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.

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EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

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10 Secrets of Ice Cream Truck Drivers

asiafoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus
asiafoto/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Ever since Good Humor founder Harry Burt dispatched the first jingling ice cream trucks in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920, kids and adults alike have had a primal reaction to the sight of a vehicle equipped with a cold, sugary payload. Today, ice cream trucks spend May through October hoping to entice customers into making an impulse beat-the-heat purchase. To get a better idea of what goes into making ice cream a portable business, Mental Floss spoke with several proprietors for their take on everything from ideal weather conditions to police encounters. Here’s the inside scoop.

1. IT CAN GET TOO HOT FOR BUSINESS.

The most common misconception about the ice cream truck business? That soaring temperatures mean soaring profits. According to Jim Malin, owner of Jim’s Ice Cream Truck in Fairfield, Connecticut, record highs can mean decreased profits. “When it’s really hot, like 90 or 100 degrees out, sales go way down,” Malin says. “People aren’t outside. They’re indoors with air conditioning.” And like a lot of trucks, Malin’s isn’t equipped with air conditioning. “I’m suffering and sales are suffering." The ideal temperature? "A 75-degree day is perfect.”

2. THEY DON’T JUST WANDER NEIGHBORHOODS ANYMORE.

An ice cream truck sits parked in a public spot
Chunky Dunks

The days of driving a few miles an hour down a residential street hoping for a hungry clientele have fallen by the wayside. Many vendors, including Malin, make up half or more of their business by arranging for scheduled stops at events like weddings, employee picnics, or school functions. “We do birthday parties, church festivals, sometimes block parties,” he says. Customers can pay in advance, meaning that all guests have to do is order from the menu.

3. SOME OF THEM DRIVE A MINIBUS INSTEAD OF A TRUCK.

For sheer ice cream horsepower, nothing beats a minibus. Laci Byerly, owner of Doodlebop’s Ice Cream Emporium in Jacksonville, Florida, uses an airport-style shuttle for her inventory. “Instead of one or two freezers, we can fit three,” she says. More importantly, the extra space means she doesn’t have to spend the day hunched over. “We can stand straight up.”

4. THEY HAVE A SECRET STASH OF ICE CREAM TO GIVE AWAY TO SPECIAL CUSTOMERS.

A picture of an ice cream truck menu.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The goal of any truck is to sell enough ice cream to justify the time and expense of operation, so freebies don’t make much sense—unless the truck happens to have some damaged goods. Malin says that it’s common for some pre-packaged bars to be broken inside wrappers, rendering them unattractive for sale. He sets these bars aside for kids who know the score. “I put them in a little box for kids who come up and ask if I have damaged ice cream,” he says. “Certain kids know I have it, and I’m happy to give it to them.”

5. THEY’RE CREATING CUSTOM ICE CREAM MENUS.

An ice cream nacho platter is shown
Chunky Dunks

While pre-packaged Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches remain perennial sellers, a number of trucks are mixing up business by offering one-of-a-kind treats. At the Chunky Dunks truck in Madison, Mississippi, owner Will Lamkin serves up Ice Cream Nachos, a signature dish that outsells anything made by Nestle. “It’s cinnamon sugar chips with your choice of ice cream,” he says. “You get whipped cream, too. And for the ‘cheese,’ it’s a caramel-chocolate sauce.” The nachos work because they’re “streetable,” Lamkin’s label for something people can carry while walking. “The next seven or eight people in line see it, and then everyone’s ordering it.”

6. THEY DON’T ALWAYS PLAY THE ICONIC JINGLE.

Before most people see an ice cream truck, they hear that familiar tinny tune. While some operators still rely on it for its familiarity, Malin and others prefer more modern tracks. “Normally we play ‘80s rock,” he says. “Or whatever we feel like playing that day. We rock it out.”

7. POP CULTURE CHARACTERS ARE SOME OF THEIR BEST SELLERS.

A Captain America ice cream treat
Doodlebop's

While adult customers tend to favor ice cream treats they remember from their youth, kids who don’t really recognize nostalgia tend to like items emblazoned with the likenesses and trademarks of licensed characters currently occupying their TV screens and local theaters. “Characters are the most popular with kids,” Byerly says. “SpongeBob, Minions, and Captain America.”

8. THEY KEEP DOG FOOD HANDY.

At Doodlebop’s, Byerly has a strategy for luring customers with pets: She keeps dog treats on hand. “The dog will sometimes get to us before the owner does,” she says. “If the dog comes up to the truck, he’ll get a Milkbone.” That often leads to a human companion purchasing a treat for themselves.

9. SOMETIMES RIVALS WILL CALL THE COPS.

Though there have been stories of rogue ice cream vendors aggressively competing for neighborhood space over the years, Malin says that he’s never experienced any kind of out-and-out turf war. Ice cream truck drivers tend to be a little more passive-aggressive than that. “I have a business permit for Fairfield, so that’s typically where I’m driving,” he says. “But sometimes I might go out of town for an event. Once, a driver pulled up to me and asked if I had a permit. I said ‘No, I’m just here for an hour,’ and he said, ‘OK, I’m calling the cops.’ They try and get the police to get you out [of town].” Fortunately, police typically don’t write up drivers for the infraction.

10. SOME LUCKY CUSTOMERS HAVE AN APP FOR HOME DELIVERY.

An ice cream truck driver.
George Rose/Getty Images

Technology has influenced everything, and ice cream trucks are no exception. Malin uses an app that allows customers to request that he make a special delivery. "People can request I pull up right outside their home," he says. If their parents are home, there’s one additional perk: "I accept credit cards."

This article originally ran in 2018.