Douglas J. Dayton, Target Stores’ Founding President, Dies at 88Laurence Arnold
Douglas J. Dayton, who served as the first president of Target department stores when his family’s retailing company created the chain 61 years ago, has died. He was 88.
He died on July 5 at his home in Wayzata, Minnesota, following a long battle with cancer, his wife, Wendy Dayton, said.
With four brothers, Dayton took over and reshaped the Dayton Co., which had begun under their grandfather, George Draper Dayton, as Dayton’s department store in downtown Minneapolis.
When the company in 1961 formed the discount chain called Target, Dayton became president. The first Target opened in May 1962 in Roseville, Minnesota. By the end of that year, three other Target stores were open, all in the suburbs of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 1966, Target expanded outside Minnesota, opening stores around Denver.
“We will offer high-quality merchandise at low margins because we are cutting expenses,” Dayton said, according to “On Target: How the World’s Largest Retailer Hit a Bullseye,” Laura Rowley’s 2003 book. “We would much rather do this than trumpet dramatic price cuts on cheap merchandise.”
Dayton said customers began calling the chain “Tarjay” -- imbuing the name with faux French glamour -- as early as 1962. “Duluth was the first place I heard it,” he said, referring to one of the first four Minnesota locations.
Dayton returned to corporate headquarters in 1968. He became senior vice president of administration of Dayton Hudson Corp., formed by the 1969 merger of Dayton with J.L. Hudson Co. of Detroit, which was then the largest privately held U.S. department-store company.
Dayton left the company in 1974 to start Dade Development Capital, a venture-capital company, and retired in 1994. The Dayton family ended 80 years of direct family involvement with the company in 1983. In 2000, Dayton Hudson changed its name to Target Corp.
“Along with his brothers and cousin, Doug was instrumental in helping to guide the strategic direction of Dayton Hudson Corp. for many years and institutionalize the values that are at the heart of Target Corp. today,” Gregg Steinhafel, Target’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are thankful for Doug’s leadership and his many contributions to our company and community.”
The retailer has consistently rewarded investors in recent decades. Since 1983, Target shares outperformed all other department-store companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Retailing Index, returning more than 27-fold.
Douglas Dayton watched with pride as the Target chain grew, his wife said yesterday in an interview.
“The creativity behind the marketing and merchandising was fantastic, and he really honored his successors, tremendously,” Wendy Dayton said.
She said her husband took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony about two years ago at a new Target store that opened near their home in Savannah, Georgia.
Douglas James Dayton was born on Dec. 2, 1924, in Minneapolis, the youngest of five brothers born to George Nelson Dayton and the former Grace Bliss.
He graduated from the Blake School in Minneapolis in 1942 and served in World War II as a U.S. Army mortar sergeant, joining George Patton’s army in France 30 days after D-Day, according to the death notice in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. He was injured during combat and received the Purple Heart. He then studied at Amherst College in Massachusetts.
Dayton began working at the family’s Minneapolis store, moving to Rochester, Minnesota, to run its first branch location in 1954. When Target was started, he predicted it would be a sales leader.
“I remember telling my brother Bruce that we were going to do $100 million, and he sent me a nice note when we did it in 1968,” Dayton recalled in an interview two months ago, according to the Star Tribune. “We laughed at that one. It took about 10 years to get to $1 billion in sales.”
The Dayton Co. went public in 1967, with Target Stores as one of its divisions. The others were Dayton’s department stores, B. Dalton Bookseller, Dayton Jewelers and Dayton Development Co., according to a Target corporate history.
In addition to his wife, his survivors include his children, David, Steve, Bruce and Elizabeth; six grandchildren; and Bruce Dayton, the last of the five brothers.
Dayton’s nephew, Mark Dayton, the governor of Minnesota, said in a statement that his uncle “was an extraordinary businessman, philanthropist and leader of our family.”