New TargetExpress store in Dinkytown tests appeal of sparser, tighter urban locations
MINNEAPOLIS – University of Minnesota senior Kendal Shell lives in the urban heart of Dinkytown, but when it’s time for a big grocery run, he and his girlfriend have been trekking to the suburbs.
“We go to the Rainbow and the other Target in Roseville all the time,” Shell said.
Now, they won’t need to leave Dinkytown, the Minneapolis area close to the university. At least, not as often.
This week Target broke with 52 years of big-box tradition and opened its first-ever mini-Target store, especially tailored to urban areas. It calls the concept TargetExpress, and Target has plans to build four more like it, including one in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul.
TargetExpress is just a fraction of the size of its suburban behemoths. At 20,000 square feet, the Dinkytown TargetExpress is hardly tiny, but it’s still one-sixth the size of a regular Target store and roughly one-ninth the size of the SuperTarget in Roseville.
From its first store in 1962 – in Roseville – Target was a suburban-focused retailer that relied on cars, immense parking lots, weekly stock-up trips and vast stores. That formula worked for a long time, but in recent years, it hasn’t worked quite as well.
What has been working in retail is a different mix – small, convenient and profitable. Drugstore giants CVS and Walgreens tapped into it. So have convenience stores and dollar stores. Even giant Walmart has been rolling out smaller stores.
“It’s easier to find real estate, it’s easier to develop locations that just can’t support a full-sized store, it’s easier to reach a different customer,” said Dick Seesel, a retail analyst from Milwaukee.
And now, Target is taking the concept for a spin. During a tour of the Dinkytown TargetExpress on Wednesday, store manager Karl Anderson repeatedly emphasized that this is a test store, which Target officials will monitor and tweak as they discover what works and what doesn’t.
“Everything you see here is a test and open for discussion,” Anderson said.
Among retail analysts, TargetExpress has drawn a mixed reaction. Some have cheered, wondering what took Minneapolis-based Target so long. Others, including Seesel, suggest it’s not a bad idea, but …
“If that’s going to be the premise behind TargetExpress, that it’s basically a convenience store, it shouldn’t be as high a priority for them than fixing a lot of other things that need to be fixed,” Seesel said – including addressing its woes in Canada and reinvigorating a home and apparel business that he thinks needs attention.
The Dinkytown store looks different than other Targets you’ve seen – starting with its location, on the first floor of an urban apartment building.
The store has large picture windows that are open to the streetscape outside. There is piped-in music playing Bruno Mars, Shania Twain, Michael Jackson.
And there’s a common checkout line, which funnels shoppers to the next free cashier, not the traditional Target’s row-upon-row of cashiers with lines of cart-pushing shoppers.
Target’s familiar red shopping carts don’t exist here. TargetExpress does have mini-carts, but in this urban setting, “The majority of our guests today have taken baskets,” Anderson said.
Given the smaller store size, Target had to severely prune back its offerings. You won’t find any clothing here, except for Gopher and Vikings fan-wear, and a few packages of essentials like socks and underwear.
And package sizes are smaller. You won’t find a 24-pack of paper towels here, or even a four-pack. Nor a wide array of brands, Anderson notes.
When Target asked Dinkytown shoppers what they wanted, Anderson said it typically heard, “I just need paper towels. I don’t need 20 brands.”
So in many cases, TargetExpress offers only one brand: its own.
Given its location near the University of Minnesota, TargetExpress skews the assortment to a younger (and hungrier) crowd: lots of snacks, some of them healthy, many not; lots of first-apartment essentials like small appliances and laundry baskets; and a good selection of tech items including smartphones and tablets.
Still, “We can’t focus just on the college students,” Anderson said. To reach both populations, the store also offers an array of grocery items, including a modest selection of fresh fruit, bagged salad greens and fresh packaged meat, along with packaged grocery items.
To Shell, the university student, the array left a positive first impression.
“It’s actually more than I thought they’d have, to be honest,” he said. Shell figures he’ll still need to make an occasional trip to get items TargetExpress doesn’t carry.
But, he added, “This will probably take away 80 percent of those shopping trips.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.