Target Practice

I pretty much stopped clothes shopping three years ago, when I decided to leave my job.  Economy was the name of the game and so I made do with the many things I already had in my closet.  The long neglected casual part of my wardrobe began to get more regular circulation and in time I lost touch with our local dry cleaner.  I revelled in the comfort of my new best friends; my Lululemon yoga pants. 

My consulting work was done largely at my dining room table so there was no need for office wear.  Teleconferences rendered my clothing choices open to my colleagues’ imagination and even the odd Skype meeting only required semi-professional clothing from the chest up.  However, this summer a consulting project came my way that required a fair amount of face to face client meetings. 

After months of professional isolation, dusting off my career wear was fun; I felt like I was getting ‘out there’ again.  But I couldn’t help wondering if some of my career separates had seen better days.  My friend Georgina has been working on a couple of blog posts around the topic of returning to work after a career hiatus, and more than once she’s referenced the ‘faux pas’ of showing up to interviews in dated outfits.  No one wants to look like they’ve fallen behind the times.

So with Christmas behind us, The Williams family took advantage of a free day last week to travel across the border to gorge ourselves on gross consumerism and some American size meals. 

After a full five hours trolling the Fashion Outlets mall, accumulating a gaggle of shopping bags full of stuff we did (and didn’t) need, and stuffing ourselves overfull at Applebee’s, we were ready to go.  But there was just one more item on our list… a pharmacy product.  Weighing the various retail options, we found that there really only was one answer in all of our minds…  Tar-get! 

Indeed, the addition of Target to our Canadian retail landscape is something we’re all eagerly anticipating.  I think of it as a fancy Wal-Mart full of stylish merchandise at affordable prices.  Every time I drive by their illuminated logo on the slick head office building off the 401 in Toronto, I find my gaze drawn to it, wondering what merchandising delights they’re cooking up for us inside.  Even the least enthusiastic shopper in our family, Taylor, was eager to say she’d been there.  It might even warrant taking a photo of her ‘in situ’ that she could then post on social media with the hope that her friends would be jealous. 

Target Canada has been doing a simply fantastic job marketing their brand in this pre-launch phase.  Their pop up stores have attracted crowds of Canadian fans and garnered media attention.  What impresses me most about Target`s efforts so far, is the degree to which they are taking a regional approach.  Oddly some Canadian retailers forget this simple fact, but Target has recognized that Canada is not Toronto and have embraced the vastness of our country in their marketing plans.  Check out the coast to coast Holiday Road Trip promo they ran in the weeks leading up to Christmas:  http://pressroom.target.ca/pr/tgt-en/default.aspx

Unfortunately, our first human interaction at Target in Niagara Falls, NY was an intoxicated hobo shuffling through the foyer.  I suppose that can happen in any store, but you know what they say about first impressions.  Our second impression was one of disarray.  Far from the ‘healthy mess’ merchandising strategy of legendary retailer Jean Coutu, this could only be described as a dirty mess.  Shopping carts were tattered, and staff wore wash weary red pinnies.  Merchandise lay strewn on the floor, having tumbled from half empty shelves, and Taylor slipped twice on a slimy substance in the middle of the aisle.  Unlike the spirited crowds we had encountered at the Fashion Outlets, only a handful of desolate looking shoppers wandered this sad store. 

Having secured the item we were looking for from Target’s half-hearted effort at a pharmacy department, we continued around the perimeter of the store.  There’s nothing more American than baseball, right?  Surely the sporting goods section would be better and Jack would find something to satisfy his growing baseball obsession.  But sporting goods was just as threadbare and, to my dismay, so was the selection of home goods.  The clothing section was so disturbing that we felt compelled to avert our eyes as we passed by. 

Before we left, I dictated that everyone should visit the washroom on the premise that crossing the border might take a while.  I’d call the condition of the Target washrooms the icing on the cake, but just thinking about that analogy makes me gag a little.

If this is the Target that is coming to Canada then we`re all in for some serious lunchbox letdown. 

My humble prediction though, is that this won`t be the case.  My marketing spidey senses tell me that the first Target stores that open in Canada this spring are going to be awesome.  Their pre-marketing activities have primed us to Expect More (the first part of their customer promise) and I can`t imagine that they will disappoint us.  My fear is that in time, the second half of their customer promise, Pay Less, will make it impossible to sustain.  Trying to out-discount the competition can prove a slippery slope, squeezing margins until inventory is so tight that shelves become sparse and the cleaning regimen begins to slip.  With this, the upscale clientele begin to drift away and the product selection begins skew to a discount mindset.  Until…. voila!  We`ve got our crummy Zellers back again.

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The Glorious Death of Impossible Standards

A week or so ago, Taylor and I had some time to spare and so we popped into our local PetSmart.  Time has passed since Taylor’s hamster, Chester, passed away and she felt ready to consider a replacement.   But we couldn’t limit ourselves to this section of the store.  We spent time with the cats and the birds, and browsed a whole aisle of pet rodent accessories until we finally found ourselves in the pet clothing section.  I can see that there might be an actual need for smaller dogs to have sweaters in the winter, and although I don’t believe that they require rain gear, I can appreciate that some pet parents might disagree.  But my jaw dropped when we stumbled upon a doggie BATHROBE.  Who on earth would consider dressing their dog in a bathrobe?

Martha Stewart, that’s who.  There, amidst an entire collection of rather ridiculous Martha Stewart brand pet clothing, was a rack full of them.  Regular price of $19.99, now on sale for $4.99.

Martha has been haunting us high achievers since 1982.  Between the book that launched her career “Entertaining,” the Martha Stewart Living magazine that followed in 1990 and The Martha Stewart Show, she’s been setting the bar unreachably high for well over two decades.

When I left my job in 2010, I had high hopes that I could use some of my newfound time to narrow the gap between my own performance as a homemaker and the Martha Stewart ideal.  On my second day at home I reorganized all of the cupboards underneath our bathroom sinks.  By the end of the afternoon I had a trash bag full of expired beauty products, cheap shower gels in age-brittle bottles, and crumpled packaging from a surprisingly diverse variety of product categories.  All of Taylor’s bobby pins were stored in a pretty glass bottle, first aid supplies were neatly organized in a drawer of their own and every surface of the cupboards had been wiped clean.   My knees ached, but my heart soared every time I found an excuse to open those cupboards to (oh so efficiently) retrieve something, and had the opportunity to admire my handiwork.

I was never a Martha devote, but whenever I stumbled upon an episode of her show I would find myself strangely captivated by her soothing voice and metered speaking patterns.  An otherwise rational person, I began to wish that I too could find time for good things, like elaborately decorating Easter eggs or raising ducks in my backyard.

But even I was creeped out by an episode with a guest appearance by Dwayne Johnson, aka ‘The Rock’ of WWF fame.   The segment opens with The Rock showing Martha the types of foods he eats to maintain his athletic physique and at one point Martha coos, “You look like a healthy boy.”  Dressed in an odd looking tracksuit, Martha proceeds to show ‘The Rock’ how to make her favourite recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  Check out the attached clip and throw back a shot of peach schnapps every time Martha says ‘cream,’ ‘creamy,’ or ‘creamed.’ — I dare you.  On second thought, you’d better not.

“Are we missing some fluid in here?”  asks The Rock, as his muscles strain to cream together the ingredients she’s given him.  Oh no…. that’s the way Martha likes it.  No electric mixer for her.

But the tides have shifted under Martha’s feet.  In early January, the New York Post reported that The Hallmark Channel has decided to cancel The Martha Stewart Show.  It sounds like Home Depot is planning to drop Martha Stewart paint colours, and her doggie bathrobe is clearly not selling.  Things are looking grim.

Years ago, I saw Martha on the Oprah show, demonstrating how to fold a fitted sheet.  Oprah was amazed, presumably because folding sheets is an entirely foreign concept to her.  Martha’s amazing tip?  Grasp the fitted sheet from the corners, fold in the gathered edges until you have something that looks like a rectangle, and then start folding.   Watching it, I was struck with the realization that Martha must think we’re a bunch of morons.  Of course we know that’s the concept!  Most of us are not rumpling up our fitted sheets and stuffing them in our closets like we’ve lost all dexterity in our fingers.  We’re trying to get the perfect rectangle… it’s just that our phone is ringing, and kids are crying and something’s burning on the stove while we’re trying to get the laundry put away.

If only we all had the luxury of time to smooth and straighten those edges; fold and unfold until it’s perfect.  Perhaps the reason why ‘Brand Martha’ is disintegrating is because we have begun to realize that if we did have time to spend folding the perfect fitted sheet, most of us wouldn’t choose to spend our precious time this way.  We’d be outside enjoying the fresh air, reconnecting with friends or playing with our kids.  Life is messy, Martha.  And we like it that way.

Oh, and in case you had any doubt…. my bathroom cupboards are a shambles again.

Growing Sour on BlackBerry

The Toronto Star has started delivering a newspaper to us every day.  I suppose that as weekend subscribers they think can entice us to extend our subscription if they can get us ‘hooked’ on the idea of waking up every day to a paper on our doorstep.  But each morning, while I rush to the front porch to retrieve my copy and excitedly slip off the elastic band to reveal the front page news, I seem to be faced with nothing but depressing headlines.

Today, it was with a special degree of exasperation that I read the news that Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis have stepped down from their leadership roles at RIM to make way for a new CEO and Independent Chair on their Board of Directors.  It’s not that I’m particularly attached to the company founders.  In fact I agree with the majority of analysts and shareholders, who believe that their best before dates passed some time ago.  My issue is with the choice of replacements.

Last summer, I posted a blog about RIM stating that I felt the company’s problem was primarily one of marketing, and I still believe that this is the case.  Certainly a failure to meet new product launch timelines, a major network service issue this past October and some important feature-misses on the PlayBook haven’t helped matters.  But I can’t help thinking that the major missing link is a passion for the consumer.

So it was with horror that I read this morning the new CEO, Thorsten Heins, ex-Chief Operating Officer, has built his reputation in R&D and customer service.  Mike Lazardis was quoted as saying: “We have been impressed with his operational skills at both RIM and Siemens.”  Sigh.  Heins himself said that he’ll be focusing on instilling discipline in execution in order to make sure that the company meets its timelines.

Is anyone inspired yet?

Well, don’t hold your breath waiting for the new Independent Chair on the Board of Directors to pick up the slack.  Barbara Stymiest’s expertise is in corporate governance.  In this morning’s Toronto Star article, one of her colleagues described her as “always doing her homework, and being smart and ready with insightful questions.”  Forgive me, but given the state of RIM, I think what they need most, are insightful answers.

If there is one ray of light in this dismal picture, it’s that they’ll be recruiting a new chief marketing officer to replace Balsillie.  My fingers are crossed that they will come with some CONSUMER marketing experience.