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"Our store isn't designed for someone who wants to come in and explore for a couple hours," admits Target's Julie Guggemos, SVP of product design and development for the Minneapolis-based super retailer. We're at Story, a boutique in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood that flips its concept—or "story"—every four to eight weeks, where Target is selling its merchandise outside of Target stores for the very first time, beginning today.
"We're doing this primarily to learn," she tells us of the partnership with the store, which is helmed by brand consultant Rachel Shechtman. "I'm inspired by the way Rachel can tell a story and encourage discovery," says Guggemos. "[Target stores] are designed for the people who know they want to buy yogurt, milk, and sheets, all in one. We want it to be easy for our shopper to find those items on her list, but also figure out how to have a space and an environment that allows her to just explore and discover and be exposed to new things."
This isn't a store takeover, mind you. Target's products—a mix that ranges from 99 cent ornaments to an $80 duffle bag designed in collaboration with Faribault—are merchandised alongside Story's usual mix of cool up-and-comers, many sourced from their monthly Pitch Nights, and cult favorite brands. "I had this vision of Sonia Kashuk next to Diptyque and cashmere sweaters next to Merona, and this idea of dynamic duos in merchandising," Shechtman tells us.
Shoppers, especially that coveted millennial, are hungry for product backstory, Target spokesperson Joshua Thomas tells us, and Shechtman is who they're hoping to glean the fine art from. "Rachel is incredible at telling the stories behind the product, why they're special, and why they should be celebrated," Guggemos explains. An industry shift toward brands with big backgrounds and stories to tell accelerates the need to figure this out: "Guests love the collaborations, like Altuzarra," Thomas says, "but they're becoming increasingly interested in brands that have deeper meaning, like TOMS, where you buy one, give one. Or Faribault, which is American-made." The retailer has recently collaborated with both brands, offering Story a bit of exclusivity to the product: the candle and the mug from the TOMS collab are in the store before the official release on November 16th, and the Faribault items are shoppable at Target.com and Story only—they aren't even available in Target stores.
Allowing Target product to be taken out of its home base and reimagined in a pace-setting boutique is an early move from Brian Cornell, who was appointed CEO late this summer. Cornell doesn't have a boatload of cool points himself, thanks to a resume that includes high-ranking gigs at PepsiCo, Sam's Club, Safeway, and Michael's. This is a well-timed, splashy move on his part, and it came together at a rapid clip.
"It was the opening day of our Style.tech story [backed by Intel] and I was getting ready for the opening in sweatpants, no intention of talking to any customers," Shechtman recalls. "A group got out of an Escalade, they looked like they were executives from somewhere—which isn't uncommon for us to have in the store—so I asked my team to find out who they are, which turned out to be Target." Despite her grubby state, Shechtman introduced herself to one of the men in the group, who happened to be Cornell. He'd been in the store before and walked through a few previous stories, telling Shechtman his favorite had been holiday. "I looked at him and said, 'Holiday is coming up, and I realize it's very fast—it was eight weeks away—but Target has always been one of my favorite stores, I've never worked with a retailer as a sponsor before. Will you let us go to Target and pick our favorite things, and bring them home for the holidays?'" Just a month or so into his role, Cornell agreed.
Guggemos tells us it's unusual for them to pull something like this off so quickly, but the team was excited at the prospect. "We are in a transformation at Target," she furthers. Next to nailing omnichannel, Target's aim is "going from something that's expected to unexpected," she tells us. "To really get that back 'expect more, pay less,' to give experiences that are fun and engaging."