NEW YORK (AP) - Target is teaming up with unique specialty shops to offer limited edition merchandise, from dog biscuits to platform shoes, as it attempts to further distinguish itself from rivals.
The company also confirmed reports Thursday that it will test expanded displays of Apple products in 25 stores.
Target became a discount-store darling when it began offering stylish clothes and trendy dicor under the same roof where shoppers could find toothpaste and cereal. Yet sales growth has been uneven with rivals copying its 12-year-old formula of partnering with designers. Target's latest strategy ups the stakes.
"This puts Target at the frontier of what's next in retail," said Brian Robinson, director of fashion and design partnership at Target in a presentation in New York. "With (these shops), we're building on that sense of discovery by offering our guests a chance to experience one-of-kind specialty stores and boutiques through collections that have been specifically tailored to their wants and needs."
Target will continue to seek out new partnerships with designers as it has in the past, Robinson said.
The initial group of specialty shops includes The Candy Store in San Francisco, which sells hard-to-find retro sweets as well as candy from abroad; The Privet House, a retailer that sells vintage furniture and home accessories in Warren, and Greenwich, Conn.; The Webster House, a designer clothing store in Miami; Polka Dog Bakery in Boston; and The Cos Bar, which sells body care products, cosmetics and beauty tools in Aspen.
Target will begin featuring the mini shops of boutique products on May 6. The shops will be open for six weeks, after which they will be closed and replaced with others in the fall. As merchandising and design teams from Target travel the world, they will seek addition exclusive shops to partner with. The shops will be located in the merchandising areas that relate to the product. For example, The Privet House shop will be in the home furnishings area of the store.
The products will be sold at all 1,800 Target stores and online. There are 400 new products in all ranging from a $1 for a nail file to a $159.99 ottoman (the latter available only online). The effort will begin with a television and print campaign. There will also be documentaries about the owners of the shops on Target's website.
There is enormous potential for independent shop owners, who have never had national exposure like this.
"Now, we have two stores; by May, we'll have 1,800," said Richard Lambertson of Privet House, joking about the scope of Target and its stores nationwide.
Lambertson runs the business with Suzanne Cassano. The first Privet House opened in Warren, Conn., in 2008.
About 60 percent of the merchandise at Privet House is vintage, from gardening cans to furniture, which can fall in the $10,000 range. The Privet Collection for Target will run from $1.99 to $159.99.
Target pioneered the concept of offering designer merchandise at more affordable prices, starting with its launch of Michael Graves home accessories, from tea kettles to mixing bowls in 1999. In 2010, Target scored big with a line created by Liberty of London, offering 300 items in partnership with the designer known for floral prints. Most of that merchandise sold out in a couple of days. Target even became a victim of its own success.
The company drummed up so much hype in the fall about an exclusive and limited line of clothing from Missoni, an upscale Italian designer, that its website crashed for almost an entire day, angering customers. There were numerous online delays for products and even order cancellations.
"We have continued to make enhancement to the site to provide the best possible experience," said Joshua Thomas, a Target spokesman. But he warned that shoppers looking for specific items should shop online and in stores early.
"Part of the magic is ensuring the new and unexpected, but we also have to stay true to the premise that it's available for a limited time only," Thomas said.