Douglas J. Dayton, First President of Target, Dies at 88
Published: July 10, 2013
Douglas J. Dayton, who helped expand his grandfather’s Minneapolis dry goods business into a big-box boutique known for quality products, discount pricing and a fake French nickname — though most people just call it Target — died on Friday in Wayzata, Minn. He was 88.
Dayton Family, via Associated Press
The cause was cancer, his family said.
Mr. Dayton was one of six grandsons who went into the family business started by George D. Dayton, a New York banker and real estate investor. George Dayton moved to Minnesota in 1881 and by 1903 had established the Dayton Dry Goods Company.
Six decades later, after the dry goods store became a department store called the Dayton Company with locations around the Twin Cities, Douglas Dayton was made president of the company’s new subsidiary, a discount chain.
In May 1961, a year before the first Target store opened in Roseville, Minn., Mr. Douglas told The Minneapolis Tribune that the company would “combine the best of the fashion world with the best of the discount world, a quality store with quality merchandise at discount prices.”
By the next year, customers in Duluth were so impressed that they began calling their store “Tarzhay.” Mr. Dayton soon boasted to his skeptical brothers that Target would become a $100 million business.
It did in 1968. By 1975, Target had become the family company’s top revenue producer. By the late 1970s, its revenue exceeded $1 billion.
Even when competitors like Kmart initially grew at a faster rate, Mr. Dayton expressed confidence in Target’s strategy.
“I am thoroughly convinced that we are selling a superior product that will bear the test of time,” he told other executives in 1968, according to “On Target: How the World’s Hottest Retailer Hit a Bull’s-Eye,” a 2003 book by Laura Rowley.
Mr. Dayton left Target in 1968 to become vice president of the parent company, which had been renamed the Dayton-Hudson Corporation after a merger with another department store chain. By the late 1970s, most of the Dayton family members had given up their management positions. Douglas Dayton left the company in 1972. From 1974 to 1994 he ran a venture capital firm, Dade Development Capital.
In Target’s early years, Mr. Dayton worked closely with another executive, John F. Geisse. In 1982, Mr. Geisse helped found another discounter, the Wholesale Club, which later merged with the Sam’s Club division of Wal-Mart.
Douglas James Dayton was born on Dec. 2, 1924, in Minneapolis, the youngest of five brothers. His father, George N. Dayton, became president of the family business in 1938. Douglas Dayton graduated from the Blake School and attended Amherst College before joining the Army in 1943.
His survivors include his wife, Wendy; three sons, David, Steve and Bruce; a stepdaughter, Elizabeth; six grandchildren; and a brother, Bruce, who served on the board of Target until 1983.
Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota is Douglas Dayton’s nephew.