Target Commercial Interiors Is Gaining Momentum

TCI is quietly becoming an influential player in commercial furnishings worldwide, with clients that include Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, universities, hotels, stadiums, and arenas from Target Field to Madison Square Garden.
Target Commercial Interiors Is Gaining Momentum

1953
Dayton’s Commercial Interiors launches to meet the office needs of its residential furniture customers.

1962
DCI becomes a dealer of Steelcase, a global leader in office furnishings.

2000
DCI acquires Madison, Wisc.-based office supply company Rowley Schlimgen, prompting a significant expansion.

2004
Name changes to Target Commercial Interiors.

2007
TCI takes over Crate & Barrel space on Nicollet Mall for a furniture store and adds a second store in Bloomington.

2008
TCI acquires two Arizona Steelcase dealerships, creating a statewide presence.

2010
TCI provides furnishings for the clubs, decks, suites, eating areas, and offices at Target Field. That leads to a project at Madison Square Garden.

2011
TCI closes retail stores to focus on mid-size to large office projects.

It’s been nearly two years since Target Commercial Interiors (TCI) closed the last of its retail stores on Nicollet Mall, but no office has gone unfurnished because of it. While connecting with the consumer is essential for parent company Target Corp., it proved to be a distraction for TCI, an entrepreneurial division that is quietly becoming an influential player in commercial furnishings worldwide, with clients that include Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, universities, hotels, stadiums, and arenas from Target Field to Madison Square Garden.

Behind the doors no longer open to the public on Nicollet Mall, TCI is completing a makeover of its space. There are compact office pods with hooks for bicycles, “flexible” tables with wheels for quick reconfiguration and built-in screens for easy access to technology. These are just a few foundation pieces as TCI helps professional organizations—including its own—think beyond the cubicle.

Just up the street from Target headquarters, the TCI office pays homage to the bull’s-eye and bleeds red, but the culture is palpably different from the mothership. It’s quieter. Less frantic. Entrepreneurial like a small company rather than a corporate giant. That’s by design, says Mike Litwin, TCI’s vice president and general manager. “This is not about our brand. It’s about what our clients want to be.”

Target Corporation doesn’t break out its $70 billion-plus in annual sales by division. Litwin describes TCI as a “blip”—albeit a positive one—in Target’s orbit.

But in terms of influence and credibility, TCI is much more than that, says consultant Nate Garvis, who counts the parent company as a client and was Target’s vice president of government affairs. “My sense of it is TCI represents an effort to expand Target’s global reach [TCI has done international work for Trek Bicycle, UnitedHealth Group, and General Mills], its design aesthetic and its image as a purveyor of curated offerings that are solution-oriented.”

Target’s commercial interiors business dates back to Dayton’s, which started selling desks and chairs in 1953 to meet the office needs of its residential furniture customers. In 1962, Dayton’s became a dealer of Steelcase—still the Apple of workplace furnishings—and that relationship continues to be important to the company today; TCI is one of the five largest Steelcase dealers in the United States.

0114_targetcom_p01.jpg A more monochromatic approach at Carlson Companies Minnetonka headquarters

0114_targetcom_p02.jpg Phoenix College’s Hannelly student center

0114_targetcom_p03.jpg

The name was changed from Dayton’s to Target Commercial Interiors in 2004. TCI employs 150 people—85 in Minneapolis and the rest divided among three showrooms (Green Bay and Madison, Wisconsin, and Tempe, Arizona). That limited profile is made larger by an active sales force and work on prominent public projects. But no matter how many high-profile companies TCI serves—General Mills and Starbucks among them—its No. 1 client will always be Target.

TCI furnishes Target’s offices, stores, and even less-traditional spaces, like Target Plaza Commons, the employee center that opened last year on Nicollet Mall. With its café tables, sofas, game areas, fitness studios and outdoor space, the Plaza Commons is a live trend report for TCI. “We’re constantly asking [clients]: ‘Where does your best work happen?’” TCI senior vice president Jamie Lowe says, knowing that nowadays, the answer is often in a coffee shop, at a kitchen table or in a yoga studio. “That’s where the game is changing, and that’s where we excel.”

The Target name certainly helps. TCI was hired in 2011 to refurnish Starbucks around the country—30,000 tables and chairs—because the coffee purveyor already had a relationship with the retailer, with Starbucks counters in many of its stores. (TCI and Starbucks have since ended their relationship.) Often, Litwin says, vendors who are in town to meet at Target headquarters will pass TCI on their way to Zelo, and leave town with a new direction in office furniture.

“As a large corporate client, the fact that they are part of Target is really positive for us,” says Restor Johnson, vice president of enterprise real estate services for Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group. “The talent level, the level of strategic perspective, their focus on operational quality is world-class. The fact that their headquarters, like ours, is here in the Twin Cities is interesting, but it’s their world-class capabilities that make us a long-term customer. [TCI] consistently brings us good ideas on office design and workplace trends, and that really benefits us strategically.”

TCI’s top trends in commercial interiors

Office

  • Team tables
  • Open environments
  • Smaller workspaces, bigger common areas
  • Connecting outdoor spaces to interior

Education

  • Flexible tables that allow different configurations
  • Group settings
  • Technology built into furniture

Health care

  • Confidential meeting rooms
  • More comfortable waiting areas

Stadiums/Arenas

  • Spaces for mingling beyond seats
  • Transitional uses for non-game days

Target Field was a milestone for TCI as its first major stadium project. Getting the gig wasn’t as much of a gimme as the shared name suggests; Litwin says it actually took quite a bit of persuading. Eventually, TCI was charged with furnishing the locker rooms, suites, clubs and offices at the Twins’ stadium. “We wanted to give it a sharp look, while taking into account practical considerations, like material that can easily be wiped down and beaten up,” Lowe says. Beyond obvious needs, TCI helped identify and “slightly furnish” the nooks and crannies where visitors end up lingering.

The attention to detail was noticed: TCI has since been engaged by the Chicago Cubs, Boston Bruins, San Diego Padres, and the ultimate arena: Madison Square Garden.

Furnishing the W Minneapolis raised TCI’s profile, particularly in the hospitality industry. The success of that project prompted interior designer Manda Morales (who did not work on the W) to use TCI on the Swinomish Casino & Lodge project in Washington state. “I think they [TCI] should continue to play up their buying power. The Target name can work for them.” Morales says TCI definitely delivered on the casino project in terms of the array of options, resources and customer service. She was thrilled, but acknowledges some of her interior design colleagues don’t view TCI the same way. “They just think it’s a big corporation and they wouldn’t understand what we [interior designers] do. But they were really there for me and required minimal direction to get the job done well. There’s more diversity to Target than people realize.”

Non-traditional spaces are becoming a niche for TCI, which has furnished several regional casinos. Other growth areas include education and health care, with the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, and Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota among its clients.

The health industry presents “tremendous opportunity” for TCI, Litwin says. Health care centers large and small are thinking more about the customer experience. The new model clinic at TCI headquarters will allow health care providers to step into the patient’s realm and try out contemporary seating areas and confidential meeting spaces. “Our clients don’t just want chairs,” Litwin says. “They want a comprehensive package. A lot of times, we have to help them discern what they need.”

That approach goes back to Target Corp., which wants more than furniture from this internal division. The emphasis, in an age when everyone wants their space to work harder and do more, is workplace solutions, from store to stadium to traditional office. “We can take our insights from customers and help the Target real estate team. That’s our intrinsic value,” Lowe says. “We don’t move the stock price, but we’re driving innovative, fresh thinking.”

Allison Kaplan covers retail for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. She is a frequent contributor to TCB.