By Jessica Lovell
For weeks, many people passing by the new Target store on Stone Road have seen the cars parked out front and wondered if the store was open to the public. They need wonder no more.
The department store opens its doors to the public March 5, along with stores at the Milton and Fergus.
“These are what we’re calling our pilot stores,” Target Canada president Tony Fisher told media at an exclusive store tour on Monday. “There’s a lot of things we want to test.”
The three stores are the first of 124 stores the company will open across Canada throughout the coming year – the results of a $1.83-billion purchase of leaseholds from Zellers Inc.
The Stone Road Zellers store gradually underwent its transition to Target and began to look busier early this year, with its sign brightly lit and the parking lot half full. In January, a Target spokesperson confirmed that the U.S. retailer was using the Guelph store as a training and testing facility.
“Guelph was a great location for a lot of reasons,” Fisher said Monday, citing proximity to the Milton distribution centre and the quality of the labour market as two of the reasons for choosing the Royal City.
“We were able to find great leadership here as well,” he said.
The store was used as a test site for systems, including a new point-of-sale format, for store layout and design, and for staffing.
In planning the expansion of the Target brand into Canada, feedback was gathered from Canadian shoppers. Two main ideas came across, said Fisher. Shoppers who were already familiar with the brand from cross-border shopping wanted that same Target experience, while others not familiar with Target wanted a shopping experience that was unique in Canada, he said. That is what the company is trying to achieve.
“We’ve completely renovated this entire store,” said Fisher, noting the company invested $10 million to $12 million in each store to convert them from the Zellers stores they used to be.
The Guelph store is slightly larger than the average store at 120,000 square feet. It features a Starbucks, an in-store pharmacy and a grocery section.
“Our goal is to be a one-stop shopping destination,” Fisher said. “There are some great retailers here, but you have to go to multiple stores to get what you’re looking for,” he said.
The company is also pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in all of its stores, with features like motioned-sensor lights in the grocery section, he said.
In terms of what you can buy, the store includes its own store brands for everything from food to clothing. It also includes brands that will be familiar to cross-border shoppers, such as Mossimo and Shaun White apparel. As well, there will be some Canadian exclusives, such as Umbra home décor products and Roots apparel, available for a limited time.
Although hours may be tweaked as the company continues testing the retail market, the store is expected to be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Sunday, when the store will be open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Store staff do include some former Zellers employees, although Fisher could not provide an exact number. Roughly 100 people were employed in each of the former Zellers stores.
The target employees – 167 in the Guelph store – only learned of the new store’s Tuesday opening on Monday morning, said Fisher.
The company had kept it a secret and had avoided giving a firm opening date, because “we wanted flexibility to make sure we opened when we were ready,” he said.
The grand opening is expected to come in early April. The three area stores are part of the first wave of 24 Ontario stores, which will all have soft openings later in March.