Sipping a cocktail onboard a 220-foot boat docked on Manhattan's West Side last week, Stacy Brown studied a $99 Black & Decker drill behind a glass display case.
"I'm wondering what man in my life would appreciate that," said Brown, an information technology architect from Baltimore.
As she pondered the purchase, other shoppers walked around the inside the boat, looking at an array of holiday gift items like a $7.99 add-a-link charm bracelet and a $59.99 karaoke machine, all displayed behind glass amid faux winter wonderland scenery.
Next to the cases were stacks of Post-it notes, which buyers stuck on a shopping list and presented to the check out clerk stationed in a tent outside the boat, who then rounded up their purchases for them.
"It's more of a showroom," remarked Kelly Mooney, president of an interactive marketing firm in Columbus, Ohio. "It's shopping without schlepping."
Anyone wondering who was bringing them this floating shopping experience had to look no further than the telltale red and white bullseye design shown everywhere from the boat's ceiling to the sailors' uniforms worn by the workers.
That's right — Target, the discount retailer, has finally dropped anchor in Manhattan. Until Dec. 1, the store is docking its holiday shopping boat in the city to give Target-deprived New Yorkers a taste of what the retailer has to offer.
A Floating Target
Target advertises heavily in Manhattan — a huge Target Billboard can even be seen on a scaffolding in Times Square — but the retailer doesn't have a store there yet.
The astronomical price of New York real estate, combined with the difficulty of finding a huge space required by the big-box retailer in a desirable, highly trafficked area, have kept the retailer in the the city's other boroughs.
"A lot of what Target sells is low-margin, high-volume items," says Eric Beder, retail analyst from New York-based investment bank Ladenburg Thalmann. "It's tough to make that work with Manhattan rents."
Although the retailer does not have any immediate plans to open a store in Manhattan, a company spokeswoman says it is constantly reviewing its options.
"We're always looking for an opportunity," says Carolyn Brookter, Target's director of corporate communications. "As long as it makes business sense to be there, we'll be there."
But until then, Target will settle for generating as much frenzy as it can for its products among hip trendsetters.
"This is one of their iconoclastic ways of presenting that Target image in a very high profile retail environment," says Wendy Liebmann president of consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail in New York.
Targeting the Fashion Capital
Indeed, Target's Brookter says the company does as much, if not more, advertising in the New York City area as it does in the rest of the country, not only because it's the retail capital of the nation, but also because of the heavy exposure to the Wall Street analyst community.
Among New York's fashion cognoscenti, Target has been able to generate a buzz that eludes other discount retailers like Kmart and Wal-Mart. Among the retailer's stable of products include items conceived by designers Todd Oldham, Mossimo Gianulli, Philippe Starck and celebrity makeup artist Sonia Kashuk.
With countless numbers of tourists, business travelers and commuters flowing in and out of the city every day, analysts say using such a high-profile venue as New York makes sense.
"They've used the city as the hub of their branding message for the tri-state area," says Leibmann. "That's very smart."
Invaluable Marketing Message
The idea for the boat evolved after the retailer sponsored a "Target Townhouse" in New York's fashionable Tribeca neighborhood last year, which showcased a townhouse decorated entirely with the retailer's merchandise, says Brookter.
The company does not have any sales goals for the boat's two-week stint, but analysts say the publicity generated from the unique venue is more valuable than sales.
"Eventually, I guess you will see Target stores in New York City," says Beder. "This will generate good will for future shoppers."
At the opening night for the Target ship last week, shoppers seemed to enjoy the floating catalog.
"It's very ingenious," said Brown. "It gives you a chance to look around and get ideas."
Mooney, a big Target fan herself, said the holiday boat was a more festive, high energy environment than in normal Target stores. And there was one more key difference.
"There are more people in black," she said.