part of what makes this mall special are the dining options, including a PF Changs, Cheesecake Factory, Five Guys, and Moe’s, as well as a food court with a slightly different selection of offerings, including the Soup Man, Arby’s and Nathan’s.

Part of what makes this mall special is its convenience. It’s located on Wolf Road, which features a number of other valued retailers nearby, like Jos A Bank, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Trader Joe’s.

Part of what makes this mall special is the traffic patterns: it’s much easier to get in and out of this mall than nearby Crossgates.

And part of what makes this mall special is its Adirondack décor: big wood-trimmed leather sofas and chairs set before fireplaces, rich Adirondack colors, and updated hardware.

Mall at a Glance

Anchors: Macy’s, Sear’s, Boscov’s.

National chains:

  • Mini-anchors: Barnes & Noble, Christmas Tree Shop, LL Bean, Nordsrom Rack, Whole Foods.
  • Other stores: Aeropostale, American Eagle, Children’s Place, Christopher and Banks , CJ Banks, Express, Famous Footwear, Gap, Payless Shoe Source, and Zales.

Variety of merchandise: Wide variety. Although slightly weaker on fashion than Crossgates, it more than compensates with a greater selection of clothing for the real world (LL Bean, Land’s End, Sear’s), outdoor gear, culture and entertainment (besides a huge Barnes & Noble, includes a musical instruments store—a rarity in regional malls), a Christmas Tree Shop which has more categories of merchandise than one might realize (including health and beauty supplies typically found in a pharmacy), good selection for soft home goods through the department stores, LL Bean, Nordstrom Rack, and Christmas Tree Shop; has a full-service organic grocery store (Whole Foods), and some services rarely found at malls, including a US Post Office.

Prices range from middle- to upper-middle raange.

Special Notes: A comfortable place to shop.

Food court:   Large with nice selection and plenty of seating. Includes Arby’s, Cajun café, China Max, Cosimo’s Café, Dunkin, Nathan’s, Soup Man, and Mr Subb. Other dining options include Cheesecake Factory, Five Guys, Moe’s Southweat Grill, PF Chang. Coffee available at the café in Barnes & Noble and Gloria Jean’s coffees.

Wikipedia page (English only): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonie_Center

Website (English only): http://www.shopatcoloniecenter.com

Charlottetown Mall

17 Aug

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Quick Review

This is a small (60-store) enclosed mall at the edge of Charlottetown and the de facto centerpiece of a district of big-box retailing, mostly in strip malls.

As far as store selection goes, the mall contains many, though not all, of the “standards” in Canadian malls in smaller communities: Aldo, Bentley, Dollarama, Dynamite, La Senza Moore’s, Northern Reflections, The Source, Sport Chek, Stokes, Tip Top Tailors, and anchors Winners and—in an outbuilding– Superstore (Loblaw’s large discount format in the Maritimes). The store selection includes a surprise or two, like the growing retailer SoftMoc and youth-oriented Garage.

Food selection is limited: what appear to be locally owned Asian, burger and pizza options, and an array of snacking options (great for guilty pleasure not so much for health).

A Target briefly replaced long-time tenant Zellers but it almost as quickly as it opened. The mall recently announced plans to subdivide the space into other stores.

Although the mall underwent some renovations for Target, unlike others that went through a total renovation, the renovations appeared minimal.

Not that a make-over wouldn’t help this mall: my take-away impression of this mall was that it was depression in three-dimensions.

Many of the store fronts looked like dinosaurs of mall design from decades past; few having had been renovated in decades unless the store opened more recently than that.

Like the storefronts, the fixtures throughout the mall were original. For example, benches are metal mesh, typical of those found in public parks. The standard for most malls now is either plush seating (in more upscale malls) or wood fixtures (in more basic malls).

The sense of dread was augmented by the lighting: fluorescent lights covered by thin white plastic waffling, a standard design of the 80s and 90s.

That most of the major stores like Winners and Moore’s have private exterior entrances suggests two things: (1) They don’t want shoppers coming in through the mall; (2) the owners have even less incentive to make desperately needed renovations.

And those renovations are necessary because an attractive mall not only catches shoppers’ eyes, but also makes shoppers feel safe and comfortable.

What’s surprising is that the mall is owned by one of Canada’s largest and strongest mall managers—RioCan.

Perhaps the renovation of the Target space will bring much needed renovations to the rest of the mall but if Target failed to spur those, one cannot the latest remodeling of that space to have a halo effect on the rest of the mall.

The mall also needs a renovation of its website, which—like the mall—has a mid- to late-1990s aesthetic. It also has a directory of stores that lists categories for which the mall has no stores.

Mall at a Glance

Anchors: Winners and, in an outbuilding, Superstore.

National chains: Aldo, Bentley, Claire’s, Dollarama, Dynamite, Fairweather, Garage, Moore’s, Northern Reflections, SoftMoc, The Source Sport Chek, Stokes, Sunglass Hut

Variety of merchandise: Good, although not deep in any category, most categories covered from clothing and accessories, to electronics and household goods. Two of the most significant categories missing are pharmacies and furniture.

Prices are in the lower- to middle-ranges.

Special notes: Many stores have their own exterior entrances

Food court: Lacks a food court perse but has several stands and faster food options, including locally owned and operated Asian, burger and pizza places, and snack foods including donuts and pretzels.

Wikipedia page: None.

Website: http://www.charlottetownmall.ca/store/storesearchresult.ch2?category=42

Kittery Outlet Malls

20 Jul

Kittery, Maine. USA.

Note: Posts through the summer focus on malls in or near vacation areas, mostly in the US I-95 corridor. The Kittery Outlets are about an hour north of Boston.

Quick Review

Kittery, Maine was one of the original outlet meccas, starting as a collection of stores and eventually commercialized into a street of shopping comprising several somewhat scattered buildings on either side of US Highway 1. Some buildings only have three to five outlets, others have 20 or more. And unlike other outlet meccas, the different buildings seem to have different owners, providing the area with more variety in appearance.

Kittery is also a perfect location for outlet stores: it’s about an hour or so northeast of = Boston (providing access to millions of shoppers) and just over the border from scenic seaside Portsmouth, New Hampshire, making it a perfect location for a day trip.

More personally, Kittery provided my first outlet experience.

Like pleasant memories from the past, they have only deepened through the years, meaning expectations have only been elevated despite visits to some of the best outlet malls in the world. The expectations dashed when I visited in the early 2000s. Compared to the Wrentham Premium Outlets just south of Boston, they appeared ragtag and driving from building to building to visit just two or three jobs seemed inconvenient. (Or perhaps I became lazy.)

My visit in the summer of 2013 left me with a different impression. Perhaps because I was introducing my life and shopping partner to Kittery, perhaps tempered by 10 more years of outlet mall visits, or perhaps because I was on vacation, I was impressed by the Kittery experience this time.

Some characteristics I found especially helpful:

  • A large selection of stores, well over 100.
  • Among the selections are outlets that one cannot easily find at most other outlet malls, including Premium-branded outlets (which tend to have the best selections of stores). These include Calphalon, Crate and Barrel (which seems to have closed many of its outlet stores), and Orvis (which also has a limited selection of outlets).
  • For those seeking the outlet mall standards like the Gap Outlet, Polo, Brooks Brothers, and the outlet-mall-only Chef Collection, Kittery provides them, too.
  • Kittery even features some one-of-a-kind stores selling merchandise from other manufacturers and retailers, such as the Kittery Trading Post.
  • Many of the stores are actual outlets rather than factory stores. (An outlet sells discontinued and imperfect merchandise. A factory store often features products made especially to sell in the discount store, usually with styling and quality to match the lower price.) As a result, the mall features some unique finds not readily available elsewhere.
  • Although driving from building to building can be a drag, walking is reduced. On a hot humid August afternoon or, worse, during a rainstorm, that’s a perk. (Note to fitness buffs: you can park once and walk from building to building.)
  • Driving from building to building also encourages mission-focused shopping rather than browsing. That is, shoppers go to the stores that interest them rather than browsing past several stores that initially had no interest but because the shopper walked by it, they chose to enter and ultimately made an impulse purchase.
  • One of the larger buildings has a coffee shop where one shopper can rest while the other looks for bargains.

Kittery also provides a wider variety of dining options than many outlet malls, which usually have limited-selection food courts with even rarer seating and a few stand-only food vendors.

In other words, Kittery not only provides what people expect in an outlet experience—lots of stores and bargains—but also unique experience that discount malls don’t. (And if you’re up for a day trip, set aside some time to stroll the charming streets of nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire.)

Mall at a Glance

Anchors: Crate & Barrel, Kittery Trading Post (a store selling several brands), Orvis, Ralph Lauren.

National chains: Aeropostale, Brookstone, Children’s Place, Clark’s, Cole-Haan, Ecco, Hanes, Izod, Nike, Old Navy, Puma, Sunglass Hut, and Timberland

Variety of merchandise: Excellent, nearly everything except books, furniture, appliances, and entertainment.

Prices range from lower-middle to upper-middle ranges.

Special notes:

Discount coupon booklet available to AAA/CAA members in information office

Well rest-roomed. Many available and all seemed to be clean.

Food court: None.   Instead, offers few eating outlets, mostly in free-standing or smaller buildings.

One place to note: Noel’s Café and Coffee House.   Has an amazing seating area outside and coffee house. Has tables, rides, and is covered—so no one needs to worry too much about the elements in warm weather. For those worried about cold weather, however, Noel has lots of indoor seating.

Wikipedia page (focuses on the entire town, not just the outlets): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kittery,_Maine

Website: www.thekitteryoutlets.com

Christiana Mall

15 Jun

Newark, Delaware, USA

Note: Posts through the summer focus on malls in or near vacation areas, mostly in the US I-95 corridor. Christiana Mall is 45 minutes to  an hour south of Philadelphia, an hour north of Baltimore, and two hours north of Washington.

Quick Review

I began frequenting this mall over a decade ago on trips up and down the I-95 Corridor: I wanted some new towels from Macys on sale. And given a choice, I’d choose the Macy’s that didn’t charge sales tax—saving an additional 5 to 7 percent. (Christiana Mall is in the tiny state of Delaware, which doesn’t charge sales tax to distinguish it from its economically powerful neighbors of Maryland New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.) I bought the towels and revived my dormant Macys account during the purchase (for an additional 15% off). The net result of that experience: my Macy’s card gets regular workouts and I’ve been a regular visit to this mall ever since.

Its primary attraction was its sales-tax-free Macys. The mall didn’t impress me as much of anything special. One end of the mall was essentially dead when an anchor closed down and the selection of stores in the rest of the mall ranged from ho to hum (with the exception of Aveda, Pottery Barn, and Williams Sonoma).

Towards the end of the 2000s, Nordstrom’s announced plans to knock down the dead department store and build a replacement. In preparation, the mall gussied itself up. The exterior transformed with restaurants and other stores opening directly to the outside.

A new food court sprung up, with two of my favorites—the politically incorrect Chick-Fil-A and Carvel’s Ice Cream.

The store selection seemed to strengthen. Apple opened a store here and later, so did Microsoft. Target opened a large store. Fashion favorites like Armani Exchange, Anthropologie, Forever 21, and H&M moved in.

The restaurant selection strengthened, too. A California Pizza Kitchen opened up, as did a Panera—a notch above the food court in quality and a notch below a full-service restaurant in price.

Finally, after several years of construction, new on- and off-ramps from I-95 opened, somewhat fixing traffic patterns.

In other words, over the past decade, Christiana Mall has transformed from a mall I went to save a few bucks on sales tax at Macy’s to a mall I visit with some serious shopping intentions. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels that way. If the information on the mall’s Wikipedia entry is correct, this mall is one of the top grossing malls in the US. Admittedly, it has not appeared on any top 10 lists I’ve seen but that doesn’t mean it’s not on a top 50 list and it might explain the significant improvements in the past several years.

Mall at a Glance

Anchors: Department stores: JC Penney, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Target.

Also: Cabela’s (separate building) and Cinemark Theaters.

National chains: Anthropologie, Apple, Armani Exchange, Aveda, Barnes & Noble, Clark’s, Disney Store, Forever 21, Francesca’s, Gap, H&M, House of Hoops by Foot Locker, Invicta, Kid’s Foot Locker, Microsoft, Oakley, Pottery Barn, Urban Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret, White House Black market, Williams Sonoma, and Zales.

Outbuildings include: Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods, hhGregg (appliances and electronics), Michael’s, Petco, Sear’s appliances

Variety of merchandise: Excellent. Exceptionally strong in fashion and accessories, computer-based electronics, and sporting goods.

Prices are middle- to upper-middle range.

Special notes:

Even after rebuilding the ramps, traffic flow from I-95 to the mall still backs up onto the highway, especially during heavy shopping seasons.

Traffic flow within the mall property can be a bit screwy; relies on 1-way roads in parts and returning to I-95 is never as easy as one thinks it should be.

But finding parking never seems to be a serious problem.

One more issue: According to its website, youth under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a supervising adult age 18 or over after 5 pm on Friday and Saturday.

Food court: A variety of options—some atypical of the standard mall food court. Options include Chick Fil-A, Carvel’s, MasterWok, McDonalds, Mrs. Field’s, Ruby Thai Kitchen, SaladWorks, Sbarro, Subway.

Other options exist: For a break: Starbuck’s, Teavana, the café at Barnes & Noble, and Jasmine Smoothie (among others) are available elsewhere in in the mall.

Several restaurants are also available, including fast-casual favorite Panera and   full-service restaurants Brio Tuscan Grill, California Pizza Kitchen, Cheesecake Factory, and JB Dawson’s.

Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christiana_Mall

Website: http://www.christianamall.com/en.html

Yorkdale Mall

18 May

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Quick Review

This is Canada’s first mall—as in, first place in sales (as reported in my favorite retail blog, retail-insider.com, and not just in Canada—but at times, in all of North America), first stop in Canada for many international chains and first in my heart (along with Carrefour Laval and Place Ste-Foy). It’s a hulking, ever-growing mass hunk of Class A shopping.

The selection is outstanding. Kind of like a society page of retailers, every major retailer is here or on its way here (except Dollarama).

  • The top department stores: Hudson’s Bay, Holt Renfrew and, soon, Nordstrom’s (under construction) and Simon’s.
  • The top luxury retailers (in their own special luxury wing): Bulgari, Burberry, Cartier, Chanel, David Yurman, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Ted Baker, Tiffany, and Louis Vuiltton, Versace.
  • The top fashion houses: Armani Exchange, Bench, Forever 21, Gap, Garage, H&M, Harry Rosen, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Levi’s, North Face, Topshop/Topman, and Zara.
  • The top footwear stores: Aldo, Brown’s, B2, Ecco, Johnston & Murphy, Nine West.
  • The top housewares stores: Crate & Barrel, Home Outfitters, Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, and Zara Home.
  • The top media, gadgets and software stores: Apple, Indigo, Microsoft, Sportchek, and Tesla.
  • Yorkdale even has a Shoppers Drug Mart.

But not only is the selection of stores outstanding, most of those stores are flagship or Class A stores, meaning that they have a more extensive selection of merchandise and they display it more sumptuously than in other malls. Take Hudson’s Bay, one of the few mall stores in this chain that have been thoroughly remodeled (rather than moving a few things around and slapping some paint on them). The store is minimalist chic—like its recently opened Lord & Taylor store in Crossgates Mall in Albany, New York, and even reminiscent of Bloomingdale’s chic stores in Soho, New York, and Santa Monica, California. The layout is clean and somewhat sparse (relying mostly on paint on the wall rather than flooring and hardware to give the space style), and the merchandise attractive, easy to browse, and extensive—with merchandise not typically found in mall-based Hudson Bay stores. In fact, the only part of this store that was not renovated were the washrooms.

Similarly, the Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma stores are both flagships, which expanded merchandise (including a few of the Williams Sonoma home items that are typically only available by catalog) and have second stories (not typical of most Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma stores). In addition, Harry Rosen recently expanded and remodeled its store to be one of its stores of the future.

Despite the long list of tony store names, bargains can be found. During a recent visit, I found a desk organizer in Pottery Barn. I planned to purchase it in the US, where it cost $US 79. I found it on sale at Yorkdale for $CDN 49. I verified the price before buying it, and was heartened that some North American chains offer better prices in Canada than in the US.

Hungry? The mall offers a variety selection of food options. Its food court features china plates, real silverware, and real glasses, as is increasingly typical in middle- and upper-strata malls in Canada. But the selection of food outlets is a bit pedestrian; nothing that can’t be found in any other mall in Ontario, like Jimmy the Greek and Shanghai 360. Seating is also extremely limited; demand far exceeds the number of spaces.

Restaurants are of the chain variety: Moxie’s, Pickle Barrel. Probably the most unique choice will be in the department stores. Right now, just Holt Refrew offers a restaurant. But Nordstrom will offer, at the least, a coffee bar and Simons, if it follows the lead of its store in Galeris d’Anjou, could have a nice lunch place. Coffee options include an always-crowded Starbuck’s, a café in Indigo, a second cup, a Nespresso (which usually has great food, though high prices) and, because this is Canada, a Tim’s.

Another challenge is parking. Nearly all of the parking is in garages and no matter how much the mall expands the number of parking spaces (the number increases with each of its frequent additions), demand always seems to outstrip supply. A better choice is the Subway, which has a station that directly connects to the southeastern edge of the mall.

If you want exercise, a visit to Yorkdale will surely offer it. The mall is large, essentially on a single level, and has many, many north-south and east-west hallways. Getting around the entire mall should ensure that visitors reach or near the daily recommended count of 10,000 steps.

In other words, Yorkdale offers an unparalleled shopping experience: in terms of selection of stores, selection of merchandise within them, in terms of exercise opportunities; and in terms of finding a parking space. About the only thing that’s ordinary about this mall is the food. But that’s OK; Yorkdale is all about the shopping.

Mall at a Glance

Anchors:

  • Department stores: Holt-Renfrew, Hudson’s Bay. Coming: Nordstrom’s (fall 2016), Simon’s (date not announced).
  • Also: Indigo, movie theatres.

National chains:

  • Canadian firsts: Apple, Bath & Body Works, Crate & Barrel, GEOX, John Varvatos, Kate Spade, Microsft, Salvatore Ferragamo, Ted Baker, Tesla, Zara Home, Tumi, White House Black Market
  • Other stores: Aldo, Anthropologie, Chanel, Coach, Crate & Barrel, Danier Leather, Gap, Harry Rosen, Home Outfitters, Old Navy, Papyrus, Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, Zara.

Variety of merchandise: Fashion: Unparalleled. Footwear: Excellent. Housewares: Excellent. Electronics: Very good. Sports: Fair. General merchandise: Poor.

Prices in the mid- to upper-ranges.

Special notes:

Traffic is heavy, especially later in the day and on weekends, but even during weekday afternoons. Parking is almost always a challenge to find.

To avoid that, try taking the Subway to Yorkdale (has its own station that connects to the Southeast corner of the mall).
For visitors looking to operate without a car and who don’t mind walking through the mall with a suitcase, stay at the Holiday Inn across the street from the northwest corner of the mall.

The mall is essentially a single level and has hundreds of stores. Plan on walking a lot.

Visitors from China: Yorkdale is the first mall to accept the UnionPay charge card.

Food court: One of the few upper-level stores. Features china plates, reusable silverware, and real glasses rather than disposables. Selection is ordinary: A&W, Jimmy the Greek, KFC, MachuWok, Shanghai 360, Subway, Thai Express, and Villa Madina among others.

Seating is limited, finding a table during regular meal hours can be a challenge on weekends and during holiday seasons.

Other restaurants throughout the mall, mostly Canadian chains like Milestones, Moxie’s and the Pickle Barrel.

Several options for coffee breaks, including Espressemante (Illy), Nespresso, Second Cup, Starbucks (always crowded, seating limited) and David’s Tea and Teavana (OK-tea break).

Wikipedia page (English only): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorkdale_Shopping_Centre

Website (English only): http://www.yorkdale.com

Yahrtzeit for Target (Addendum): A Reading List

27 Apr

Target’s public relationship with Canada lasted about 4 years to the day, the average length of an Elizabeth Taylor marriage, with the announcement of its arrival January 13, 2011 and the announcement of its departure, January 15, 2015.

Here’s a trip down memory lane.

Note that all links worked when this post was originally written but because external sites change, might not be active when you try to visit them.

High hopes The Announcement Day: January 13, 2011 Target buys Zellers leases for $1.8B

Met with

“When is Target going to buy Zellers and come to Canada?” has been the most-asked question posed to this reporter over the years at the office water cooler and at parties — it seems most consumers who have visited the cheap chic Wal-Mart rival as it successfully expanded across the U.S. prefer its cheap chic stylings to that of Zellers. (Close behind in popularity: “When is J Crew coming to Canada?” That is supposed to happen at a mystery location in Toronto later this year. Stay tuned!)

Saw some early problems: Starting with another store that named itself Target in anticipation of the moment:

Commenting on Target’s arrival, one American retail analyst commented that Canadians have “had so many lousy retailers like Zellers and all these crappy guys. You’ve had all these dumps who acted like retailers but really were cadavers,” Mr. Davidowitz said.

2012 Excitement builds Emerging Designer Award winner’s collection for its Quebec stores; Toronto Fashion Incubator’s New Labels contest winner gets cross-Canada exposure 
Flash forward to 2015  
2013 Opening day—and already sensing problems In this interview with then Target Canada president Tony Fisher (Why Canadians are paying more at Target), Globe and Mail retail reporter Marina Strauss focuses on the already noticeable differences in prices between Target Canada and Target USA.

Here are my 2013 notes on this article:

“Geez this guy sounds culturally limited. Look at the comments on Halifax, as if the interviewer—a Canadian—had no knowledge of it.”

 

2014 Anticipating the unthinkable By Fall 2014, rumors started to swirl that Target was considering exiting Canada—many in response to analysts suggestions that Target high-tail it back to the USA.

However, the retailer expanded aggressively in the region without setting up an effective supply chain to supplement its needs. Due to Canadian packaging laws, protectionist tariffs on certain food products and exclusive wholesale agreements, Target’s U.S. network cannot serve its Canadian business. Hence, the retailer had established a fresh supply chain network for Canada, which wasn’t too efficient.

Due to this, customer response to Target was much worse than the cheap chic retailer expected, which resulted in low store traffic and subsequently, heavy markdowns.

 

2015 Continuing to anticipate the unthinkable Why Canada Is Giving Target Heartburn

 

The unthinkable happens
Instant answers Within days of the departure—and for weeks afterwards—many offered their explanations of Target’s demise. Each offered a unique insight but they all tended to focus on the same general  issues (analyses posted in chronological order):

Looking every bit the hasty exit Target Canada sped up its exit as quickly as possible, leaving unpaid suppliers, miffed landlords, and an angry public in its wake:

Noticing the human toll of the exit Target employed 17,600 workers in Canada and a few hundred more in its headquarters in the US. In addition, several suppliers relied on Target for sizeable percentages of their businesses. Some reporters explored this human toll to the loss:

Becoming a messy exit, too Some of the most serious long-term problems arising from the Target exit appeared a few months after the last store closed. A number of the problems arose from difficulties in re-leasing the former stores, most of which were slow to find new tenants (and are still unoccupied); others arose from unpaid creditors.

Leaving some lasting lessons
Target is recovering As embarrassing as the Canadian exit might have been and as angry as it left Canadians, it also left Target free to focus on fixing its larger problem: its lackluster American operations that were still reeling from the massive data breach in 2013 and a multi-year sidetrip into groceries that resulted in “dulling” the rest of the store and its merchandise.

And the inside story starts to emerge About a year after announcing closing: January 21, 2016 The Last Days of Target, which provides an insider’s story of how Target veered so off-track in Canada, starting with an almost impulsive purchase of Zellers’ leases which, in turn forced an accelerated launch in Canada as well as an ill-advised and ultimately business-ruining choices about inventory and point-of-sale technology and, for good measure, skimping on training. Its otherwise engaged and committee workforce didn’t stand a chance.

 

Yahrzteit for Target Canada (Part 2 of 2): The Long-Term Impact

20 Apr

April 12 marked the 1-year anniversary of the closing of Target stores in Canada. In the Jewish tradition, we mark the anniversary of a passing by observing yahrzteit, or remembering.

And in a pair of essays, I reflect on Target Canada. In Part One I reflected my long-term relationship with Target.

In Part Two, I take a step back. Although Target might have only lasted about 2 years  in Canada (some stores as few as 6 months), because of the size and scale of the operation, it will continue to affect  Canadian retail for the foreseeable future.   In this essay, I identify some of the long-term impacts and lessons about the Target fiasco in the Far North.

  1. Target actually had some better brands of merchandise in Canada than in the US. For example, in its housewares department, Target Canada carried the Joseph Joseph line of high fashion kitchen accessories. Target USA does not carry this line; JC Penney had it the last time I checked (a few months ago). Joseph Joseph is also carried by the Bay in Canada and Macys in the USA—“next step up” stores.

But I’m not sure anyone noticed and I don’t remember Target making much of an effort to promote this.

And Target should have.

Target carries the Kitchen Aid line in its USA stores but Canadian Tire seems to have an exclusive on that line in Canada, meaning that Target couldn’t carry all of the merchandise in Canada that it carries in the USA because of existing agreements between the same suppliers and other stores. (I conjecture this because I don’t see it elsewhere and Target didn’t carry it.)

Even before it opened, Target said it would have some unique products in Canada that it didn’t sell in the US. In the case of housewares, Target “traded up” for some better merchandise but never really announced it. They should have promoted Target Canada exclusives in store and in its advertising and defined exclusive as either not available in Target USA or only available at Target.

  1. Target got help screwing up some of its Canadian merchandising. Although Target admittedly has primary blame for its failure in Canada, it actually had help screwing up a number of its departments. As I noted in the previous post  (and others have noted, too), Target had a lousy and overpriced merchandise mix—especially in groceries and health and beauty- pharmacy. But in many parts of the country, Target relied on a major local supplier to help with those. Groceries were supplied by Sobey’s and, at least in Quebec, pharmacy was supplied by Brunet (part of the Metro group).

I only know about these from what I read in the paper and saw in the stores, but as I understand the situation, they were supposed to provide a Canadian imprint on these departments. The problem is, they put a Sobey’s or Brunet imprint on these departments, someone forgot that these are Target departments.

It appears that no comparison was made with the merchandise mix at Target US and Target Canada, something that Target should have overseen and required of its suppliers. Furthermore, it appears that no effort was made to coordinate store brands between the two countries; it appears that Sobey’s and Brunet store brand products was merely packaged in Target store brand packaging. So what appeared to be similar or identical products to Target USA on the outside seemed like substantially different products on the inside.

  1. Target might not have lasted, but mall upgrades made to accommodate it have. Before Target announced its entry into Canada, many Canadian malls—especially in the Class B and Class C ranges—had delayed necessary renovations. Malls like Galeries d’Anjou in Montreal and Bayshore Centre in Ottawa appeared stuck in the 1990s, both in terms of appearance and lackluster store mix.

Expecting greater foot traffic from Target, however, these malls finally entered the second decade of the new millennium. They remodeled their interiors, updating color schemes, furnishings, and decorative elements. They reworked their store mixes. The updated malls appeared more fashion-forward and reflective of the times.

Want more details? See my recent reviews of Galeries d’Anjou, Bayshore Centre, and Place Vertu—B and C malls that remodeled around the time that Target arrived.

  1. Target might not have lasted but upgrades to its competitors leave them in stronger positions long-term. Target thoughtfully gave Canadian retailers two years’ warning of its arrival and the retailers used that time to significantly up their game. And most major retailers did, with Canadian consumers benefitting long-term, even if Target didn’t last. Consider these long-lasting improvements to some iconic Canadian retailers:
  • Canadian Tire. Strengthened its coverage of the basics and customer service, and re-emphasized its place in Canadian communities to maintain its place as the go-to-store for anything basic in the household, the place that Target tried—and ultimately failed—to supplant. Instead, Canadian Tire seems to have strengthened its role as the go-to store for anything basic in the household.
  • Hudson’s Bay: Transitioned from a ho-hum four-century-old operation to one that looks relevant and new. (Of course, the $1.2 billion it received from selling its Zellers leases to Target helped.) It emphasized higher end and quality fashion and home furnishings to distinguish it from the cheap chic expected from Target.
  • Loblaws: Strengthened the design appeal of its housewares (looking chicer than Target’s while offering similarly low prices) and launched the Joe Fresh clothing line, which challenges Target’s on price and style.

In a bit of tit-for-tat, Loblaws tried to strike back by launching Joe Fresh in the USA. As Target failed in Canada, so Joe Fresh seems to have quickly gone stale in the US: its relationship with JC Penney cut short and its Fifth Avenue flagship in New York quickly closed.

  • Metro: The central and eastern Canada grocer continued to focus on groceries, but upscaled the experience. It brought all of its stores under the Metro brand (previously limited to Quebec) and reworked its logo Metro also expanded its prepared foods, strengthened its store brand, and launched an American-style grocery store loyalty program (Metro et moi / Metro and me).
  • Sears Canada: Although on a self-inflicted death spiral (mostly because its owner, Eddie Lampert, seems to only care about its real estate and can’t seem to hire a merchant willing to lead the store longer than a year), Sears made some nominal moves to counter Target, including a couple of store remodels in malls where Target would also locate (like Galeries d’Anjou in Montreal).

But Sears most interesting moves came after the store closed, when it offered jobs to Target employees. Admittedly, that was a head scratcher, as Sears has been laying off employees with increasing regularity. But in the end, Sears is still here and Target isn’t.

  • Walmart: Already having had upped its design game for US stores to compete against Target’s admittedly diminished housewares (which suffering from the departure of major designers like Michael Graves), Walmart decided to primarily compete with Target in the grocery department, expanding many of its existing Walmart (which have a small grocery section) to Walmart Supercentres (which have full-line grocery stores in addition to all of the other departments).
  1. Target might not have lasted, but some of its empty storefronts will serve as long-term reminders of the failure. One of the long-term problems of Target leaving is that it also leaves lots of empty space: about 2 to 3% of all retail space in Canada. About a third of its leases were picked up within 9 months—some by Walmart, some by Lowe’s, some by a gym—but the majority are vacant and are likely to remain that way.

That’s because the demand for 120,000 square foot stores is limited. A few malls are rebuilding the space so they can lease smaller stores.

But in a climate whose medium-term outlook for the next few years is flat, absorbing all of that still-vacant space remains a challenge.

So shadows of Target signs remain on walls in and out of malls that look like Target bullesyes but aren’t any more.

And nothing looks more creepy than a big vacant store.

  1. Target needs to revisit its playbook for entering a market, especially if it tries again to enter international markets with bricks-and-mortar stores. Target likes to enter new markets by making a splash and launch a number of stores all at once.

According to the in-depth report on the last days of Target Canada in Canadian Business, Target felt compelled to open quickly in Canada because they had acquired so many leases and could not afford to pay rent on so much vacant real estate for an extended period of time.   

This certainly sounds plausible.

But it overlooks Target’s history: how Target entered new markets in the US. It reads just like the playbook for Target Canada.  When possible, Target would buy the real estate of a distressed competitor, such as Richway in Atlanta and Ames in Boston. If necessary (as it was in Atlanta), Target waited until after the store liquidated its merchandise and formally laid off its staff, before bringing in the construction crews and hiring teams to open a new Target.

That’s what happened with Target’s purchase of Zellers leases.

The massive construction-then-massive-launch approach might work in the US, where communities are increasingly similar in their day-to-day needs, and, except for some local variations, the company would still retain its basic supplier relationships, operating logistics, and HR practices (with minor adjustments for local laws and customs).

But even though the population of Canada is about the same size of California (or about 5 Target market areas), it’s a different country and Target could have considered an entirely different playbook.

Rather than buying the leases, emptying the stores, laying off all of the talent, and investing in reconstruction, Target could have purchased Zellers’ outright, taken advantage of its expertise, supplier relationships, ongoing operations,  and, significantly, functioning inventory control system, then made adjustments as it learned the market and slowly but surely convert the Zellers stores to the Target nameplate, learning from the successful lessons of Walmart’s successful entry into Canada at Woolco stores.

  1. Although Targets policies are written to value human resources, its choices in Canada suggest that a bridge still exists between what’s written on paper and what’s practiced in the business.  One reason that Target has chosen to wait to occupy a former retailers’ space rather than merely take over its business as described above is that Target is a non-union company and most of the stores it has replaced had unionized staffs. Without going into the pro- or anti-union issue, which is beyond the scope of this discussion, practical considerations suggest that addressing broader business needs might necessitate rethinking this employment practice.

In this particular situation, Zellers was a functioning business and Target would have rebuild all of that from scratch.

But Target also ignored the practical limitations of the real world when choosing to do so, because the company made three other choices that rely on effectively managing human capital dimensions and, in both cases, made disastrous choices.

The first two choices are related: planning to open 133 stores across Canada within three years and launching a two significant pieces of technology–an inventory control system and a point-of-sale system–both of which touch on every part of the organization. Both timetables were unrealistic, but especially the inventory control system, on which the entire operation of Target depended.

Anyone with passing knowledge of enterprise systems knows that such a comprehensive system cannot be launched in two years, no matter how smart the people working on the team or how experienced the systems integrator (Accenture in this case.)  Canadian Business has an amazing post-mortem of the situation. Both systems probably could have been successful if management had been realistic about the schedules for systems planning, installation, customization, and implementation. And they could have been realistic, because a wide body of experience with enterprise systems in general, and inventory and point of sales systems, in particular is available. But management chose to ignore that  almost all of that history suggests that a successful implementation requires three to five years.In other words, they ignored one of the most basic principles of human performance: the best predictor of future performance is past performance.

The third choice Target made was to shortchange training.  I had been aware of that problem; I had spoken informally with certified trainers whom Target lured from other Canadian retailers. But the trainers I spoke to were hired on contract and told me that, as soon as initial training was complete, Target dismissed them. Ironically, these trainers provided training on their systems.

That might not have been as serious of a problem in Target USA, the company not only has functioning inventory control and point-of-sale systems, but also has experienced workers who can provide the development needed to bridge the gap between classroom training and the job.

But all of Target Canada’s employees were new and, as happens in situations like these,  relied on incidental, on-the-job learning rather than close supervision and mentorship, some of which was not feasible because of the general inexperience of the Target Canada staff, but some of that supervision and mentorship not feasible because the company chose to provide less rather than more training, when learners could be observed performing successfully before they return to the workplace.

And some of the informal lessons learned turned out to be how to game the system. In doing so,  staff exacerbated an already public and humiliating problem with inventory. As reported in Canadian Business: 

Business analysts (who were young and fresh out of school, remember) were judged based on the percentage of their products that were in stock at any given time, and a low percentage would result in a phone call from a vice-president demanding an explanation. But by flipping the auto-replenishment switch off, the system wouldn’t report an item as out of stock, so the analyst’s numbers would look good on paper. “They figured out how to game the system,” says a former employee. “They didn’t want to get in trouble and they didn’t really understand the implications.”

Although presented in the magazine as a technology issue, the situation sounds like a classic human resources management and development problem.

By all accounts, despite these problems, Target had a committed and engaged workforce according to the Canadian Business report. But a committed and engaged workforce can only go so far when the system sets that workforce up for failure.

  1. Bankruptcy is ugly. It humbles even the great. In bankruptcy, Target violated its own century-old values as a corporation and seriously tarnished its image in the Canadian community. It wrote checks to community organizations just before the bankruptcy that bounced when the community organizations tried to cash the checks within days of the bankruptcy. It laid off nearly 18,000 of its own workers, and cost thousands more their jobs. It ruined suppliers. It raised questions about its own ethics by the choice of bankruptcy statute to use in its filing. The manner in which it tried to get out of its leases further tarnished its reputation and the company found itself in protracted court proceedings over its bankruptcy plan.

In other words, Target lost more than billions of dollars in this failure; it lost a part of its soul, even if most of that news was only covered in Canada and received far less coverage in the USA.

  1. Target USA does seem to be recovering. Although the stated reason for departing Canada is that the company saw no path to profitability before 2021, if even then, part of the reason has to be that its US stores needed primary attention. Although everyone talks about how lousy the Canadian stores were, the USA stores weren’t so wonderful. Sales were flat. The chic had departed and, even in harsher times, cheap alone wasn’t attracting customers. And with a data breach of massive proportions, the company lost the trust of its customers, too.

Around the time of the Canadian departure, Target executives announced efforts to revitalize the product line and shopping experience. The proof would have to show itself on the showroom floor.

And it is starting to. As noted in Part One, the housewares section has been reimagined and the displays are impressive. I have seen pictures of a reimagined grocery section, which is supposed to have a strengthened focus on healthier foods. If those pictures of the prototypes eventually appear in the grocery department, that department, too, should show new signs of life.

In other words, closing the Canadian stores to concentrate on the American stores was not only a good business decision, it also appears to be one bearing fruit for Target. (That some post-Canada earnings reports have shown signs of life further supports that decision.)

  1. Target does not seem to have learned all of its lessons about international retailing. Although Target got many things wrong when it tried to enter Canada, it did recognize that, at the least, it needed to be culturally sensitive to shoppers in Quebec and made a strident effort to understand its culture. The problem was, Target didn’t understand the local shopping habits and just assumed people would  change them, just because Target is Target. Target was wrong.

Similarly, although Target acknowledges that it failed in Canada, it seems to have ignored anything that could have been learned from the experience when the store opened an international website. The site allows visitors to shop at Target.com and ship to countries outside the USA. But this international website offers the same value proposition as its Canadian stores—fewer products available at much worse prices.

On the one hand, I doubt many Canadians will shop there.

On the other hand, visiting the site and seeing the crappy selection and lousier prices gives us a nice chuckle.

Perhaps that was the point. (Probably not, but just in case…)