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On Target, the style maven's Wal-Mart Add to ...

Large corporations don't usually inspire love. Target - or Tar-zhay, as its fans like to call it in fake French - is different. When the American big-box retailer announced that it would be taking over Zellers locations across Canada by 2013, cheers went up across the country.

Target is that rare retailer that has a rabid fan following. Numerous blogs - Target Addict, Slave to Target - enthuse over its cheap-chic wares. Several Facebook fan pages, including the official Target page, which has more than 3.7 million fans, fuel the love.

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The number of Zellers fan sites on Facebook? Zero. Wal-Mart's presence on Facebook is also negligible, which is surprising given its bricks-and-mortar sprawl, with more than 320 locations across Canada.

Part of Target's appeal is its advertising, which doesn't emphasize price as Wal-Mart does, but instead leans heavily on style and feel-good tunes (including everything from General Public to Janelle Monae to music from the seventies children's classic Free to Be ... You and Me, used in a much-discussed back-to-school campaign).

Target may also be the only thrifty retailer that regularly gets name-checked in fashion blogs such as New York magazine's The Cut and The New York Times' fashion and design magazine T.

The chain has upped its fashion cred over the years by working with runway designers such as Proenza Schouler, Alexander McQueen, Thakoon Panichgul, Zac Posen and Rodarte. It has also won over decor buffs by enlisting such design-world stars as Michael Graves, John Derian and Liberty. Target also gets involved in key events such as New York Fashion Week: Last fall, the retailer unveiled its autumn collection by lighting up the Standard hotel in neon colours and filling it with models and dancers for its "Target Kaleidoscopic Fashion Spectacular."

Set stylist Sarah Dawn Hamlin, who works in TV and film in Canada and the U.S., is often called on to create a lived-in look in homes and hotel rooms for film shoots. She regularly purchases household items for the purpose at Target, preferring it to similarly priced competitors. The main reason? Style.

"The last time I did a big shop there was in L.A.," Hamlin says. "I was dressing a mansion and I couldn't spend a lot of money. Target was great because it had low prices but everything looked really good on set." She also appreciates the retailer's efficiency, noting that a quick in and out of stores is "critical" during her 14-hour workdays and admiring how she can always get through Target's checkout line quickly.

That's not to say that Tarzhay is uniformly loved. Googling "I hate Target" yields 80,000 hits worth of gripes ("I love Target" yields 1.66 million hits). The company also courted controversy last year when it was revealed that it gave a financial donation to a Republican candidate with anti-gay views (Target apologized within days, but not before an anti-Target group sprung to life on Facebook).

The Internet, of course, is fertile ground for those seeking to air consumer grievances. It is rarer, however, for giant retailers to inspire ecstatic consumer-driven blogs and fan clubs, especially when there are no official affiliations or kickbacks. Will Canadians embrace Target with the same fervour as their frugal but fashionable neighbours to the south?

So far, there is a "Boycott Target Canada" page on Facebook - with a membership of 30. Positive fan pages for Target Canada on Facebook have similarly low numbers. Where will the numbers go when Target opens its doors north of the border? The blog-watch for Canada's reaction to Target is on.

 

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