Target Stores: An Entrepreneurial History Abstract

“Success is making ourselves useful in the world, valuable to society, helping in lifting in the level of humanity, so conducting ourselves that when we go the world will be somewhat better of our having lived the brief span of our lives.”— George DaytonFounder of Target Stores

Target Stores: An Entrepreneurial History Abstract

Credit: Donald J. Sauder, CPA | CVA

A fiery zeal for work and enterprise seemed to be part of George Dayton’s youth. At eleven years of age, he started working in the greenhouse for $0.375 a day. Even in 1868, opportunity abounded for aspiring entrepreneurs. Young George hoped to be a minister someday, but with his dynamic approach was soon assimilated into the business world.

Soon he was found himself working in a lumber yard sales position earning commission and then bought the business at age seventeen. Ambitious George attempted working 48-hour shifts and soon burned out. His father made him sell his lumber yard. In 1878, George began buying farm mortgages venturing into banking presiding over the Bank of Worthington.

Shortly following he was the founder of Minnesota Loan and Investment Company and quickly advancing in social status. In 1890 he built a large home on eight lots for his growing family, living according to his strict religious principles and improving his community with a dedication to the service of others. Serving on the Worthington Board of Education and as a church clerk, elder, and church trustee, George taught Sunday School and hosted church events in his home.

At age thirty, George was donating 40% of his income to his church. When the Westminster Presbyterian Church that George attended burned down in 1895, he purchased the land on the corner of Nicollet Ave and Seventh Street for $165,000. The church needed revenue, and insurance proceeds would not cover the cost of rebuilding.

By 1902 he had formed a partnership and built the six-story Goodfellow Drygoods Company on the real estate. The store sold everything from yard tools to fashionable clothing. The store forbade the sales of alcohol and refused to advertise in papers that promoted liquor. There were also no Sunday sales, and strict Presbyterian rules governed the enterprise. In 1918 George started the Dayton Foundation that he regarded as his greatest accomplishment.

In 1938 George’s son, Nelson assumed leadership of the business. Nelson’s five sons, Donald, Bruce, Wallace, Kenneth, and Douglas, all worked their way up from entry-level positions, and with Nelson’s passing in 1950, each inherited an equal share of the business. Each week the brothers toured the store and met at the Radisson Hotel to discuss strategy. After attending a Cornell University executive leadership class, the brothers agreed to hire an outsider to chair the business. In 1961 the Dayton brothers announced the planned launch of a chain of discount stores in the Minnesota area.

The first Target store opened in 1962 at 1515 West County Road B I Saint Paul, Minnesota. Douglas Dayton presided as store president. Walmart and Kmart also launched their first stores the same year. John Geisse, the outside company vice president, had the right long-term strategy, although it was nearly five years before the Company turned a profit with $60.0M in sales in 1966.  The following year the Dayton brothers took the Dayton Corporation public.

Not without its challenges and a true dedication to serving their communities, nearly 150 years later, the Target Corporation, that began as George Dayton’s early ungoverned business ambitions, thrives with more than 350,000 team member around the globe, all working towards one purpose: To help all families discover the joy of everyday life.

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