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Architecture + Branding: Target experiments with new store formats as it attempts to gain a foothold in dense urban markets

1-Notorious newsmaker

Over the last several quarters, Target Corporation, the number 2 American mass-retailer, has been a notable newsmaker. In 2012, the company celebrated its 50th anniversary. Then, in 2013, amid great fanfare, the retailer embarked on its first international foray as it entered the Canadian market. Also in 2013, a massive data breach left thousands of (customer) credit card accounts vulnerable. Lukewarm reception in Canada combined with customer concerns over data security to abruptly dampen the retailer’s prospects.

A change at the CEO level ensued in 2014. In early 2015, a decision to shutter the international expansion plan amid dire profitability projections surprised many retail analysts. Massive layoffs from the Canadian operations, followed up with additional layoffs in the US operations, would continue to keep Target in the news headlines.

The shine seemingly has come off the once highly vaunted Tar-jhay.

2-Suburban superstores

On May 1, 1962, The Dalton Company, headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, would parlay their expertise in department store retailing into a new format, and opened the very first Target store (source: corporate.target.com). Combining high quality merchandise with low prices, Target was dead-set on “elevating the shopping experience” (source: aBullseyeview.com).

TGT - Target Store Facade circa 1960s

Target, store facade/front entrance (circa 1960s) (source: abullseyeview.com)

Continual incremental improvements with each successive wave of new store openings, along with an evolving product mix, would help distinguish Target from its mass-merchant rivals.

DSC04284 TGT - Target 8601 Brewerton Road Cicero NY

Target, store facade/front entrance, 8601 Brewerton Road, Cicero, New York

Over its first half-century, Target would progressively expand from its mid-western base to gain a national presence across the continental United States. In concert with Wal-mart and Kmart, Target helped drive the superstore model, which largely consisted of opening large footprint (100,000 sq ft+) retail stores in overwhelmingly car-dependent suburban locations.

DSC07634 TGT - Walmart 1299 N Brightleaf Boulevard Smithfield NC

Wal-mart, front view, 1299 North Brightleaf Boulevard, Smithfield, North Carolina

DSC09415 TGT - Kmart 2803 Brewerton Road Mattydale NY

Big Kmart, front 3/4 view, 2803 Brewerton Road, Mattydale, New York

DSC04333 TGT - Target 21800 Towne Center Drive Watertown NY

Target, front 3/4 view, 21800 Towne Center Drive, Watertown, New York

In fact, the typical general merchandise prototypical Target store tips the scales at 135,000 sq. ft. (source: bloomberg.com, pressroom.target.com). Large, imposing, massive, squat, the big-box retail format is almost generic and relatively interchangeable.

DSC11082 TGT - FORMER Zellers 1055 St-Laurent Blvd Ottawa ON CA
Zellers (Former, circa 2013), front view, 1055 St-Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa Ontario, Canada

However, Target injects some design flair and whimsical subjectivity into the mundane.

DSC13978 TGT - Target Store 1055 St-Laurent Blvd Ottawa ON CA

Target (circa 2015), front 3/4 view, 1055 St-Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Building geometry is linear, with long wall surfaces, and widely varying levels of articulation within the façade from location to location.

Target 30333 Southfield Road Southfield MI 1 Aerial https___maps.google

Target, Aerial view, 30333 Southfield Road, Southfield, Michigan (source: maps.google.com)

Target 30333 Southfield Road Southfiled https___maps.google

Target, front view, 30333 Southfield Road, Southfield, Michigan (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, the building elevations are quite opaque resulting in limited visibility into the store, especially along the side and rear walls.

Target 900 E Kemper Rd Springdale OH 1 Aerial https___maps.google

Target, Aerial view, 900 East Kemper Road, Springdale, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Target 900 E Kemper Rd Springdale OH 4 https___maps.google

Target, front 3/4 view, 900 East Kemper Road, Springdale, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Target 900 E Kemper Rd Springdale OH 5 https___maps.google

Target, right side/receiving area 3/4 view, 900 East Kemper Road, Springdale, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, the entrance is clearly demarcated with an abundance of glazing lending a bright and light ambiance.

Located off-center, the ingress/egress point is generally framed with a projecting canopy, which provides cover from the elements for guests and also affords a horizontal plane into which to cleanly terminate the entrance glazing.

DSC09651 TGT - Target Champlain Centre Plattsburg NY

Target, front entrance, Champlain Centre, Plattsburg, New York

Parapet variation is heavily dependent on the level of articulation, working in tandem with elevation setbacks and projections, thus augmenting the effects into the vertical plane.

Trending towards a palette of beige, brown and tan colours for the building proper, Target often proposes horizontal banding within the same palette, as well as splashes of red as an accent.

DSC09653 TGT - Target Champlain Centre Plattsburg NY

Target, front 3/4 view, Champlain Centre, Plattsburg, New York

Although the various stores differ in size, Target also assigns different monikers to their store formats to differentiate the offerings. Target stores offer the brand’s mainstays, while SuperTarget offers that much and an expanded selection of grocery and fresh produce. Target Greatland was also used in the past but has been since discontinued (source: wikipedia.org). However, the PFresh initiative, tested in 2008, has resulted in approximately 1,100 Target stores also offering a wide breadth of fresh foods (produce, deli, meats) (source: pressroom.target.com, bizjourals.com, retailingtoday.com).

Target stores populate suburban strip malls and power centers as stand-alone buildings or ganged in-line with other tenants sharing demising walls.

Target 3112 Vestal Parkway East Binghamton NY 1 https___maps.google

Target, front view, 3112 Vestal Parkway East, Binghamton, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Target 519 Gateway Drive Brooklyn NY 2 https___maps.google

Target, front view, 519 Gateway Drive, Brooklyn, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Although less prevalent, Target stores also serve as enclosed mall anchors complete with exterior frontage, and alternatively as mall tenants with limited explicit brand identity.

DSC12226 TGT - Target Oakland Blvd and US-1 Lauderdale by the Sea FL Coral Ridge Mall

Target, front view, Coral Ridge Mall, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Target 139 Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn NY 1 https___maps.google

Target, 139 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Target’s established store model, which encompasses large format stand-alone, strip and enclosed mall stores, has allowed the brand to spread its distinctive approach to mass retailing to scores of consumers. However, the suburban skewed development approach left a specific sub-segment of the US population, central city residents, fundamentally under-served.

3-Becoming city-centric

Starting to slowly counteract the devastating effects of the 1960’s flight to the suburbs, which resulted in the hollowing out of many city centers, numerous cities across the United States have been witnessing a rise in urban populations of late. Empty nesters, young professionals, and students, wishing to live closer to downtown amenities, services and mass-transit facilities, have contributed to a return to city centers. In several cases, urban populations have grown large enough to attract the attention of suburban-centric retailers.

Although Target does possess experience in modifying its prototypical format to fit in with local restrictions, zoning, design and site particularities, locating stores into the downtown would require a fundamentally different approach than simple thematic variation.

Target 115 Spectrum Center Drive Irvine CA 4 https___maps.google

Target, front 3/4 view, 115 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine, California (source: maps.google.com)

Target 715 Blue River Parkway Silverthorne CO 1 https___maps.google

Target, front view, 715 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne, Colorado (source: maps.google.com)

Target 750 Hilldale Way Madison WI 1 https___maps.google

Target, front 3/4 view, 750 Hilldale Way, Madison, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)

Target 3601 N Freeway Blvd Sacramento CA 1 The promenade https___maps.google

Target, front view, 3601 North Freeway Boulevard, Sacramento, California (source: maps.google.com)

Target 4500 Veterans Memorial Blvd Metarie LA 3 Clearview Mall https___maps.google

Target, front view, 4500 Veterans Memorial Boulevard, Metarie, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

Denser, typically multi-storey, mostly devoid of large expanses of surface parking, and located in the downtown core, the newer urban store format is being marketed as CityTarget. At 80,000 to 100,00 sq. ft., the CityTarget is generally smaller than its suburban counterparts (source: nextcity.org). Nonetheless, the CityTarget being proposed for Boston, MA should measure in at 160,000 sq. ft. (source: nextcity.org). Clearly, the smaller designation is not an absolute conclusion as the new format offers significant design flexibility and ability to respond to local market demands.

CityTarget 1 South State Street Chicago IL 5 https___maps.google

CityTarget, front 3/4 view, 1 South State Street, Chicago, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Purely from an aesthetic viewpoint, moving into downtown locations, where streets or alleyways abut each building face, requires that all elevations engage with the street activity. In such instances, there are fewer blank sides, which can be hidden from view or screened with trees like in suburbia.

DSC12852 TGT - CityTarget  1415 2nd Ave (at Pike St) Seattle WA

CityTarget, front 3/4 view, 1415 2nd Avenue (at Pike St), Seattle, Washington

DSC12853 TGT - CityTarget  1415 2nd Ave (at Pike St) Seattle WA

CityTarget, side view down alleyway, 1415 2nd Avenue (at Pike St), Seattle, Washington

Windows onto the street, window displays, sightlines from inside/outside and human/street scaled elements make the CityTarget stores inherently less bland and opaque.

DSC13582 TGT - CityTarget 939 SW Morrison Portland OR

CityTarget, front view 3/4 view, left side, 939 SW Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon

DSC13589 TGT - CityTarget 939 SW Morrison Portland OR

CityTarget, front view, 939 SW Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon

DSC13586 TGT - CityTarget 939 SW Morrison Portland OR

CityTarget, front 3/4 view, right side, 939 SW Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon

Thus, the customary suburban model, with one dominant front façade, and 3 or more mostly blank perimeter walls along the sides, rear and receiving dock area which functions well in lower density suburbs is impractical in the dense urban environment.

Target 4000 McCain Blvd North Little Rock AR 1 https___maps.google

Target, 4000 McCain Boulevard, North Little Rock, Arkansas (source: maps.google.com)

CityTarget stores need to be weaved into the older/established urban fabric. Instances such as occupying ground floor retail space (podium) of a mixed-use project, or converting former spaces into a CityTarget store demonstrate how the retailer can integrate into the live/work mantra of dense urban areas.

DSC12847 TGT - CityTarget 1415 2nd Ave (at Pike St) Seattle WA

CityTarget, front 3/4 view, 1415 2nd Avenue (at Pike St), Seattle, Washington

Akin to a neighbourhood coffee shop, restaurant, bakery, food store or specialty retailer, the CityTarget must invariably, like other retailers, make attempts to immerse the store into the existing urban fabric.

DSC13215 TGT - Broadcast Coffee 1623 Bellevue Avenue Seattle WA

Broadcast Coffee, front view, 1623 Bellevue Avenue, Seattle, Washington

DSC13682 TGT - North Face 1202 NW Davis Street Portland OR

The North Face, front 3/4 view, 1202 NW Davis Street, Portland, Oregon

Scale, spatial relationships, materials, and colours need to be complementary to those of the neighbouring constructions, as well as reflect the regional vernacular. As such, the palette of brand colours is generally toned down or cast aside so as to integrate into the local tableau. Nonetheless, the red accent colour, typeface and Target logo help identify the brand.

4-Grab-and-go

The lessons learned and feedback gathered in the implementation of the CityTarget model would be applied to the smallest and newest Target concept store. A fraction of the typical suburban superstore, the first TargetExpress iteration measures in at 20,000 sq. ft. (source: bloomberg.com, corporate.target.com). Destined to fill retail micro-sites, this new prototype is essentially sized like a small neighbourhood food store or pharmacy.

Located in the Dinkytown neighbourhood of St. Paul, MN, near the University of Minnesota and within minutes of Target’s corporate headquarters, the first TargetExpress opened in August 2014 (source: corporate.target.com). Capitalizing on the varsity affiliation, the new store draws from a substantial university student pool that forms a semi-captive audience with limited vehicle availability and access to suburbs.

Broadly functioning as an overgrown convenience store with suburban prices, TargetExpress condenses the suburban offerings into a smaller format, offering a pharmacy, as well as grocery, meat, deli, dairy, and a host of other grab-and-go items (source: corporate.target.com). Tailored to the local clientele, the TargetExpress also features staple items, necessities and the essentials for stylish urban living.

Target Express 1329 5th Street SE Minneapolis MN 2 https___maps.google

TargetExpress, front 3/4 view, 1329 5th Street SE, Minneapolis, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

Located at the street/first floor level (podium), with street/sidewalk frontage, the TargetExpress design encourages a relationship with the street through multiple window openings, furthering inward/outward visibility, and adding visual interest to the exterior elevations. Building articulation and material variation further adds to the level of interest.

Target Express 1329 5th Street SE Minneapolis MN 3 https___maps.google

TargetExpress, front view, 1329 5th Street SE, Minneapolis, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

Again, design issues relating to scale, adjacencies, materials and colours come to light as the TargetExpress instinctively melds into the urban fabric, and becomes complementary to the residences above the podium level. A defined corner entrance with judicious signage and limited use of brand colours results in a cohesive whole that suggests an integrated planning as opposed to an ad hoc design.

Target Express 1329 5th Street SE Minneapolis MN 5 https___maps.google

TargetExpress, side view, 1329 5th Street SE, Minneapolis, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

Plainly, Target was aware that few, if any cues from their sprawling suburban design aesthetic, or architectural identity could be transplanted downtown verbatim.

5-Shrinking the box

Although some might argue that the suburban model is far from having reached its zenith, the recent moves by big-box retailer Target might bear witness to the limits of growth of the business model.

20150221_110701 TGT - Target Store 1055 St-Laurent Blvd Ottawa ON CA Store Closing 2015

Target, front entrance (circa 2015), 1055 St-Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Target’s retrenchment in Canada after just a few years may serve as the inflection point of big-box dominance. Ironically, the eventual decision to shut down operations in Canada cited the need to focus on expanding the smaller store format in the United States as a factor (source: fortune.com). In fact, the preponderance of new Target stores planned for 2015 are urban formats (1 CityTarget, 8 TargetExpress, 6 Target stores) (source: bloomberg.com, abullseyeview.com).

TGT - Target Store opening map USA 2015

Target Store opening map USA 2015 (source: ABullseyeView.com)

Scaling back on suburban growth and re-adjusting the focus towards rising urban populations will yield a dynamic new architectural identity and design language to rival its established suburban model. In the not-too-distant future, Target could ultimately produce different cognitive models/mental images for urban dwellers and suburbanites.

Target 115 Spectrum Center Drive Irvine CA 2 Aerial https___maps.google

Target, Aerial 3/4 front view, 115 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine, California (source: maps.google.com)

Target 4000 McCain Blvd North Little Rock AR 3 https___maps.google

Target, front 3/4 view, 4000 McCain Boulevard, North Little Rock, Arkansas (source: maps.google.com)

Target 1598 Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn NY 1 Brooklyn Junction https___maps.google

Target, front 3/4 view, 1598 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, New York (source: maps.google.com)

As such, the need to merge and manage multiple models as Target forges into new territory will surely tax the brand image and resilience.

 

Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.

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