12 Secrets of Bed Bath & Beyond Employees

Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Need a super-absorbent towel? Luxury sheets made of exotic-sounding cotton? When consumers feel like pampering themselves with home goods, they head to a Bed Bath & Beyond location. The retail chain with 1024 stores across the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico was founded in 1971 with a focus on kitchen and bath amenities. Today, it’s probably best known as the store with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of 20 percent off coupons that blanket mailboxes and newspapers across the country.

To get a better idea of what goes on between those stacks of infamously fake towels, Mental Floss reached out to three former employees of the chain. Here’s what they had to say about job perks, occupational hazards, and the grim consequences of accepting returns on used bedding.

1. They might give you the discount without the coupon.

Many of the customers roaming a typical Bed Bath & Beyond location can be seen clutching the oversized 20-percent-off coupons sent to homes and email inboxes, which are good on most every single-item purchase. But sometimes, they might find themselves in the store without one of these valuable pieces of paper. According to Eric, who worked at a Bed Bath & Beyond in Ohio for four years, cashiers will typically take care of them anyway.

“Generally speaking, we were instructed to not give out the coupon because then everyone would just get a discount and it would defeat the purpose,” he says. “However, if a customer forgot, and went out of their way to be polite throughout the transaction, I would take care of them, but usually only if there wasn’t a line built up and no one could see. If I gave it to one, everyone else would want it, too.”

Bear in mind this courtesy applies to nice people: “If customers were rude or acting immature, I would not feel like helping them out.”

2. Bed Bath & Beyond employee see some pretty disgusting returns.

A Bed Bath & Beyond employee stands behind the counter
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Regina spent five years as a cashier, customer service representative, and supervisor at a Bed Bath & Beyond location while working her way through graduate school. During her tenure there, the store’s infamously lenient return policy permitted refunds for items with few exceptions. As a result, Regina saw things she wishes she hadn’t. “We had a lot of nasty returns from sheets with possible bed bugs to used dishes with food on them [and] used toilet bowl cleaners," she says. "You name it.”

Today, the store limits returns to items bought within the past year, though you could probably still get away with returning a food-encrusted frying pan.

3. They get to try products for a discount.

A Bed Bath & Beyond store display features outdoor furniture
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Ever notice Bed Bath employees actually have answers about an item you’re interested in? Turns out the company tries to make it easy for them to know their stuff. “They offer an incentive program, which was one of my favorite parts,” Annie says. “Employees got a list from corporate once a month with items at a really good discount, so they could try the item without spending full price and be able to give customers better feedback from their personal experience.”

4. Bed Bath & Beyond employees can't tell you no.

Try asking a Bed Bath & Beyond employee a question that could elicit a negative response. Chances are you won’t hear them use the word no. That’s because company policy encourages employees to avoid sounding negative or unhelpful. “Employees can't say no,” Regina says. “There has to be a solution to offer or an effort to look it up before saying no to a customer.”

5. They wish you'd stop wandering into the back rooms ...

While Bed Bath & Beyond prides itself on one-on-one customer service, their reputation for being accessible to shoppers can sometimes come back to bite them. Annie worked at a Bed Bath & Beyond in the northwest region for eight years and says that people often went everywhere, even off-limits areas, in search of assistance. “It was more common than you would expect to have customers push through our doors marked ‘Employees Only’ and search the stockroom looking for an employee,” she says. “If I could say anything to customers, it would be to please do not do that."

6. ... And climbing the displays ...

A Bed Bath & Beyond display features cooking utensils
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Bed Bath’s store layout maximizes their real estate footprint by stocking and stacking items a dozen or more feet in the air. Part inventory and part decoration, these shelves clearly aren’t meant to be areas for self-service, but Annie still watched as patrons treated the fixtures like a jungle gym. “People were typically pretty good at asking for help if they needed it, but I did catch a handful of people not only climbing shelves but unstrapping our ladders and using them themselves even though there were always signs and stickers prohibiting them from doing so.” Anne would also spot parents letting small children climb on ladders. Needless to say, this is never recommended behavior.

7. ... And stealing small parts.

Because Bed Bath & Beyond uses actual small appliances as display models and not mock-up fakes like some stores, customers will sometimes swipe a little part they need from the shelf. That might be why you notice that Keurig coffeemaker missing its tray. “Occasionally, people would steal pieces from our kitchen electronic displays since we didn’t sell parts individually and our displays were typically actual working models,” Annie says.

8. Don't bother trying to scam them with your refund.

The exterior of a Bed Bath & Beyond location
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Bed Bath & Beyond's generous return policy has sometimes allowed consumers to profit. “People started to take so much advantage of using coupons and then returning an item without a receipt for full price that the company finally had to implement a policy where any non-receipted return had 20 percent automatically deducted from it,” Annie says.

9. Towels are the bane of their existence.

Bath towels are folded and stacked on top of one another
iStock.com/steve-goucher

Towels. They’re everywhere at Bed Bath, and although the inventory on the upper shelves is usually just one towel made to look like several while tucked around foam backing, consumers don’t treat the remaining stacks with a whole lot of courtesy. “The worst [part] was probably the towels,” Annie says. “People would unfold them, drop them off in the wrong spot when they found a better one, or mess with our display towels, which were a pain to do. For a while during the holidays, we actually had someone just for the towel department to try and upkeep it.”

Eric describes his dealings with towels as a “nightmare” due to having to re-fold them every night. “People threw them everywhere.”

10. There can be blood.

While not quite as grisly as an emergency room, employees at Bed Bath might still occasionally see something gruesome. “I cleaned up plenty of blood from people stabbing themselves trying to rip security tags off goods in the bathroom so they can steal them,” Eric says.

11. They're not fooled by your counterfeit coupons.

Those pervasive 20-percent-off coupons seem to be everywhere, but sometimes people get so desperate for their discount fix that they’ll conjure up one of their own. “We had fakes all the time,” Annie says. “A lot of people thought they could go online to Google Images and print off a copy of a random coupon. They don't work and we would never accept them.” These days, coupons have unique barcodes and can’t be used more than once. (In case you were wondering, redeemed coupons get ripped up and tossed in the trash.)

12. The “Beyond” isn't in the store.

A Bed Bath & Beyond sign is displayed in the store
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Employees frequently get asked where the “Beyond” of Bed Bath & Beyond is. “There is no ‘Beyond’ section,” Regina says. “The back room is just overstock.” The “Beyond” refers to an assortment of goods that are available via special order and not stocked in stores, like made-to-order furniture and personalized gifts.

11 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Holiday Window Display Designers

iStock.com/andykazie
iStock.com/andykazie

For decades, lavish holiday window displays at department stores have been one of the first signs of the season. But have you ever wondered how the designers behind the windows create those enchanting arrangements? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes into making the holiday windows so magical at this time of year—from the best way to arrange lights to the pre-season all-nighters.

1. Every holiday window has a purpose.

The holiday windows are supposed to make you feel something, says Jacques Rosas, New York-based artist, founder, and CEO of Jacques Rosas, which does holiday window installations in stores such as Godiva, Elizabeth Arden, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Whenever Rosas is working on a window, he asks about the personality of the store, what they’re imagining, favorite decorations, traditions, and more—all starting with what they sell. “I try to pull settings that have nostalgia for them,” Rosas says. “I think the magical part is the nostalgia.” He loves the feel of an old-fashioned Christmas—last year, he decked out one store window with handmade stockings, old ornaments, and a real train.

2. You won’t see many Christmas trees in the store windows.

A Macy's 2007 holiday window display.
A Macy's 2007 holiday window display.
Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (cropped)

At least not any real Christmas trees, Rosas says. Usually, the windows are hot, dry places, so any live trees would dry out and die. They could also catch fire, so a lot of the newer buildings won’t use them even if they could create the right environmental conditions. “We tend to use a lot of fake stuff,” Rosas says.

3. You also won’t see any products.

While store windows throughout the year are supposed to sell products, this time of year is all about the entertainment, says David Spaeth, CEO of Spaeth Design, which does holiday windows for Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany & Co. and Bergdorf Goodman. Sure, you may see a product or two in some of the windows (it’s not a hard-and-fast rule), but this is the time to seduce customers with gorgeous snowflakes or pretty (fake) trees instead of fantastic outfits.

4. But you will see lights.

A Bloomingdale's 2008 holiday window
A Bloomingdale's 2008 holiday window
Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (cropped)

Lights are what draws customers to the windows, and they can really make the displays pop. But you’d be surprised at how few lights will make a big splash, Rosas says. “There’s not a lot of lights—that’s a big mistake,” he says. "If you do too many, the reflection will play tricks on the viewer, and you won’t actually be able to see anything but lights.” Instead, he uses a few perfectly placed lights that bounce off each other. Rosas also tends to use plenty of wood composite, fiberglass, bark, paper, and plastic to create his scenes. But don't be surprised to spot other wacky items in holiday store windows, like Lite-Brite (yes, the retro toy), coffee stirrers, and even taxidermy. Anything goes when it comes to creating the perfect holiday window.

5. They plan ahead.

When the holidays start dying down, these designers are just getting started on the following year, says Michael Bednark, owner of Bednark Studio, a Brooklyn-based fabrication studio that is responsible for some of the Macy’s holiday windows throughout the country. Design talks start in January, and by March, the ideas are set. It takes two more months to figure out rendering, and the summer months are for fabrication (building the physical elements). Installation starts even before Halloween—by about mid-October, Bednark says.

6. They have working habits comparable to vampires.

Ever wonder how holiday windows pop up like magic? That’s because the artists work through the night to put them up so that they’ll appear in the morning. Installation for the simpler windows usually takes six to eight hours, Rosas says. “We have to be like wizards,” he explains.

7. Some windows can take weeks to install.

A Bergdorf Goodman holiday window in 2014
A Bergdorf Goodman holiday window in 2014
iStock.com/LukeAbrahams

A regular window display is an overnight job, but the team working on the Macy’s windows pre-builds them inside the shop. There’s a fake window inside every single Macy’s store, filled with the entire holiday window display. “We pre-build inside the shop so we can make sure that everything fits,” Bednark says. The pre-build takes about four weeks. If it’s a go, it’s moved into the regular window, which takes three weeks.

8. To make it look perfect, the artists touch every light.

The reason store windows look amazing while your holiday display might look just passable is because these designers really pay attention to the details. “When you decorate a tree, or you’re doing your lights and everything, the secret to really nice displays is to touch and adjust each branch, each light, and position everything as if everything was its own individual thing,” Rosas says. “That’s the secret to styling.”

9. When the season is over, the displays are usually tossed.

Some stores will re-use the decorations in-house, but many will toss them because the décor is so unique. Basically, they don’t want to wear the same outfit two days in a row, Spaeth explains.

10. The holidays aren’t their only busy season.

People love holiday store windows, and they’re great for business. But these artists are busy year-round, Rosas says. In addition to doing store window displays for every season, they also decorate show rooms, do trade show displays, and even create sets for TV shows and product launches. In Rosas’s studio, they have two 7500-square-foot spaces, and they use these for creating fake store windows or for marketing experiences. For example, a yogurt company may hire Rosas to use that studio to build an entire yogurt set as a backdrop for a yogurt product launch. The yogurt company would then invite members of the media to the room, where they’d take pictures and do interviews. “We try to inspire people to write about [the company] there,” Rosas says.

11. If you want to replicate the look, get out your checkbook.

A Bergdorf Goodman 2014 holiday window
A Bergdorf Goodman 2014 holiday window
iStock.com/LukeAbrahams

To hire a professional display artist to do your holiday windows, expect to pay anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 per window, depending on the number of details and amount of work it will take, Bednark says. In other words, making this kind of magic doesn't come cheap.

A version of this story first ran in 2016.

12 Secrets of Dollar Store Employees

A dollar store in Brooklyn
A dollar store in Brooklyn
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Discount retailers have probably been around as long as commerce itself, but it wasn't until the 1950s that a string of stores began popping up in the South that shared a common element: Everything they sold was dirt-cheap. In recent years, the country has experienced a wave of frugal storefronts selling everything from stationary to seafood. Stores like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General, and a rash of independently owned stores catering to the budget-conscious now outnumber Starbucks and McDonald's in the U.S.

To get a better sense of the activity that surrounds these wallet-friendly outlets, Mental Floss spoke to three employees of Dollar Tree. Here’s what they had to say about stocking their shelves, fanatical customers, and why they spend so much time filling up balloons.

1. Paper goods are the best deal in stores.

You can find practically anything at dollar stores, including frozen food (more on that in a moment), toys, and cleaning products. Assortments can vary widely by store and by franchise, but according to Brenda, the store manager of a Dollar Tree in the Midwest, customers get the best deal sticking with paper products. At least, that's what employees buy most frequently. “The items that my employees and I purchase at Dollar Tree for value would definitely be toilet paper, paper towels, birthday cards, candy, balloons, plastic ware, paper plates, envelopes, stationary products, and the daily newspaper,” she says. At her store, toilet paper and the local newspaper are the top sellers. While the former is a pretty obvious necessity, newspapers at her location are typically cheaper than in other stores; the Sunday edition in particular is up to two or three dollars cheaper. (Like a lot of their inventory, the chain likely gets a tremendous discount for buying the papers in bulk.)

2. They know you won't be in the store for too long.

The exterior of a Dollar Tree store is shown from a low angle
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Dollar stores typically have little signage, few frills, and a small real estate footprint (Dollar General's is around 7300 square feet, or one-tenth the size of a Walmart). But having limited space with easily accessible items is by design—the average shopping trip for a Dollar General store is just 10 minutes. “Planning the store around fast trips is one good way to improve the fast experience many customers are looking for, while also keeping sales high by allowing customers to see many products,” says Hank, an assistant Dollar Tree store manager in Canada. Customers “tend to want to get in and out fast. They are often busy and have other plans for the day and don't want to spend too much time wandering the store.”

3. They want customers to feel like they’re on a treasure hunt.

According to Moody’s, an earnings and credit analysis firm, Dollar General rotates its inventory on a regular basis to make customers feel like they need to buy items now in case they’re not around later—perpetuating what it calls a "treasure hunt" feel. That helps the stores compete with online retailers like Amazon, which typically maintains stock of popular products and may not provoke the same sense of urgency in buyers.

Dollar Tree’s approach is slightly different. While new inventory does arrive from suppliers, it’s not as frequently. “When we are doing the truck we get really excited when we see a new product,” Brenda says. “We only see maybe 10 to 15 new things per week out of 1500 items that are coming off of the truck, so when we get something new we immediately cut open the box and examine it.”

4. They catch a lot of shoplifters.

You can walk out of dollar stores with an armful of goods for $20, $10, or less, but that still doesn’t deter people from swiping even the cheapest targets. “The shoplifting is ridiculously rampant,” Brenda says. “We catch someone just about every day.”

Oddly enough, the price may help facilitate the theft. “The thing with the low prices is that there is no real deterrent from people stealing since none of the products have any security around them," Brenda says.

5. They recommend you skip the steak.

A steak sits on a grill
A steak purchased somewhere other than a dollar store.
iStock.com/NightAndDayImages

Shopping for frozen foods at the discount chains can be hit or miss. Some items might be OK: “I’ve had the little pie slices, the sausage and pancake bites, and the Cinnabon bites are amazing,” Brenda says. “The frozen dinners are good as well. People also love the frozen vegetables and fruit.”

But when it comes to unprocessed food, like meat or seafood, you should probably consider a visit to the local grocer instead. “I don’t eat any of the frozen fish or rib eyes because I don’t trust frozen seafood or meat that costs a dollar,” she says.

Nate, a Dollar Tree manager in Minnesota, agrees. “I would never buy the steak,” he says. “I’ve heard from more than one person that it doesn’t cook [well] and it feels like rubber.” In 2016, television affiliate WCPO in Cincinnati attempted a taste test, serving up the four-ounce $1 ribeye along with a butcher's and supermarket cut to some area firefighters. Among the responses: "I guess it was meat" and "It's not terrible."

6. Other stores use them to stock up.

When most everything is a dollar, it’s easy to see why discount chains find themselves acting as a warehouse for local small businesses. Hank says that he’s observed independent proprietors coming in to stock up on items. “There is one man who runs a convenience store and buys boxes of chocolate bars and bottles of soda,” he says. “We also get plenty of event organizers buying supplies in bulk, sometimes hundreds of items at a time.”

7. They dread the sight of Hot Wheels toy cars.

A Hot Wheels toy car is pictured
iStock.com/CTRPhotos

While many toys at dollar store locations are of suspect quality, there’s at least one bit of inventory that causes a lot of excitement in aisles. “We get a lot of the infamous 'Hot Wheels Hunters,'” Nate says, referring to collectors of the popular die-cast toy car line from Mattel. “I guess they scour the internet and find out when stores are getting shipments. I’ve had people show up a day after my 2000-piece truck [arrives] and demand I go find the one box of Hot Wheels I got so they can be the first to buy them.”

If they’re polite, Nate will try to accommodate them. Some of the nicer Hot Wheels fans even deputize themselves as de facto employees. “The one guy that is a frequent visitor will take the boxes I have and stock them neatly on the shelves while he looks for what he wants," Nate says.

8. They sell pregnancy tests. And they’re reliable.

A home pregnancy test shows a positive result
iStock.com/nazdravie

If you’re wary of the accuracy of a home pregnancy test kit that costs $1, well, you probably should be. But according to Nate, his store stocks a reliable brand. “The pregnancy tests we sell are the same ones used in most hospitals,” he says. Most all pregnancy tests detect a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, which is produced during pregnancy. More expensive tests can detect lower levels earlier in a pregnancy, while cheaper tests—like the ones in dollar stores—might not register a positive until a woman is a little further along.

But they're still effective. And according to Brenda and Nate, they're also among the most-stolen items in their stores.

9. Balloons keep them aloft.

Most Dollar Tree and many other dollar store locations have a counter devoted to mylar balloons intended for birthday parties and other events. That’s because the low cost and easy storage of the un-inflated balloons makes them a very profitable endeavor. “Balloons do a ton of business for Dollar Tree,” Brenda says. “A ton. Especially for big events.”

In a given week, her store might sell 150 to 200 balloons: “If you think about it, every day is someone’s birthday, baby shower, graduation, or anniversary.”

10. They might warn you away from a bad deal.

Shoppers browse the aisles of a dollar store
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

If you’re on the fence about whether or not a dollar purchase is worthwhile, you can always ask an employee. They might tell you if it’s worth the cash. “I know that the quality of our products is not always the best and I obviously am not going to constantly bring this up to customers, but I am not afraid to give them a bit of heads up when I know a certain item is especially poor, or could be found much cheaper at a competitor,” Hank says. “I know that the company will survive without those couple sales, and I prefer to make customers happy over adding a few more dollars to the wallet of the company.”

11. The store manager is often overworked.

Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and other chains have come under fire in recent years for tasking store managers with a lot of responsibility in order to keep the costs of staffing low. According to Nate, that checks out. “In my district they are trial-running having the stores unload the semi-trucks instead of the drivers," he says. "But they won’t give us the hours to add an extra guy, which means I’m the manager on duty while being in the back of a semi throwing 1800 cases."

12. They can’t keep Donald Duck on the shelves.

Bottles of Donald Duck orange juice line a store shelf
Ted Eytan, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In stores filled with a lot of unfamiliar brands, customers like to see one recognizable face: Donald Duck’s. The Disney character is front and center on Dollar Tree’s orange juice, and his smiling bill is one of the most popular items in the stores. (The drink is produced by Citrus World, which owns the Florida’s Natural label and licenses the Donald imagery and name from Disney.) “The Donald Duck orange juice is our third most-sold item,” Brenda says. “To be honest, I’m not sure why it’s so popular. A lot of people stop at our store on the way to work or wherever, so it’s kind of a quick pick-up.”

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