Job losses from Target closure feared in Longreach

Sally Gall
By Sally Gall
Updated May 26 2020 - 10:03am, first published May 25 2020 - 9:30am
The Longreach Target Country store had people searching for warm clothing on Monday. Picture - Noni Rutherford.

The closure of the Target Country store in Longreach in 2021 will be a further blow to a community facing down ongoing drought and coronavirus.

At the same time, it's feared that an increase in already-prevalent online shopping will be a killer for any replacement business to overcome.

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Wesfarmers announced last Friday that more than 150 Target stores will either close altogether or be converted to Kmart stores in a major restructuring.

The company told the stock market it would shift its focus from the struggling Target brand to Kmart and will increase its online efforts in a move from bricks and mortar stores in town centres.

Stores in Longreach and Emerald are among those slated for closure, along with Atherton, Beaudesert, Biloela, Morahbah and Murgon.

Others at Ayr, Bowen, Charters Towers, Chinchilla, Dalby, Gatton, Goondiwindi, Gympie, Ingham, Mareeba, Roma, Sarina, Stanthorpe, Warwick and Yeppoon will convert to Kmart stores.

Wesfarmers said that Target employees affected by store closures will be given consideration for new roles created in Kmart and Catch as those businesses continue to grow, but that isn't likely to be an option for Longreach staff.

The loss of jobs will have a negative impact on the town's economy, Gregory MP Lachlan Millar said.

"Target not only provided convenience for shoppers but this also means the loss of important jobs," he said.

Longreach Regional Enterprise president Brecken Curtis agreed, saying the loss of jobs was a big blow for a town already struggling.

"And it's not good in terms of liveability," he said.

Delyce Cooper-Strang, the manager of rival clothing store Irvines, said she was sad to see the loss of jobs.

"I can't understand why it's being closed - whenever I went in, there was someone in there. Everyone says it's got so much variety compared to other Target stores," she said.

The closure could also bring about a reduced visitation from neighbouring towns, according to Ms Cooper-Strang.

She said the shop was a drawcard that brought people all around to shop there, especially as nowhere else in the wider area sold underwear, babywear or sleepwear.

Mr Millar and Mr Curtis commented that the closure might provide an opening for another business to open and offer similar lines.

"The only positive is, before we had Target we had family-owned business that shut - perhaps this will be an opportunity for another one to restart," Mr Curtis said. "The optimist in me hopes so - the rural sector is going strongly at the moment, we just need to get some money flowing again."

Mr Millar said he hoped either a small business would take Target's place or an existing business would get new lines in.

Ms Cooper-Strang said it was unlikely that Irvines would take up the slack, after divesting the shop of those ranges when Target arrived in 2009.

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"We took up other labels and now there's no space to add things back in," she said.

She feared that western Queenslanders would turn increasingly to online shopping to fill the void.

"They are doing it now - when you talk to the delivery drivers, they say it's increased a lot," she said.

Mr Millar said an increase in online shopping was one of the legacies of the COVID-19 restrictions, as people sought to stay distant, but Longreach businessman Gavin Douglas said it had been taking place for a long time and had contributed to the closure of his electrical goods business after 41 years.

"Longreach wasn't supporting us enough - they were either shopping online or making a weekend of it in Emerald," he said. "We just couldn't compete. I think the Target closure is a sign of the times; you can't do anything about it."

As far as Target's effect on his business, Mr Douglas said they had sold their electrical appliances at cost price, which was once again difficult to compete with, but that hadn't been their biggest threat.

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Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott said last week that the reduction in the Target store network would be "complemented by increased investment in our digital capabilities, following the continued strong growth in online sales across the Kmart Group".

He described this as positioning to respond to changes in consumer behaviour and competition associated with the COVID-19 disruption.

Hearing the news last week, Maranoa MP David Littleproud called on corporate Australia to show some social licence.

"They make a lot of money; they make billions out of Australians. And the reality is, is they want to turn their back on the most vulnerable, just goes to show that corporate Australia has lost its way morally," he said.

He called on shoppers to vote with their wallets and not shop at outlets that were not prepared to support regional Australia.


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Sally Gall

Sally Gall

Senior journalist - Queensland Country Life/North Queensland Register

Based at Blackall, CW Qld, where I've raised a family, run Merino sheep and beef cattle, and helped develop a region - its history, tourism, education and communications.

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