The American showman P.T. Barnum, who famously said “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” may have reconsidered his claim if he were somehow able to live through the current Target debacle.
The Minneapolis-based retailer had a very bad month of May, shedding $10 billion in market value in just ten days. Reeling from its decision to go all-in on displays featuring “transgender” and satanic-themed clothing and merchandise, shoppers have expressed their disgust by steering clear of the store.
Despite widespread criticism, Target CEO Brian Cornell remained defiant.
“I think those are just good business decisions, and it’s the right thing for society, and it’s the great thing for our brand,” he said last month.
The financial bloodshed this last month suggests the CEO couldn’t be more wrong, and the company’s now former customers are making that perfectly clear. The New York City native should know better. Prior to joining the company, he served as CEO of PepsiCo American Foods, Sam’s Club and Michael’s. He was an executive vice president of Safeway. For the last twenty-plus years, he’s been richly compensated for knowing his audience and serving them what they seek.
Clearly, Target’s base doesn’t want the propaganda its current regime is pushing.
If the company wants to hit the proverbial audience bullseye once again, rebuild customer trust and reclaim the business it’s lost, leadership would be wise to study and emulate its founder, George Draper Dayton.
George was born in Clifton Springs, a rural community in upstate New York. As a young boy, he felt a call to the ministry. But financial hardship struck the family, and George’s father steered him into manual labor work and various businesses.
While on the job, George met Emma, his future wife. Seeing real estate opportunities, the couple eventually relocated to Worthington, Minnesota. George may not have been an ordained minister, but he believed he could best live out his faith and spread the Good News of the Gospel by serving residents in the area.
George Dayton founded the Minnesota Loan and Investment Company and served as president of the Bank of Worthington. Both he and his wife taught Sunday school at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. He served as a ruling elder, clerk and trustee. He naturally gave generously to the congregation.
When the church burned down in 1893, Dayton was asked to purchase the property adjacent to the charred structure. The thought was the church might benefit from and enjoy some of the revenue George could realize from the venture. He agreed and wound up constructing a six-story building on the land, which leased space to the Reuben Simon Goodfellow Company department store. Its owner eventually sold the business to George. The Dayton Dry Goods Company, which after several iterations would eventually become Target in 1961, was born.
Store history indicates George operated the business based on “strict Presbyterian guidelines” which included closing Sundays and not selling alcohol or advertising in any publication that accepted beer, wine, or spirit sponsorships.
George Dayton believed that goodwill was the first law of good business – and that strong Christians made for good citizens. Before turning the store over to his son, the Christian philanthropist established the Dayton Foundation with a one-million-dollar gift.
Nelson Dayton would carry on his father’s Christian principles, but in 1950 turned over the store to his son, Donald – who proceeded to secularize policies. Just prior to the launch of Target in 1961, one of the company’s executives told the Minneapolis Tribune that their goal was to “combine the best of the fashion world with the best of the discount world” and operate “a quality store with quality merchandise at discount prices.”
Nothing immoral or shady about that – but certainly void of the foundational inspiration and motivation that led George to start the initial company in the first place.
There’s little chance Target will fully embrace its Christian roots. But we would all benefit if its executive leadership would stop insulting and offending its customers’ sensibilities and reconsider and reimagine the whole point of its business in the first place – which is to serve its customers and its communities.