The arrival of American retail giant Target will have a major impact on St. Albert, increasing competition, attracting more shoppers and creating jobs, say local experts.
Construction of the St. Albert outlet is well underway, though the opening date remains a secret. There is speculation it will open in late spring or summer.
In all, Target will open 124 stores across Canada, most in former Zellers’ locations, and hire some 27,000 employees, not including an unknown number of marketing specialists and consultants who were brought in to help the retailer enter the Canadian market.
Individual stores are expected to hire 150 to 200 employees or “team members.” The Target outlet in St. Albert will add some 21,000 square feet of retail space to St. Albert Centre.
“We create our stores to be easy and intuitive to shop, with related departments conveniently placed next to each other,” said Joanne Elson, Target's manager of communications.
“For example, décor next to home improvement and toys next to sporting goods.”
She added that customers could expect the same shopping experience they know from U.S. Target outlets.
The retailer will carry everything from apparel and accessories, beauty and personal care products, groceries, home and seasonal items and everyday essentials. To fit its new niche, the store recently announced it would also carry a number of Canadian designer brands, including Canadian clothier Roots.
The last time Canadian retailers were met with similar competition was with the arrival of Walmart in 1994. But now that store itself will come under competitive fire. And it’s not the only one.
Paul McElhone, executive director of the School of Retailing at the University of Alberta, said Target will likely compete with clothing brands such as Joe Fresh of Superstore, and general merchandise from local grocery stores.
“It will create more competition in the marketplace, but I think St. Albert is an ideal market to have all those retailers,” he said.
“And typically when there is more competition in the marketplace, that’s good for everyone.”
While St. Albert residents have a higher than average income and might buy luxury goods from retailers of choice, McElhone said many already know Target from shopping trips to the States.
That gives the store an advantage in familiarity, and shoppers a reason to stay home instead of driving to Edmonton.
“If St. Albert continues to grow and be successful and become a residential suburb of choice, there are more opportunities for these retailers and big box stores to come into the community,” he said. “St. Albert is now of a size where it can accommodate all of these bigger players.”
So far, Superstore and Walmart have remained silent on Target’s arrival.
Following a request from the Gazette on possible renovations at the local Superstore, its public relations department responded that no information was available at this time. Walmart could not be reached for comment.
Walmart and Superstore are at opposite ends of St. Albert. Other retailers in closer proximity to the central Target site expect a boost to traffic and customer numbers.
Jillian Creech, general manager at St. Albert Centre, said it's an exciting time for the mall.
“Target will certainly lead to increased traffic and sales which has already attracted attention from new-to-market national and sub-regional brands,” she said. “We anticipate a significant increase in leasing activity over the next 12 to 18 months.”
While she did not comment on which brands showed interest in leasing space she said the mall was also looking at future growth opportunities.
“I am not sure if it will take shape … as expansion or redevelopment of the existing square footage,” she said. “But expansion is definitely something that we are looking at.”
As for the smaller businesses in town, Lynda Moffat, president and CEO of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce, said they have always faced challenges from big box stores.
“Any competition is a worry but the business world is all about that,” she said.
“And sometimes it forces a retailer to start carrying new lines and make some changes that end up being better anyways.”
Moffat expects non-residential spending will go up in St. Albert with the arrival of Target. This would not only benefit local residents and retailers, but also define St. Albert as a commercial hub for communities to the north.
Residents from smaller towns such as Morinville already drive to St. Albert to go to the dentist, buy cars and go out for dinner, she said.
She added the store would create employment and stimulate renewed business attraction. Yet Moffat and others have a warning about being too optimistic – commercial space in the city is limited, she said.
What is available is land in the north of the city (currently under development by Landrex Developers) and some properties in Riel Business Park, said Bruce Randall with St. Albert’s Economic Development branch. The employment lands are not ready for immediate development, he added.
“When you have a significant multinational player like Target, it does enhance your community awareness in the business attraction area,” he said.
“There are all types of business that have been looking at St. Albert. Part of it is just not having the available land.”
Instead, the city sees a number of redevelopments. Those include the renovations on the new Riverside Marine dealership, the four McDonald’s locations, and construction of the Goodlife Fitness centre.
Randall expects St. Albert Road will be able to accommodate the increase in traffic. He said Ray Gibbon Drive could add a new transportation corridor on the outskirts of the city if the city changed it from a two-lane to a four-lane road.
This would mostly benefit commercial traffic, but shoppers would continue to use St. Albert Road, he said.
McElhone said St. Albert is becoming a community of choice for retailers and shoppers. This will increase revenue and opportunities for recreational facilities, parks and schools – concepts embraced by the community.
While he expects that St. Albert will lose some of its intimacy and small town feel, Moffat is not worried about that.
“People have worried about that for years. The culture of the community is going to remain,” she said.
“I remember ten to fifteen years ago when Walmart came, it was the end of the world. I guess you have to have a positive outlook and take positive steps to embrace change.”