Andrew Allentuck

Saturday, April 19, 2003

On Target: How the World's Hottest Retailer Hit a Bull's-Eye
by Laura Rowley
216 pages
ISBN 0-471-25067-8

Business writer Laura Rowley has produced a conundrum of a book. As prose, her work is sheer gush, e.g., "since 1962 target has built its business on being the coolest store in the discount landscape." To that end, she offers scores of references to hot designers of everything from pants to wine bags to toasters. Related to Cynthia Rowley, "a brilliant businesswoman" and a cousin in the 7th Avenue rag trade in New York, author Rowley drops names shamelessly. "Stephen Sprouse, a fashion outlaw...a friend of Sonia Kashuk (huh?), Sprouse....has dressed Courtney Love, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Deborah Harry...." There is evidently merit in these details, but the initial effect is of shallow idiocy.

Beneath the fawning and the lists of who designs for whom, there is a zealous journalist, honest even when it hurts, probing and always thinking levels beyond the literal. The theme of On Target is that Minnesota-based Target is a fun place to shop with great designs, brilliant management, community spirit, tough negotiators, and stores that are less obstacle courses - think Wal-Mart Stores here - than pleasure palaces. Target is not measured by price alone, which is Wal-Mart's zeitgeist. But as it matures, Ms. Rowley says, it may be hard for Target to be a store for folks who want paper towels at the lowest possible price and cheap yuppies who want designer jeans at deep discount prices. On Target is thus a good read with plenty of tattle for name chasers, some analytical depth for students of retailing, and just enough financial information to make it useful to an investor who is searching for more exposure to U.S. megastores.