As if it didn't already have more than its share of goodwill behind it, Target executives were in Winnipeg Friday doing some community outreach for its store openings next year.
Tiffany Monroe, Target Canada's vice-president of human resources, and Bryan Berg, senior vice-president of stores, met Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and other community leaders.
"We just want to let people know we're here, we're hiring," Monroe said. "It's been fantastic. People have been so nice."
The Minneapolis-based superstar discount retailer will be make a mammoth entry into the Canadian market starting next spring. Target acquired the leasehold rights to five Zellers outlets in Manitoba and up to 220 countrywide when it struck a $1.8-billion deal early last year with HBC. That number was later pared down to 189.
It's planning to take six to nine months renovating those Zellers locations -- starting soon -- at a cost of $10 million to $11 million apiece.
Four Manitoba locations are among the 111 confirmed Target sites in Canada -- Kildonan Place Shopping Centre, Grant Park Shopping Centre and Southdale Centre in Winnipeg and the Shoppers Mall in Brandon.
But Monroe said the company plans to open 125 to 135 stores and so other Zellers locations, such as the Polo Park one, for instance, may yet be included on the list.
"Zellers is in the process of notifying their teams of their store closures," she said. "As they confirm, we can confirm the schedule."
Each store is expected to have a workforce of 150 to 200 full- and part-time staff. Monroe said job fairs to hire hourly workers in Manitoba will likely not happen until early 2013. But she said if people are interested in getting their names in the queue, they can join Target's "talent community" online at www.target.ca/careers .
In the meantime, the company is laying the groundwork for the hiring of a massive Canadian workforce that will number in the tens of thousands, probably by the end of next summer.
While that sounds like a huge task, Monroe said the company's experience so far is that people are excited about the stores coming to Canada and the company is excited about the talent pool from which it'll be able to draw.
And even though it will face a fairly tight labour market in Manitoba and elsewhere in Western Canada, Target is up for the challenge.
"We have faced harder-to-hire markets in the U.S. and clearly we realize the economy in Western Canada seems to be blessed," she said. "We absolutely realize there will be challenge. But... people are really excited to join Target."
Target stores will carry clothing, food, furniture, health and beauty products, pharmacies, books, appliances and electronics.
While many U.S. retailers charge higher prices in Canada, Berg said Target is still working on its pricing, but will offer competitive prices and products not found elsewhere.
When it comes to current Zellers employees whose stores will be closing and converting to Target, they will be guaranteed an interview -- but not a job.
Monroe said they are particularly interested in people who want to have a career at Target.
"We want to build a fun, dynamic, wonderful team -- the best team in retail is what we would say," Monroe said. "That would include all Zellers people if they are interested in being interviewed."
Blake Caruthers, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in Winnipeg, said the UFCW has been fielding calls from Zellers workers who are worried about their jobs.
He said while Target is saying this is purely a real estate purchase of the Zellers locations, when other companies engage in similar transactions, former workers are guaranteed jobs.
But with other recent announcements such as Ikea hiring 300 people for its new Winnipeg store, there ought to be a lot of employment demand on the retail front in Manitoba.
John McCallum, a finance professor at the University of Manitoba, has been critical of the province's job-creation record of late. But he said, "You would call this, for Winnipeg and Manitoba, outstanding news. Manitoba has struggled with job creation over the last year. Almost all roads to a strong economy that can sustain good public services lead through good jobs being created."
-- with files from Postmedia News