Northfielders think Target=good; Wal-mart & Kmart=bad and/or ugly. Why?

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The Strib’s Katherine Kersten’s column last week, Wal-Mart means low-priced goods and good jobs, generated a rebuttal commentary by senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Stacy Mitchell, titled Low prices, but at what cost? Mitchell is also the author of Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses. ILSR also runs the Big Box Took Kit website.

I didn’t vote in favor of the rezoning to allow Target to come to Northfield but now that they’re here, I like having them close by, especially now with much higher gas prices.

I find it curious, though, that many Northfielders seem to have positive feelings about Target, while expressing disdain for Wal-Mart and sometimes Kmart. What’s that about?


  1. Tracy Davis said:

    I think it’s the lighting. Target uses nice broad-spectrum fluorescents and the Marts use cheesy cheap yellow fluorescents.

    July 22, 2008
  2. Amy Hollerung said:

    I was all for Target coming to town. I have long been a shopper of many big box retailers. I try to be a smart, deal seeking shopper so I have shopped may time at many different places. If you are shopping for paper products, laundry soap, card, toothpaste there is no differences except as the last posted said lighting and smell (why that is I don’t know). But if you are looking for clothing, decor, furniture or linens hands down Target is where you go. They are by far the leader in current style trends. They have collections designed by artists and well know leaders in their field, they use quality materials and they have the newest and “coolest” things. The Marts cannot compete.

    July 22, 2008
  3. Paul Fried said:

    Positive vibes for Target may relate to the fact that the former Target-Dayton’s corp. was a MN (locally grown) corp, while Wal*Mart and KMart are viewed as outsiders.

    But in terms of service, Target has their employees trained to check you out right away, and to watch that long lines don’t form at registers. Such watchfulness doesn’t happen as regularly at KMart.

    Target employees may be screened or trained better by Target’s Human Resources dept. In the garden dept. at KMart, I’ve talked to kids about the size of items, and some have had a hard time converting inches to feet. (This is not to make any blanket negative claim about all KMart employees; some are sweet, kind, efficient, top notch.)

    And Target (lately) doesn’t cover their parking lot in tar and pebbles, as KMart does (locally, recently). Sometimes it’s the little things (the pebbles, with some tar, sticking to your shoes) that matter.

    July 22, 2008
  4. Tarjay is perceived as being the upper man, but I don’t think it is entirely true. They all have good quality merchandise and they all have merchandise that is meant for the shorter haul. Tarjay does seem to have the best visibility, but WalMart is going for the green thing and keeping costs down but I think the new Faribault WalMart is a very good place once you understand the layout. KMart is just a tradition and traditions die slowly.

    July 22, 2008
  5. Patrick Enders said:

    I’m not commenting on the most ecologically friendly option, but I have to admit that I agree with Tracy: the bright lighting in Target feels very right (in that I’m hardly aware of it at all), while when I go into K-mart my first reaction is, “Boy, it looks dreary in here.”

    July 22, 2008
  6. john george said:

    Paul- As far as the tar and pebbles, this is called seal coating. All asphalt surfaces will need to be seal coated or replaced at some point in time. I found this article to be quite informative:
    Hopefully the link works. For the Target/Cub lot, it is only a matter of time. And I agree with you about the inconvenience of trying to clean the blasted stuff out of everything it gets tracked onto. Our Minnesota climate works against us here.

    July 22, 2008
  7. Holly Cairns said:

    Funny how this post brings up a topic that split so many Northfielders apart– long lasting friendships, leaders in office, etc. are still hurting over this topic.

    I believe the big box idea is hurtful to employees, but beneficial to struggling families. Ooh, that is the real problem, maybe.

    Stupid to lose friends over the issue, though, isn’t it.

    I’d like to thank those that accepted Target.

    July 23, 2008
  8. Patrick Enders said:

    Regarding Walmart, their history of labor abuses, not to mention the Walton family tradition of donating to Republicans and conservative causes, creates a disincentive to supporting them with my money. However, I am glad to hear that they have made some progress on the labor front, so it is always possible that I might reconsider.

    July 23, 2008
  9. Rob Hardy said:

    A 2004 Penn State study (.pdf format) indicates that during the 1990s, counties with Walmarts grew poor faster than those without. The study suggests that this is because (a) Walmart offers lower wages, because (b) “corporate philanthropy” such as that of Walmart and Target is less effective and beneficial to communities than the homegrown philanthropy of local businesses and community leaders, and because (c) Walmart, by driving local entrepreneurs out of business, destroys “local leadership capacity” (the pool of local leaders decreases as local businesses are driven under by competition with Walmart). The conclusion is that big box may be good for shoppers looking for low prices, but bad for communities.

    July 23, 2008
  10. Didn’t KMart went through a similar controversial period when they first opened the big stores.

    July 23, 2008
  11. rod zumwalt said:

    Target’s reputation for quality merchandise, excellent training, and jobs with benefits was well-earned. But recent practices are slowly erasing the meaningful differences between Walmart and Target. Once-quality brands like Cherokee have been dismantled. More and more products are poorly made, and Target stands behind them less than they used to. Products are mis-shelved, employees more often clueless, and the company is unresponsive to criticism. That said, a trip to Target is still more likely one to a clean, well stocked, well lit store, whose owners appear to have some pride in it. Walmart often looks half-cleaned, with picked-over clothes in garage sale type heaps until they are straightened out. And the Target checkout line is likely to be shorter.

    July 23, 2008
  12. David Schlosser said:

    I think it’s pretty clear why Target is “okay” with most people and many other big boxes are not.
    Pure and simple, Minnesotans are homers. If you’re “one of us”, then you are immediately accepted; if you come from the outside…we don’t always look kindly on that, or at least it takes us a long time to warm up to you. Since Target is a Minnesota company, they are extremely well-accepted and even cherished by many Minnesotans. They have a long-standing level of respect among most Minnesotans.
    They also have a long-standing record of community involvement and giving money back to their comunities. Whether the amount is greater than other companies, I don’t know…but they certainly do a better job of publicizing it.
    Finally, with the “Buy Locally” trend many people are embracing, Target is the one big box that, I think, a lot of people can shop at and still feel like they are buying locally…certainly not as directly as buying from a Northfield-owned business, but because they give back to their communites and because they are Minnesota-owned, there’s the perception that at least a lot of the money isn’t leaving the state, and some of it actually stays in town (beyond wages and taxes).
    My two cents!

    July 23, 2008
  13. Lori Coleman said:

    Speaking of Wal-Mart, someone told me today that said store is going in along 35 at Highway 2. I was looking on here to see if anyone knew about this. Horrible!

    July 23, 2008
  14. In response to Post NO. 12, I don’t see how anyone could think that buying from Target is akin to buying locally. For that matter, buying anywhere any more is not buying locally. We are in a global economy, and I can tell you that exactly one item out of the last twenty articles of clothing I have purchased was made in USA.

    I am lamenting that on one hand because American quality was all that, and praising the Lord on the other that people can evolve out of hard jobs and into more leisurely things. However, that has lead to a lack of physical fitness….and quality meant that you kept the article for a long time, whereas now you can buy a t shirt, wear it five times and toss it, buy another new one, it is now quantity and newness vs quality and get tired of itness.

    July 23, 2008
  15. Nick Benson said:

    Target is more local than Wal-Mart or K-Mart. It looks like Target employs about 200 folks at the corporate HQ in Minneapolis… surely that’s worth something.

    July 23, 2008
  16. Well, Nick, aren’t those corporate people really being supported by the entire country? I don’t know how the pie is made or divided up, but effectually, the whole country and wherever else Target operates, supports the whole operation plus the people who are responsible for producing the goods all across the world, including Sri Lanka, Phillipines, Guatemala, Mexico, India, Korea, China, Jordan, and many more of the third world countries who are struggling to come into the 21st century of leisure, educated kids, rock n roll fast food and diabetes.

    July 23, 2008
  17. David Schlosser said:

    The concept of “Shop Locally” doesn’t presume that absolutely everything a shop sells is made within the city or the state or even the country. Otherwise, the definition of shopping locally would be so narrow that it wouldn’t carry any meaning at all.
    It DOES presume that you are shopping/buying at businesses that are locally-owned, so that the money spent is presumably returned to the community when the business owner spends it.
    It doesn’t always mean that all the goods are produced in the city/state/country.
    So, part of the difference is in your definition of shopping locally. Mine just presumes that the owner is local–not necessarily that the products are produced locally.

    July 23, 2008
  18. Vicki Dennis said:

    I worked at Target Headquarters for a few years (in the I.S. department), so I feel a certain amount of “Target pride.” One of the psychological wins that Target has over “the marts” is as simple as the store layout. When you go into Target, you see an open pathway directly in front of you as you go through the front doors. Aisles are arranged for easy sight-lines that just “feel more welcoming” as you enter. (I compare it to Disney’s “Architecture of Reassurance.”)

    There’s also the bright lighting, cleanliness of the stores, and a trend-forward philosophy, particularly in clothing and housewares. Target employees (at least at HQ) feel a huge sense of pride and ownership in the company as a whole.

    I have nothing but positive comments to make about what I saw at Target HQ regarding such things as the Usability Center (I spent an afternoon assembling furniture using only the tools listed on the outside of the packaging, the directions and parts enclosed in the package, and the 800 number to the manufacturer if I ran into problems). All of this is observed through a 2-way mirror by the buyers for whatever department is being tested. It’s videotaped, and feedback is provided to the manufacturer about how to improve the product. This is done before ANY amount of the product is ordered, and I’ve got to think that it leads to better packaging and labeling, clarity in assembly instructions, and a higher level of customer satisfaction. Usability also washes garments, rugs, drapes, etc. according to the label instructions to make sure the items hold up as they should. They have people who turn propane torches onto children’s pajamas to make sure they meet flammability standards. Cool stuff. (I can’t imagine getting paid to destroy things, but it sounds like a sweet gig to me!)

    I’m not saying that the marts don’t do usability testing – just that when I’ve bought product from them, I do so without a lot of confidence that what I’m buying is going to be pain-free.

    (As a note, I’m not sure about the total number of employees at HQ, but I think the number in post 15 may be off by a zero.)

    July 24, 2008

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