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Target Sees Opportunity in City as Wal-Mart Puts Manhattan on Back Burner

Wal-Mart's apparent decision to give up on launching a Manhattan store sounds sweet to rival Target.

BOSTON — Wal-Mart’s apparent decision to give up on launching a Manhattan store sounds sweet to rival Target.

The Minneapolis-based retailer views Wal-Mart’s move as “an opportunity,” but will take its time to find the right space at the right price, Jim Hogan, Target’s group vice president for New England stores, told M.B.A. candidates at Harvard Business School on Sunday.

“Wal-Mart didn’t have the support in the city…we have those relationships,” Hogan said, referring to intense opposition to Wal-Mart from elected officials and organized labor. Wal-Mart chief executive officer Lee Scott said last week that he didn’t believe opening in Manhattan was “worth the effort.”

However, Hogan cautioned, “We’re not going to hurry in there and hurt our brand.”

Hogan was among the participants in panel discussions at the third annual Retail and Luxury Goods Conference, a one-day event hosted by Harvard Business School to forge connections with retailers and luxury brand executives.

During a panel on customer experience, Hogan, who oversees 60 stores, 15,000 associates and $2 billion in annual sales in Target’s New England region, described the relationship between Target and its primary competitor: “Wal-Mart is the discount strategy. Target is the differentiated strategy.”

Hogan also said Target scrutinizes the stores’ experiences and has begun using its sales receipts to prompt customers to participate in an online survey. The 30-question survey becomes feedback sent monthly to store managers, buyers, designers and others, and is linked to compensation.

Several companies brought recruiting teams and made pitches for students to consider careers in retail, even if it means starting as an assistant buyer.

“Our ceo is an idea machine,” said TJX Cos. Inc.’s chief financial officer Jeff Naylor during a lunch forum. “We have great ideas for new concepts in the U.S. and the only thing that holds us back is talent…We’re making an effort to fast-track talent.”

Naylor said TJX, which operates 2,466 stores globally under Marshalls, TJ Maxx and other banners, recently hired two executives from Federated Department Stores and has also been studying the talent pool within the consumer packaged goods industry.

In her keynote address, Caryn Lerner, president and ceo of Toronto-based luxury retailer Holt Renfrew, said the $550 million retailer plans to reach $1 billion in sales in five years. Spending among existing customers is up 6 percent, she said, with high-value customers, representing the top 2 percent of clientele, up 26 percent.

Speaking on a panel about brand reinvention, Kimberly Jentil, vice president of wholesale sales for Escada’s U.S. division, said the company has decided to position all of its marketing for a new, younger customer but keep 70 percent of its product designed for its core customer, who are Baby Boomers and up.

“We don’t want our brand pigeonholed as your mother’s collection,” she said.