The long wait is finally over. On March 19 (which is tomorrow), Target will be opening 17 more stores across Ontario, including its first two Toronto locations. Local shoppers will have access to a whole new world of big-box goods, from a retailer that had previously only operated in the U.S.
The Target stores opening in Toronto on Tuesday are at Centrepoint Mall and East York Town Centre. A third one, at Shoppers World Danforth, will open on March 28. These are only “soft openings,” meaning they’re intended to give each store a short test run. If anything goes wrong or doesn’t work as planned, the management can make some last-minute adjustments before the official grand openings, which won’t happen until early April.
Three Target stores in Guelph, Fergus, and Milton have been open since March 5. Target plans to open 124 stores across Canada this year.
“The reason we opened the three stores [in Guelph, Milton, and Fergus] was to learn, and to get ourselves ready and prepared,” said John Morioka, Target Canada’s senior vice president of merchandising. We really wanted to understand what the marketplace was going to bring us.” Earlier this morning, he gave members of the media a tour of the East York Town Centre location, still untouched by shoppers’ hands prior to its first day in business.
The East York store is clean and bright, with a Starbucks Coffee at the front entrance to give shoppers that essential caffeine jolt. Target has a number of partnerships with various brands in clothing, food, electronics, and housewares, which gives them access to exclusive products. In the grocery section, shoppers will find Market Pantry and Archer Farms labels. The pets section has collars and leashes made by Boots and Barkley. The kitchen section has high-quality Calphalon cookware, something Morioka said is a pretty big deal for Target.
Also, for a limited time, Target has a partnership with Roots, meaning shoppers can snap up some of the iconic Canadian brand’s sweaters. There’s also a Fan Zone with t-shirts, tank tops, ball caps, and jerseys for the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jays.
We were whisked through the entire store without much time to browse, but prices did seem generally low. It would appear that Target is doing its best to stay on par with the discount retailers we’re already familiar with, like Walmart.
“We competitively shop over 20,000 items a week, so we’ll continually keep our fingers on the pulse of the marketplace,” said Morioka. “Our goal is to be competitive.”
Good thing, because these days Canadians are hungry for deals. It’s why many of us venture south to shop in places like Buffalo where prices, and taxes, are much lower. In Toronto, one of the most expensive cities in Canada, shoppers have historically flocked to U.S. Target locations to ravage the shelves in search of bargains. Target Canada’s first three stores faced massive swarms of shoppers on opening day that have yet to fully subside.
“We definitely were slammed,” Morioka laughed. “We thought there would be an initial bump, and I would say the bump has not leveled off to the degree we thought.”
“Guests seem to be experiencing the entire store rather than just going to one area and leaving,” he said.
Those who have been to an American Target store can expect much the same experience here. The walls and checkout counters are all painted the company’s trademark red. The checkout procedure and merchandising are also true to form, but Morioka said Target Canada did bring in some products specific to Canadian demands. On the whole, customers are saying that Target has done a good job of replicating the U.S. experience. But whether or not Target begins sourcing significant amounts of merchandise from Canadian suppliers remains to be seen.
“As we open our stores we’ll continue to learn,” said Morioka. “Our focus will be to continuously improve and listen to our guests and to tweak and change as we go forward. This is really the starting point.”