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Target Canada's expansion is "right on track", says president

Target's president talks about how business has done so far and what it's planning going forward

Canadian consumers are passionate, they want transparency, and they interact online more than anywhere else in the world. These were just some of the learnings Target Canada's president shared with the crowd at the Retail Council of Canada's Store conference on Tuesday.

Over the past three months, the Minneapolis, Minn.-based retailer has been setting up shop outside of the U.S. for the first time and its president, Tony Fisher, said the retailer is “right on track.”

Fisher acknowledged that while there are commonalities between the U.S. And Canada, “for Target it's meant walking a fine line between bringing an American shopping experience many Canadians already knew and appreciated, and building a company that’s truly Canadian.”

He said the company has been very deliberate about making sure our stores reflect the uniqueness of communities we serve across Canada. For example, the retailer announced this morning it would be bringing the Aliments du Québec and Aliments préparés au Québec certified food products to all its Quebec stores. This would include frozen foods, dairy products, perishables, baked goods, bread, snacks and beverages.

READ: Target focuses on local food for Quebec stores

When it comes to Target Canada's digital strategy, it's looking closely at what it has done the U.S. With Target's mobile app, website and the like. Fisher said Target Canada is continuing “to evaluate the best options for digital strategies for Canada,” adding that changes in the digital world are forcing retailers to evaluate the in-store experience.

“Technology hasn’t only changed how we conduct transactions with customers, but it’s changed how we engage with our customers,” said Fisher. Knowing Canadians interact online more than others elsewhere in the world, Target's social media efforts here “are very important,” said Fisher. He pointed to the retailer's proactive approach to sharing via Facebook, responding to complaints, etc.

Fisher has been living in Canada for almost two years, prior to the stores' roll out to get a better sense of retail landscape here. “One of the earliest decisions I made was to move here with my family,” he told the crowd. “Launching a brand in a country I wasn’t a part of didn’t feel right.”

He said it has been fun to be immersed in not only the retail landscape, but as a consumer and learn about this marketplace. Being here has confirmed to Fisher what he already knew: the competition is very strong. As he settled in Canada, he found himself having to go to multiple stores to get everything he needed. This (multiple store shopping experience) was a very early learning for him, said Fisher that helped frame Target's role.

One thing the retailer doesn't want to be seen as is a “specialty” retailer; instead Fisher said Target wants to be the retailer that consumers come to for all of their wants and needs to “fulfill all their basket needs for a one-stop shopping destination.”

While Fisher didn't expand on Target's grocery plans, he did say that “for basics, commodities and food, there's also an amazing competition base (here) with grocery stores and mass discount retailers that we have to be aware of as well.”

When asked about what kind of an impact he thinks Target is having on the Canadian marketplace so far, Fisher said honestly, that he doesn't know, but he's sure Target has had “some” impact. “It’s very difficult to assume much of the change in the Canadian retail landscape is undergoing is happening just because of Target’s entry.” But added that anytime a new player enters the marketplace, “the pace of change accelerates.”

READ: For Target, almost a bull's-eye

Target will be adding to its already 48 Canadian store roster over the year with 76 more openings, one more distribution centre, in six more provinces completing the company’s largest one-year expansion in its history, said Fisher.

He added that while Fisher U.S., Target stores are 130,000-sq.-ft. rectangles; in Canada there's been a wider range of building configurations here.

As the store rollout continues, Fisher said “we’re focused on driving continuous improvement each time we open a new store because if we don’t there are certainly other places our guests can go.”

Another way Target is looking to woo Canadian consumers has been through differentiation. Fisher said its home and apparel business are over-indexing with its own showing “very good strength. He added, “We’re continuing focusing on converting our shoppers to guests. And building a reputation as our guests’ preferred shopping destination.”

While Fisher said he's heard about concerns over pricing at stores here and how it compares to our U.S. Stores, he said, “our objective in coming to Canada was to be highly competitive in this marketplace.”

Fisher added that the retailer's Canadian pricing across a range of products storewide, is exactly on par with that of U.S. pricing.

On the sustainability front, Target is also looking at LEED certification for all its stores opening in Canada this year, said Fisher. This would make Target among the first organizations in Canada to be part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Volume Program, which streamlines the certification process for multiple buildings of a similar type. Fisher said Target would be a leader among Canadian mass retailers when it comes to LEED buildings.

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