Saturday, 10 May 2014



Whoops! Yikes! Sorry!


When I was growing up every basement everywhere had a dartboard. As I’ve grown up, it seems every pub everywhere has a dartboard or two too. The pocked walls around the round targets have always amused me: you may miss the bull’s eye, but the concentric circles as well?


And then there is Target in Canada. The Globe and Mail this week reported that the American retailer could be like a back alley dalliance – it may pull out, or not. Industry analysts describe the Minneapolis retailer’s 2013 expansion into Canada as ‘more than a nagging headache.’ The company maintains it’s committed to its Canadian customers for the long term, a phrase that’s become meaningless in modern business. Corporate reality for boards and shareholders is akin to a teenager sucking on the tar of a re-fired roach: It’s been a minute and still nothing’s happened.


Most Canadians live along the 49th parallel. Cross-border shopping is standard operational procedure for many of us. We want goods at prices that may only be found south of the Medicine Line. Target possessed that mystical cachet even though it’s just another discount department store like Wal-Mart, albeit with a superior graphic identity and slightly higher thread counts in its purveyed linens. The excitement amongst consumers with outstanding credit card balances and in the business sections of our two national newspapers was fever pitch in 2013. Target! Salvation was coming, all wrapped up in distinctive red and white packaging – right down to the store fixtures!


In the cool blue north the last of this country’s five-and-dimes was withering. Alan Thicke wasn’t pitching Zellers on TV anymore. The Hudson’s Bay Company had ignored its adopted bastard child retail chain, one which made Saan stores, Rossy’s and Value Village seem like Holt’s, tres haute mode. So Target pounced, ingesting the leases for a bunch of shabby facilities in second-rate malls. But hell, white shelves and a little red paint go a long way. Anyway, the fix was in: Canadians loved Target already.


The national launch staggered around like me on a Sunday morning, a store here and another one there. As Target lurched from province to province, city to city, it became apparent that there must be a great billowing slit in the fabric of space and time. These weren’t Targets at all. No! They were Soviet GUM department stores, complete with high prices and nothing on the white shelves.

In retrospect, the grand promises could never be met; the hype could never be matched. And there is an element of hubris here, one almost of classical tragedy proportions. Inexplicably the dawn of the mighty, mighty bull’s eye did not compel the established and even fusty competition in this country to quake in their Sorel Snowlions and turn heel. And lo, it came to pass that Canadians preferred their Canadian Tire money to Target’s red 5-per-cent discount cards. Red of course is an angry colour to corporate CPAs. And while paper scrip may be forged, there is no existing customer database to be breached by hackers.

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