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Target aiming for more space

Deal with landlords to add square footage

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TORONTO -- Target Corp. could be more of a competitive threat this year in Canada than rivals previously imagined, as the mass merchant announced a deal with landlords on Wednesday that will enlarge the square footage at one-third of its 124 locations opening this year.

Target, which announced slightly more than two years ago it had acquired the vast bulk of Zellers' leases from Hudson's Bay Co. for $1.8 billion, has spent the past year building three distribution centres in Canada, renovating stores, building and deploying an IT platform and hiring thousands of staff for all levels of its operation. It also began asking landlords to look at how many of their malls had adjacent open sites for further investment, John Mulligan, Target's chief financial officer, told analysts during a conference call announcing fourth-quarter results.

"The sites we obtained in the Zellers deal were extremely well-located with very attractive leases, were notably smaller than stores we open in the U.S., and in very poor physical condition," Mulligan said. "We have decided to expand 40 sites beyond the space they occupied at Zellers stores, creating more than 600,000 square feet of retail selling space."

The retailer also managed to negotiate its way out of the vast majority of its percentage of rent clauses with Canadian landlords, Mulligan revealed, which can kick in when retailers perform exceptionally well in a retail mall space. They are a regular feature of leases within Canada's top retail malls.

Such clauses mean if retail tenants exceed a certain point of gross retail sales in a year, a percentage of those sales would have to be given to the landlord as additional rent.

"They, of course, never impacted Zellers," Mulligan said. "Per cent rent is not a meaningful issue for us going forward."

The deals are a testament to Target's power even before it enters the market, said Alex Arifuzzaman, partner in Toronto retail real estate specialists InterStratics Consultants. "The landlords are willing to do that because they see Target as having a superior draw to Zellers that will benefit all of the retailers at their properties."

Landlords will accordingly be able to ask for higher rents from other retailers at the mall, or perhaps attract new tenants, he said. "For some of these properties, it will mean a total transformation."

The company will now have capital expenditures of US$1.5 billion in Canada in 2013 to complete renovations and expansions, Mulligan said. The costs will negatively affect earnings per share by 45 cents this year, higher than the company had initially anticipated.

"The dilution is a bit higher even than we expected perhaps a year ago, and all of that is attributable to independent capital-investment decisions we've made," he said.

Chief executive Gregg Steinhafel confirmed the company is on track for its store openings in Canada and will open outlets in five waves before the Christmas season. "April, May, and every couple of months beyond that we are going to open somewhere between 20 and 28 stores a cycle."

The company will do an unspecified number of so-called "soft openings" of stores this month.


-- Financial Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2013 B5

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