‘Broken’; it certainly wasn’t the term that those invested in Target Australia wanted to hear when new managing director Stuart Machin walked through the door. But it was a description of the company he was prepared to agree with as sales plummeted down under.
With Australian companies like Smiggle (stationary), Taking Shape (plus-size clothing) and Colette (women’s accessories) making the voyage to the UK, there seems little sign of Target, seller of clothing, toys, homeware and more, doing the same as they continue to struggle despite a major restructure.
Machin, who worked for Sainsburys, ASDA and Tesco in England before moving to Melbourne to take up a position with Coles Group, hadn’t been in charge for long when he had the unenviable task of overseeing 216 redundancies in order to get costs under control.
In August 2013 Machin claimed the store would not regain meaningful earnings or performance improvement until 2015 or even 2016. An undeniable realist, Machin also admitted 2014 was set to be a ‘bumpy ride’ – he was not wrong.
In February of this year, parent company Wesfarmers were pleased to announce an 11.2% rise in profit. But Target was a blotch on the balance sheet after it struggled with a backlog of winter stock and saw profit fall from the same time last year by a massive 52.7% to $70 million.
An influx of English recruits one year ago aimed to help Machin’s attempt to ‘make Target great again’. Richard Jones, formerly of Dunnes, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, was appointed as trading director and Damian Walton, who previously worked at the Shop Direct Group, House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer, was drafted in as homewares general manager.
Target often look to link up with big-name designers following an incredibly successful collaboration with Stella McCartney in 2007 when some stores sold out of the range in just 10 minutes. They have worked with the likes of Dannii Minogue and Gok Wan and last month announced an impressive Australian-only exclusive deal with Italian brand Missioni.
But there has still been some bad press for Machin’s reformed outfit. Last month the retailer was accused of being stuck in the past when it sent out a catalogue for a toy sale via e-mail which merely gave consumers product details with no purchase options. Many pointed the finger at this online ineptness as a big reason for the store’s sorry state.
So far the British overhaul of personnel has not been enough to fix the ‘broken business’ but, with Machin setting Target’s recovery target for next year or perhaps beyond, it is still a little too early to judge.