How big does a town have to be for a Target?

Target is one of the largest retail chains in the United States, with over 1,900 store locations across the country. The iconic bullseye logo is recognizable in big cities and small towns alike. But just how small can a town be and still manage to attract a Target store? What factors determine whether Target will open in a particular location?

Target’s Store Count and Locations

With nearly 2,000 stores, Target has a significant presence across the United States. The stores are located in 49 states, with Vermont being the only exception. Target opened its first store in 1962 in Roseville, Minnesota. Since then, the retail giant has expanded enormously. By 1975, Target had 107 stores. In the 1980s and 1990s, Target began opening hundreds more stores each year. The growth peaked in 2008 when Target opened 170 new stores.

Today, Target stores are predominantly located in suburban areas and mid-sized metro areas. The highest concentration of Target stores is in the Midwest, Plains, and South. Texas, California, and Florida have over 150 Target stores each. Other states with a major Target presence include Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Target does have some presence in major metro areas like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. However, Walmart is often Target’s biggest competitor in highly urbanized cities. Target tends to thrive more in the suburbs and less densely populated areas.

Target Store Types

Target operates different formats of stores to fit various markets:

  • General merchandise stores – These are Target’s standard stores that carry all major product categories like clothing, home goods, furniture, electronics, groceries, etc. Most Target stores are between 80,000 – 130,000 square feet.
  • Super Target stores – These are expanded format stores with a full-service grocery department onsite. Super Targets are around 150,000 – 180,000 square feet.
  • Small format stores – Target is testing smaller footprint stores in dense urban areas, college campuses, and other markets where space is limited. These stores are typically under 50,000 square feet.

The small format stores allow Target to move into markets that couldn’t previously support one of their large format stores. Target can more easily fit these smaller stores into downtowns, limited retail spaces, and high-traffic areas like college campuses or airports.

Factors Target Considers for New Store Locations

Target undertakes extensive analysis to determine where to place new stores. They weigh factors like demographics, population density, traffic patterns, competition, and convenience for shoppers. Some key considerations include:

  • Population – Target prefers to locate in areas with at least 50,000 people within a 3-mile radius. In urban areas, they may consider locations with higher population densities in a smaller radius.
  • Median income – Target tends to focus on middle and upper-middle class areas. Typical household median incomes they aim for are $60,000 to $100,000.
  • Families with children – Many Target stores are positioned in suburbs with high densities of families with children who are within Target’s core demographic.
  • Daytime workforce – Areas with large daytime workforces provide a big pool of potential shoppers for Target stores.
  • Traffic counts – New Target stores are placed along busy roads and intersections with traffic counts typically above 25,000 cars per day.
  • Competition – Target usually avoids moving into markets where a Walmart Supercenter is already established.
  • Proximity to distribution centers – Target prefers locations within 100-200 miles of a distribution facility to enable restocking of inventory.

These criteria guide Target in finding the optimal sites and markets for new stores. While they provide a rough guide, there are always exceptions. Target may open locations that don’t meet all criteria if other factors present a compelling opportunity.

Minimum Population Thresholds

Based on Target’s site selection approach, analysts can estimate rough minimum population thresholds needed for Target to potentially open in a market. Some key minimums include:

  • Town/City Population – Target typically prefers towns with at least 25,000 to 50,000 total residents.
  • Metro Area Population – For metro area markets, Target aims for areas with around 250,000 to 300,000 population or more.
  • Population Within 3 Miles – Target likes to see at least 50,000 people living within a 3-mile radius of a potential new store site.
  • Daytime Population – Having around 25,000 to 50,000 daytime workers within a few miles helps attract Target to an area.

These population thresholds demonstrate that Target is not likely to open stores in very small rural towns. The chain stays focused on larger suburban communities and small cities that offer sufficient customer bases within convenient driving range. A standalone small town would need to have at least 25,000 to 50,000 residents before it would realistically appeal to Target.

Case Studies: Target in Small Towns

While rare, there are cases where Target has ventured into smaller market towns under 25,000 residents. Looking at specific examples provides more insight into the conditions where Target will consider small towns.

Marshalltown, Iowa

Marshalltown is a town in central Iowa with a population of 27,552 as of 2010. In 2004, Target opened a store just outside the Marshalltown city center. Though under 30,000 residents, Marshalltown benefits from:

  • Proximity to Interstate 80 and Highway 30 which generate significant passerby traffic.
  • Over 10,000 daytime workers commute into Marshalltown for manufacturing, healthcare, and other major employers.
  • Relative isolation from other larger metro areas, meaning Marshalltown residents don’t have other closer Target locations.

The unique attributes of Marshalltown enabled it to meet Target’s minimum population and traffic count thresholds.

New Braunfels, Texas

New Braunfels is a fast-growing town of around 74,000 residents as of 2017 between Austin and San Antonio. It serves as a bedroom community for both metro areas. The first Target in New Braunfels opened in 2017 to serve the expanding local community. Factors that helped attract Target include:

  • High growth rates with the population doubling since 2000.
  • Affluent demographic with a median household income of $60,000.
  • Popular tourism destination, bringing in over 2 million visitors annually.
  • Located right near the junction of Interstate 35 and Highway 46, providing immense traffic volume.

New Braunfels demonstrates a case where rapid growth in a small town opened up the market for Target, despite its modest overall population size.

College Town Targets

Target has opened numerous small format stores in college towns to cater to student populations. For example, Target opened a 21,000 square foot store in Clemson, South Carolina in 2019. Clemson has a population of only 16,000 but expands to 45,000 when school is in session. Target has utilized the same college campus strategy in towns like Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Lexington, Kentucky, Tempe, Arizona, and College Station, Texas.

The temporary surge in population from college students allows these smaller towns to meet Target’s thresholds seasonally. Target also markets the convenience of its locations on or near campus to attract student shoppers.

The Bottom Line

While Target prefers larger suburban markets, under the right conditions, the retail chain will venture into smaller trade areas. Rural isolated towns likely need at least 25,000 residents within 10-15 miles to appeal to Target. Small towns below 20,000 people would need to be experiencing major growth or have other offsetting factors like major highways or colleges nearby. The typical sweet spot for Target remains communities of around 50,000 to 100,000 people.

Target’s store count continues to expand, recently reaching nearly 2,000 locations. The chain has ample room for growth by moving into smaller markets overlooked by big box retailers. However, Target usually waits until local populations and traffic counts rise enough to support adequate customer volumes. While not impossible, very small towns face an uphill battle attracting a Target store of their own.

Leave a Comment