As he looks to revive Target Corp.’s faltering business, CEO Brian Cornell said Wednesday the retailer will more aggressively pounce on opportunities to profit from the large number of store closings and retail bankruptcies that have been rocking the distressed industry.
“We know there’s going to be billions of dollars up for grabs,” he told reporters after the Minneapolis-based retailer reported its fourth straight quarter of lower sales.
In fact, Target projects there could be as much as $60 billion in sales up for the taking as weaker players exit the industry. Gordmans, HHGregg, BCBG, Payless ShoeSource, Rue21, American Apparel, the Limited and Wet Seal are among those who have filed bankruptcy and closed some or all of their stores this year.
“Ultimately, that’s going to position us to take advantage of this market share opportunity,” Cornell said.
The strategy is an underpinning of Target’s new road map unveiled in February that calls for remodeling hundreds of stores, launching a dozen new brands, opening new smaller-format stores and overhauling its supply chain.
Target already has seen some success in this area. After Victoria’s Secret said it was going to exit the swimwear business last year, Target quickly worked with a vendor to a roll out within five months the new brand Shade & Shore.
The line — which is Target’s first foray into bra-cup sizing in the category and was launched in all stores in January — has further bolstered its No. 1 market share position in swimwear, executives said.
“We didn’t rest on our laurels,” Mark Tritton, Target’s chief merchandising officer, told analysts. “We looked at this market with declining players and saw an opportunity to win even further.”
Executives noted that Target also has seen an uptick in sales at stores close to Macy’s, Sears and J.C. Penney locations that have closed in recent months.
Still, Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones, noted that these store closings and bankruptcies also will create headwinds at the same time since the liquidation sales will likely draw some shoppers away from Target.
“That pressure is not going to go away for awhile,” he said. “It’s going to continue” as more retailers continue to file bankruptcy.
In addition to hopping on competitors’ stumbles, Target executives also told analysts on Wednesday they are working to simplify and better market the retailer’s move toward everyday low pricing. This year, Target is lowering its margins by $1 billion to invest in initiatives such as cutting prices to be more competitive with Wal-Mart and Amazon.
It recently launched a new ad campaign called “TargetRun and Done” to highlight its pricing on essentials and encourage customers to swing by for fill-in trips. Executives hope that will help consumers give Target more credit for its pricing.
“We believe consumer perceptions of value at Target have not reflected how low our out-the-door prices really are,” said Cornell, who noted that is something that will take time to change.
Target’s stock, which has fallen more than 20 percent this year, received a little boost on Wednesday when the retailer reported that sales and profits in the first few months of the year were not as bad as the company — or analysts — had feared. Its shares rose 1 percent.
In the quarter, the retailer continued to struggle in its battle with Wal-Mart and Amazon as it once again saw shoppers make fewer visits to its stores and lower sales in grocery and household essentials.
Still, it came as a relief to investors when Target reported only a drop of 1.3 percent in same-store sales in the February-to-April quarter, because analysts had projected a decline of 3.6 percent.
The results stood out in contrast to major department stores such as Macy’s and Kohl’s that saw bigger drops in first-quarter sales, leading to a sell-off of retail stocks last week as investors grow increasingly concerned about how traditional retailers are faring amid the shift to online shopping. Wal-Mart will report its results on Thursday.
“Against a tumultuous retail backdrop, this is not a so-terrible performance,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said in a research note Wednesday about Target’s results.
He added that while Target is not as “broken” as many other retailers, it has plenty of room to improve such as in finding more ways to draw customers, especially millennials, to its stores. It’s only getting harder to do so as more customers opt to shop online.
“We’re not doing high-fives,” Cornell told analysts Wednesday morning. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Target will soon begin testing a new service called Target Restock that offers customers next-day delivery of a box of household essentials.
Later this month, it will launch a new line, one of a number of new brands set to be rolled out over the next two years. Aimed at Target’s core demographic of new mothers, Cloud Island is a nursery decor line.
Cornell hinted to reporters that a new athleisure brand may also be in the works.
This year, Target is on track to remodel 100 stores — with a forecast of 2 to 4 percent sales gain for each store afterward — and to open 30 new small-format stores. It will pick up the pace and do even more in following years.
Target’s overall revenue in the first quarter dropped 1.1 percent to $16 billion, down from nearly $16.2 billion in the same period a year ago. Online sales rose 22 percent.
Net earnings were $681 million, a 7.7 percent increase from $632 million a year ago when it encountered a debt-retirement expense.
Adjusted for one-time expenses, Target earned $1.21 per share, better than the 91 cents analysts were expecting and the company’s forecast range of 80 cents to $1. It was below the year-ago figure of $1.29, however.
Executives have warned analysts that the first quarter would likely be Target’s weakest in 2017 since many of the new investments would not impact sales until later months. Still, the company expects a low single-digit decline in sales for the entire year.
Target does not expect sales to turn positive until possibly next year.
While its electronics sales sagged last year, Target got a boost in the quarter from the launch of the Nintendo Switch. Electronics sales rose in the mid-single digits, its strongest performance in that category in three years.
Apparel sales were down, but executives emphasized they saw market share gains and were pleased with the performance of the limited-time collection with Victoria Beckham.
While Target’s grocery sales continue to struggle, executives called out some bright spots such as continued growth in craft beer and wine sales as well as a small uptick in produce sales as Target has worked to improve freshness and availability.
Other than that, Target didn’t have much new to say about plans to improve its grocery aisles, which has been a nagging issue for it. It recently brought Jeff Burt on board from Kroger to be its new grocery chief after its previous leader abruptly left last fall.
“We want to give Jeff plenty of time to take his own inventory and begin to build his own strategy that will enhance the work we’ve been doing over the last few years,” said Cornell.
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113