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 Your sneak peek at the first Canadian Target stores set to open

The highly anticipated U.S. discounter Target Corp. will open its first three test stores in Canada on Tuesday, on track to roll out 124 this year.

They will be located in Guelph, Ont., Milton, Ont. and Fergus, Ont.

“This is obviously a very critical milestone for Target,” Tony Fisher, president of Target Canada, told a media tour of the Guelph store on Monday morning.

Dressed in a shirt and tie in Target’s signature red and white hues, he promised the stores will remain bright, wide-aisled and provide fast checkouts, with almost twice as many store staff as in the Zellers outlet it replaced.

“This was a really important store for Target and Target Canada,” he said. “This is the first store we tested everything in for the first time.”

He said Canadian consumers told him they wanted the same Target stores they were familiar with south of the border.

His research found a 92 per cent brand awareness of Target early this year, compare with closer to 70 per cent in 2011. But despite the enthusiasm for Target, “people are very open and honest “ he said. “They’re not shy to tell you what they expect from your store.”

The new Guelph store, next to a Canadian Tire and Future Shop, has new checkouts which allow cashiers to face customers in order to “engage” better with them, Mr. Fisher said.

And Target, which focuses on affordable fashions, will use mannequins in its Canadian stores, which cost a little more for the retailer but is aimed at touting the clothing more prominently – and selling more clothes.

The store has a grocery section at the back, with bakery goods – including some from Canadian baker Dufflet – and packaged salad kits and pasta meals and dairy and frozen foods.

Prices also appear to be attractive: 99 cents for a child’s plastic Easter basket at the entrance, along with a $32.98 bikini – strategically placed on a mannequin close to the entrance.

In a time-limited partnership with Roots, Target is carrying a $34.99 Roots hoodie, while that type of top would cost close to $80 in a standalone Roots store, he said.

Target will test 24 other stores in Ontario this month before it formally has “grand openings” in early April, when it will start to distribute flyers.

In 2011, Target came to a $1.8-billion deal with Zellers parent for most of its stores, which the U.S. retailer is converting to its own namesake, spending $10 to $12-million on each one.

Target stores will be, on average 114,000 sq ft, and last week the company revealed it negotiated 600,000 of extra space for expanded store in 40 locations.

The stores in Canada have white “gondolas” or shelving, rather the retailer’s usual almond colored racks, to help showcase the products better, Mr Fisher said.

“It may seem like a small thing but its a really big thing for Target,” he said. “It makes the product the star. It makes for a much brighter, much cleaner store.”

Each store will have 150 to 200 staff, which is almost twice the number that Zellers had, he said. The Guelph store has 168 employees.

The beauty section has back-lit shelves, with a look that is similar to that in some of Shoppers Drug Mart’s latest beauty sections. It’s an important department for a retailer because it generates relatively high profit margins.

Food is also important to Target because customers come more often for food than for any other type of products, Mr Fisher said. The retailer lowered some shelves in the section so that shoppers could get an unobstructed view of the food coolers at the back. With refrigerated goods – potentially spurring more sales.

Mr. Fisher said he chose the first three test locations for their proximity to one of Target’s three distribution centres in Canada. And the stores are close to the company’s head office in Mississauga, Ont.

The retailer hasn’t yet set firm opening dates for its formal launches early next month. “We wanted flexibility to make sure we opened when we were ready.”

He said one of his surprises in shopping in Canada is that consumers tend to shop at multiple specialty stores, rather than at a one-stop shopping destination such as Target. The shopping patterns here offer a challenge, and an opportunity, for Mr. Fisher.

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