11 Secrets of Target Employees

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

If retail stores could splice their DNA, then Target might be considered a hybrid of Walmart and IKEA. The chain’s 1850 U.S. locations tend to focus less on just rock-bottom prices and more on offering consumers a variety of home goods—including furnishings, apparel, and even grocery items—in an aesthetically pleasing environment.

Target employees, or “team members,” adhere to a company policy of going out of their way to make sure customers leave happy. (Target, in turn, tries to keep workers satisfied, too: Starting pay at stores is $12 an hour, higher than minimum wage averages in many areas, and is expected to reach $15 by 2020.) To get a better idea of what that entails, Mental Floss asked a number of current and former Target associates about their experiences walking those well-polished floors. Here’s what they had to say about life under the bull's-eye.

1. Target team members have 15 seconds to respond to a customer’s call for help.

Go to a department inside a Target—toys, electronics, tools—and you’ll see a small call button or telephone you can use for assistance with inventory, pricing, or even to report a spill. This is Target’s version of DEFCON 1, and team members are expected to react accordingly. “When a guest picks up one of those red phones by the price scanners, they are given a chance to be directed to the store operator or page a team member,” Michael, a Target team member in the Los Angeles area, tells Mental Floss. “When they page a team member, it will announce on our walkies that a guest needs service in whatever area the phone was in. We have 15 seconds to get to that phone and clear the request.”

If they don’t make it in 15 seconds, the employee will get a second notice from the system. Miss it a third time and the store and its employees will take a hit on their guest service scores, which are also influenced by customer satisfaction surveys, speed of checkout, and other metrics. (Low scores might prompt a managerial scolding.)

2. Target employees are trained in biohazard clean-up.

If you work with the public, encountering bodily fluids is part of the job. At Target, cart attendants are typically responsible for retrieving shopping carts as well as any general maintenance, including messes that didn’t make their way into a toilet or sink. But if the cart attendant isn’t available, that means other team members have to be trained in eliminating messes. “Technically, it’s the cart attendant’s responsibility, but we don’t have one all the time,” Katherine, a Target team member in Missouri, tells Mental Floss. “You have to be certified in biohazard clean-up. It’s training you have to do. You’re able to clean chemical spills, feces, stuff like that.”

Katherine says she’s had to dispose of errant poop as well as used underwear. Fortunately, there’s a hierarchy for more serious spills: “For blood, we’re supposed to get the store leader.”

3. Target Starbucks isn’t really a Starbucks.

A welcome perk of Target locations is their food court, which can host a variety of pizza or other fast food items and typically includes a Starbucks location. (As of 2016, there were over 1300 Target stores with a Starbucks inside.) But according to Katherine, that Starbucks isn’t a Starbucks by the strictest of definitions. “A Starbucks in a Target is not actually a Starbucks,” she says. Those storefronts are actually managed by Target, not the coffee chain. “If they transferred to Starbucks, they would have to be re-trained, or trained. Starbucks doesn’t consider Target Starbucks to be Starbucks.”

4. Target employees hate when customers act like “Karen.”

A Target employee is seen standing near a customer
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

If you hear a Target employee discuss someone named “Karen” in your presence, be concerned. On Reddit and other internet forums where Target team members congregate to swap customer horror stories, the name has evolved to be a catch-all for a rude, obnoxious shopper. “Karen is basically the guest that complains about why her coupon didn’t work,” Katherine says. “She’s many people. Her name may not be Karen in real life, but she’s a pain. Just a guest that wants to speak with your manager.”

5. Team members want to connect with you.

Target’s corporate lingo used to include the concept of the “Vibe,” which was a term used to reference how team members can achieve maximum customer satisfaction. Though the “Vibe” term has gone out of style, the idea remains—get the customer feeling good about their experience. “The Vibe was Target's way of helping customers and getting them to buy more stuff,” Adam, a former Target employee in Wisconsin, tells Mental Floss. “For example, a customer is looking to buy a digital camera. We'd try to get them to buy a memory card and maybe a protective case for it as well. Target wanted us to try to ‘connect’ with the customer to drive additional sales. The Vibe was also doing other things such as price-matching low-priced items no questions asked, putting things on hold, walking customers' purchases out to their car and even putting them in their car.”

6. They sometimes dread seeing Funko collectors walk in.

Several Funko 'Star Wars' figures are lined up for a photo
James_Seattle, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For Funko collectors, coveting the blockheaded vinyl figures means going on a hunt for exclusives at various retail outlets. Their enthusiasm for snagging limited-run items can sometimes tax the patience of employees, who are often recruited to assist in the search. “They can be the most annoying people in the world,” Katherine says. “Other collectors, Hot Wheel collectors, are not that bad. [Funko] collectors know the item number, what time the truck arrives. They have their own sub-Reddit. They know how we work and operate. They can be hostile in person.”

Collectors who idle in the hopes that a Funko shipment is lurking in the stock room are usually out of luck. “We typically don’t have it in the back because they sell out really fast. Some Funko collectors are all right, but one time, at eight in the morning, someone spent the whole day there waiting for Funko to be unpacked. He asked four team members. He wanted like a special edition Shining Funko.” (Another employee eventually found it.)

7. No, Target employees are not hiding stuff from you.

As with any inventory system, Target’s website and its internal stock database can never be exactly correct at all times. When the computer indicates they have an item and it can’t be found, Michael says that some customers assume the team member is being deceptive. “Many guests believe that we have literally every item in the back room,” he says. “On our devices it may say we have X amount of an item on hand ... in reality, that number takes a while to update if it’s been sold. That number could also mean it’s in someone’s shopping cart, at guest services waiting to be sorted, thrown in a random spot, or stolen. They throw a fit all the time and accuse us [of] hiding it or some other crazy accusation.”

8. Target has its own forensic labs.

The Target logo appears on televisions on display inside the store
Chris Hondros, Getty Images

Like most retail stores, Target tries to limit losses as a result of shoplifting. The company even has two forensic laboratories, based in Las Vegas and Minneapolis, to analyze security footage and gather evidence of criminal activities. Employees are not expected to intervene on the sales floor, however, due to the potential for physical confrontation or liability. Instead, they usually just have to contact the asset protection teams and watch. “One lady last summer stole a bunch of clothes," Katherine says. "They got her to the police station, and she had stuffed a shirt up her butt. They asked if we wanted it back and ugh, no.”

9. They have a low-key uniform—but it can sometimes be uncomfortable.

A Target employee works at a register
Scott Olson, Getty Images

The Target “uniform” is relatively straightforward: a red shirt with khakis. (Although it varies a little by store, and some locations will allow team members to wear jeans on select occasions.) Because that’s not exactly a proprietary outfit, Katherine says that customers can sometimes be mistaken for employees. “They see people dress similar to Target workers and so they’ll go up to people,” she says. Katherine’s store has not yet gone to jeans, which she laments: “The khakis can be uncomfortable.”

10. Target employees have their own lingo—and they dread the clopen.

Target workers have their own vernacular. Broad sight lines and wide aisles populate a race track, or main pathway, that circles the stores. Reshop is merchandise that is out of place; zoning refers to making sure item labels are facing front on shelves. Adam says team members also reference the clopen, a work shift that is possibly the least desirable of them all. “I'd [like to] get rid of the clopen shifts,” he says, “having a closing shift and then an opening shift the next day.”

11. Target employees appreciate the perks.

A Target customer walks out of the store
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Working at Target is no picnic. Because of the store’s commitment to exceptional customer service, team members can’t easily phone in their work performance and expect to stick around. That demand sometimes breaks rookies. “There’s a high turnover rate in general,” Katherine says. “People are intimidated by Target. When they first start, it’s a lot to take on, learning terms. Sometimes people start and never come back the next day."

If they stick it out, it might turn out to be one of the better experiences in retail. “It’s probably the best job I’ve ever had,” Katherine says, citing her circle of team members who are also her friends. Employees have also cited a 10 percent discount, flexible hours, and mandated break times as other perks that making working at Target a plus.

12 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Easter Bunnies

This child clearly can't get enough Easter Bunny in her life.
This child clearly can't get enough Easter Bunny in her life.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Every year, thousands of families, church groups, and event planners enlist entertainment companies to dispatch a costumed bunny for their Easter celebrations. These performers often endure oppressive heat, frightened children, and other indignities to bring joy to the season.

It can be a thankless job, which is why Mental Floss approached several hares and their handlers for some insight into what makes for a successful appearance, the numerous occupational hazards, and why they can be harassed while holding a giant carrot. Here’s a glimpse of what goes on under the ears.

1. They might be watching netflix under the mask.

Has a bunny ever seemed slow to respond to your child? He or she might be in the middle of a binge-watch. Jennifer Ellison, the sales and marketing manager for San Diego Kids’ Party Rentals and a bunny wrangler during the Easter season, says that extended party engagements might lead their furry foot soldiers to seek distractions while in costume. “We book the bunny by the hour and he is often booked for multiple hour blocks,” she says. “Listening to music definitely helps the time pass.” One of her bunny friends who does a lot of shopping mall appearances has even rigged up a harness that can cradle a smart phone. “It sits above the bunny's nose, resting right at eye level for the performer inside, easily allowing the performer to stream Netflix, scroll through Facebook, or check emails.”

2. They can’t walk on wet grass.

Bunnies that appear at private functions, like backyard parties or egg hunts, have to maintain the illusion of being a character and not a human in a furry costume. According to Albert Joseph, the owner of Albert Joseph Entertainment in San Francisco and a 30-year veteran of Easter engagements, one of the cardinal rules is never to set foot on wet grass. Why? “They wear regular shoes under their giant bunny feet,” he says. “If they step on wet grass and then walk on cement, they’ll make a human foot print, not a bunny print.”

3. There’s a reason they might not pick up your kid.

Bunnies might be amenable to posing for a photo with your child on their lap, but they’re probably not going to grab the little tyke and sweep them off their feet. According to Steve Rothenberg, a veteran performer and owner of Talk of the Town Entertainment in Rockville, Maryland, deadlifting a kid is against the rules. “The last thing you want is to lift them up and have them knock off your head,” he says.

4. Giant carrots will invite inappropriate behavior.

A person dressed as the Easter bunny.
As the 3-foot-long carrot proves, adults are easily the least mature guests at a child's Easter party.
lisafx/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Joseph’s warren of party bunnies usually come equipped with a 3-foot-long giant carrot as a prop. While children are amused by the oversized vegetable, the adults at the parties usually can’t help making observations. “Practically every visit, there’s always someone saying, ‘My, what a big carrot you have,’” he says.

On one occasion, Joseph attended a function at a retirement home. One of the women, who he estimated to be in her 80s, commented on his big feet in a lascivious manner. “She told me she was in room 37.”

5. Clothes make the bunny.

Easter bunny at the White House.
Every year, a well-dressed Easter bunny visits Washington, D.C. for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

While “naked” (i.e., unclothed) bunnies remain popular, Ellison’s lineup also includes Mr. Bunny, a “classy lad with a top hat and vest,” and a Mrs. Bunny sporting a purple dress. Why would kids care if a bunny has sartorial sense? “Kids can probably better relate to a giant, furry character if it's dressed like a human,” Ellison says. “[And] we just thought the costumes looked cute.”

6. They can’t wear dark clothing underneath.

If a bunny wants to wear a black shirt under his or her fur, it stands to reason there wouldn’t be any issue: It's all hidden from sight. But Joseph insists that his cast stick with white apparel only. In addition to being cooler, it serves a practical function. “There’s always an opportunity to see a little something around the neckline or near the feet,” he says. Light clothing helps preserve the character.

7. They use an upholstery cleaner for their heads.

Most bunny costumes can be tossed in any regular washing machine, with the feet going in a larger commercial-use unit. But the heads, which are typically massive and unwieldy, get special attention. “You know those upholstery cleaners you can rent from a grocery store?” Joseph asks. “We use those. There’s a wand attachment to it for cleaning carpet.”

8. There’s a trick to keeping cool.

Costumes made of fake fur in the spring can be a recipe for disaster—or at least some lightheadedness. While none of the bunnies we profiled had experienced fainting spells, Ellison says that the trick to staying cool is actually adding a layer underneath the outfit. “Light, breathable clothing underneath the suit usually does the trick, but some people choose to wear an ice vest under the suit as well.”

Many bunnies also work in intervals: 45 to 50 minutes “on,” and 10 to 15 minutes in a private area to cool off and drink water. “Clients are usually understanding and sympathetic of the bunny and will allow even more breaks if necessary,” Ellison says.

9. Mints are essential.

Bunnies may favor carrots and grass, but their human operators need something other than that in order to deal with the humidity. Rothenberg says that his bunnies usually nibble on mints while working a crowd. “They’ll typically chew gum or have some kind of mint to keep their throat from drying out,” he says.

10. They use bunny handlers to prevent knockdowns.

A person dressed as the Easter bunny.
An Easter Bunny makes a young girl's day.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Any professional bunny knows that having an assistant watching their back is the best way to ensure an appearance goes smoothly. “Your vision is limited and you can’t really look to the left or right,” Rothenberg says. “Having an assistant prevents kids from running up behind you.”

11. They have damaged butts.

In order to ease apprehensive kids, Joseph advocates for his bunnies to squat near a child rather than bend over. “It gets them at a child’s level so they can touch and feel for themselves,” he says. “But a bunny that does a lot of squatting winds up needing their [costume] butts re-sewn. I’ve repaired a lot of them.” Joseph will also invite mothers to sit on the bunny’s lap so fearful children are more likely to approach. “You don’t want to prod the kid,” he says.

12. They’re not just for easter.

While bunny costume season is a fleeting few weeks, companies are happy to roll out their rabbits for other occasions. Once, Ellison sent out a bunny for a customer’s Alice in Wonderland-themed gathering. “The client wanted the White Rabbit, so we dressed up our bunny in a vest and top hat and gave him an over-sized pocket watch. It worked out great.”

This piece originally ran in 2017.

10 Secrets of Brewmasters

Being a brewmaster is about more than just sampling beer and coming up with new recipes. Maintenance and sanitation also play a huge role in the job.
Being a brewmaster is about more than just sampling beer and coming up with new recipes. Maintenance and sanitation also play a huge role in the job.
Stone Brewing

With roughly 7500 craft beer breweries in the United States—a number that continues to grow—it’s clear consumers like their ales and lagers. And as more of these breweries pop up in towns and cities every month, it’s up to brewmasters to constantly produce new beers to satisfy demanding (and evolving) palates, maintain a sterile workspace, and properly operate all the complex machinery that pumps out your favorite IPA. To find out what goes into owning and operating a brewery, Mental Floss spoke with a number of brewmasters about what their days entail. Here’s what they had to say about taste tests, oyster beer, and getting doused in hop sludge.

1. A lot of brewmasters started out as home brewers.

Stone Brewery equipment.
A brew kettle from Stone's Richmond, Virginia, location.
Stone Brewing

While brewmasters sometimes attend college to study chemistry or even specific brewing courses, a fair number get their start in their own homes. “When I started, I would say about 50 percent [were home brewers],” Tom Kehoe, co-owner of Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says. This was back when there were only around 649 breweries in the country, according to Kehoe. That number has only grown with time, and now he says as many as 90 percent of current brewers experimented with home brewing before moving on to larger productions.

While home brewing can be a good start, Kehoe says that there’s a limit to how much you can learn in a garage setting. “The basic knowledge of how beer is made is exactly the same. However, good brewing practices need to be learned on site. The environment working in a brewery is a lot different than brewing at home.”

One example? Size. According to Jeremy Moynier, brewmaster of Stone Brewing in San Diego, California, people are surprised when they see the scale of some brewing operations. "A home brewer is used to making a few gallons," Moynier says. "We could be making a 250-barrel batch [at Stone]. Each barrel is 30 gallons."

2. Brewmasters use sound almost as much as taste to evaluate the brewing process.

Brewing equipment from Yards Brewing.
This is just a sample of the brewing equipment employed by Yards.
Yards Brewing

Breweries come in all shapes and sizes, but all of them implement a lot of machinery, stainless steel vats, pumps, and bottling lines to concoct their brews. It becomes a symphony of sorts, according Moynier. And if one instrument sounds off, he can tell.

"You use all of your senses, from taste to sound," he tells Mental Floss. "Breweries are noisy, and there are sounds you get attuned to. If something sounds wrong, you know there’s a problem somewhere. Your senses being in tune are important."

Once, Moynier heard an unusual squeaking noise in the factory. He discovered that the tank that held the crushed malt was backed up, which would eventually ruin the conveyor belts if no one noticed in time. Thankfully, Moynier picked up on that change in noise, and the problem was corrected before the machine required a more expensive repair.

3. Brewmasters are always trying novel flavors. Even oysters.

There’s no shortage of creativity among brewmasters, with breweries constantly experimenting with different flavor profiles, from tea to chocolate to fruit. "There are so many different styles, flavor, and aroma profiles you can hit," Moynier says. "We’re constantly learning about new ingredients.” One that impressed Moynier recently was an oyster stout, a style that was originally billed as a beer that simply paired well with oysters more than a century ago, but has since evolved to include actual oyster meat and stock in modern recipes. This one came from Liberty Station, one of Stone Brewing’s locations in San Diego. "It was pretty fascinating," he says. "They got a real briny, oyster thing going."

4. Sanitation is one of the most important parts of being a brewmaster.

A picture of Stone Brewing's beer equipment.
Stone's barrels hold 30 gallons of beer.
Stone Brewing

The stereotype of brewmasters sipping beer all day and hovering over batches is slightly misguided. According to John Trogner, co-owner with brother Chris of Tröegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, Pennsylvania, most of the job is making sure beer is made in clean conditions. “People usually think you’re sitting around all day dreaming up recipes and tasting beer,” Trogner says. "That’s a very small component. Physical cleaning is probably 80 percent of it. Sanitation is paramount. It’s like a chef keeping a kitchen clean. Workers spend most of their time scrubbing."

Just because the breweries are kept clean doesn't mean the brewmasters are quite as lucky. Depending on the valve and your luck that day, that could sometimes mean an unintentional beer shower for workers. "I’ve taken baths in yeast and beer sludge," Trogner says of his early days, explaining it's a hazard you face when you're opening the valves on the brew tanks.

5. Brewmasters know they're expected to bring beer to most gatherings.

A look at the Tröegs brewery.
Foeders are large wooden vats that age a beer to create a unique flavor profile. It's part of Tröegs's Splinter Cellar, and each foeder was custom made and shipped to the brewery.
Tröegs Independent Brewing

Like any other profession, brewmasters can sometimes be greeted with an expectation that their services and goods are free for friends and relatives to enjoy at gatherings and family events. "If it’s appropriate to bring beer, I will," Kehoe says. "And sometimes when it is not so appropriate. I have brought beer to a business networking breakfast and somehow it turned out to be a great icebreaker. I find that people are disappointed if I don’t have at least some beer at the ready."

6. The job can make you critical of other beers and even food.

Working to perfect beers all day can have an effect on how brewmasters regard other beer options. "I still love beer, but it changes the way you approach it," Moynier says. "You pick out a flaw, and it will bother you. It might ruin your enjoyment. But if you find a beer you really like, it can also make it more enjoyable."

A brewmaster doesn’t just develop a sense of what makes for a good beer; they’re also constantly thinking about what type of food pairs well with certain beers. "It definitely affects the way you taste things," Moynier says. "It’s made me a pickier eater. You’ll think about how food will pair with beer sometimes, where you wouldn’t necessarily think about that before. It made me appreciate how things go together."

7. Brewmasters know names and logos can make or break a beer.

Tröegs Independent Brewing Mad Elf beer is pictured
Tröegs's Mad Elf is one of the most recognizable beers around the holidays.
Tröegs Independent Brewing

With so many beer options, it’s imperative for brewmasters to use marketing as a way of setting up a consumer’s palate before they sample anything. For Tröegs's Haze Charmer, which offers pineapple and grapefruit notes, the brewery went to great lengths to describe how the "haze" of the recipe carries hop oil into the mouth.

"Haze Charmer emerges from a soft, swirling cloud of oats and unmalted wheat. Vigorous dry-hopping adds a second phase of haze, propping up the oils of Citrus and El Dorado," the website description of the beer reads.

"The name is a critical component," Trogner says. "Consumers are getting to know it before they try it."

The right—or wrong—name and design can make all the difference. Trogner promoted a cherry, honey, and chocolate ale around the holidays and called it Mad Elf, with bottles and packaging decked out in cartoon images of a tipsy elf enjoying one too many. It's become a perennial hit.

"It’s a celebration of the holidays," Trogner says. "Mad Elf is kind of part of social webbing, which is nice to hear. Grandmothers come in and buy five or six cases for family coming over for the holidays."

Similar beers with different branding didn't fare as well. "We’ve done beers like Mad Elf out of season and it didn’t have near the fervor or excitement," he says.

8. A brewmaster associates a beer’s personality with color.

Yards Pale Ale is pictured.
Yards's Philadelphia Pale Ale is lighter in color and far more citrusy than an amber lager.
Yards Brewing

According to Kehoe, light and dark beers each give off a distinctive personality trait depending on their color, which comes from the grains used. "To me, the color of the beer is the mood of the beer," he says. "Light color is fluid and exciting; darker [is] slower and more filling and relaxing." Amber is more middle-of-the-road and more versatile. "[It] can be whatever personality that you want to project in the moment."

9. Smells are a big inspiration for new beers.

Don’t think brewmasters develop recipes based just on tasting other beers; it’s more of a multi-sensory experience. Trogner says that most beer ideas come from everyday life. “We’re not sitting around and looking at other types of beer,” he says. “It’s more about an experience, like having an amazing dish at a restaurant. Or you might be hiking and smell something floral in the air, like pine.”

10. Yes, brewmasters sometimes drink early in the morning.

While downing beer is probably not as common an occurrence as you might think, brewmasters are still expected to sample their wares before it goes out for distribution. According to Moynier, those executive samples can happen at odd times of the day depending on schedules.

"Tastings can happen at six in the morning," he says. "We also have structured tasting and daily taste panels to approve beer about to be packaged. Three times a week we have a brewmaster taste panel where we focus on new beers we’re trying out for release or changes to recipes. There’s an executive panel once a month with [Stone's founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner]."

Or, as Kehoe puts it, “I don’t drink all day, but I do drink every day.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER