How Target Conquered the World in the 2000s

By the mid-1990s, Target was a $25 million business; it was absolutely the largest division of Dayton Hudson Corp. Internally, that was the career path. Bob Ulrich was CEO. John Pellegrene was chief marketing officer. Those two had incredible vision.

There was a big separation between Target and Walmart by the late ’90s. Target had always been brighter, cleaner, friendlier, but now it was truly national. We were never going to win on price. We believed there was a consumer who had taste and knowledge and a strong desire to save money.

“Expect More, Pay Less” was as much an internal cultural alignment as it was a public brand promise. It was exciting and daunting: “Expect more” demands reinvention on a nearly daily basis. The 2000s became the decade where we had to figure out how to fuel the momentum that had been unlocked in the ’90s.

The Michael Graves partnership happened in 1999, right before I came on board. Target worked with him to design scaffolding for the Washington Monument restoration project, which Target helped to fund. John brought Michael in to design products where there was no national brand equivalent—a teapot, a toilet plunger.

I was there for Isaac Mizrahi [2003], the first big name on the fashion side at a time when no credible fashion designer would consider Target. Isaac’s product was so beautiful—it continued to prove out the thesis that customers would appreciate well-designed items at a good price. That, and other efforts underway, unleashed the Target army to find ways to prove out this belief, category by category. It took two or three years. We went from Vogue not taking Target ads to an endless parade of designers. By the time we launched Missoni, Target had really ascended. I must have had six boldface names on my voice mail leaving me credit card…

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