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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

14 Things You Might Not Know About Target

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

With roughly 1800 stores across the country, Target has leveraged its reputation as a slightly more upscale Walmart to become the second-largest retailer in North America. The company promises “clean, spacious” shopping areas and relies on a familiar red coloring scheme to make it stand out from a surplus of discount stores.

Naturally, no huge conglomerate gets to be this big without inviting a little bit of controversy, including the recent news that they would be eliminating gender identification in some departments. Read up on their ability to predict pregnancies, the lunacy of refrigerating Doritos, and the logic behind those concrete red balls.

1. THE BUSINESS STARTED WITH A CHURCH FIRE.

At the turn of the century, real estate developer George Dayton pulled opportunity out of still-simmering embers when he bought a stretch of property in Minneapolis, Minnesota that had previously been home to the Westminster Presbyterian Church. When the church burned down in 1895, Dayton was able to use the grounds to build a six-story commercial building. Feeling it needed a primary store, Dayton convinced Goodfellows Dry Goods to relocate there. That burgeoning retail business led the family to start the Target discount franchise in 1961.    

2. “TARJAY” WAS A THING EVEN IN THE ‘60S.

Pronouncing "Target" as though it were a French boutique is older than you think. Douglas Dayton, who inherited the Dayton business along with his brothers, recalled that people were making that joke from the time the first Minneapolis location opened in 1962.

3. THOSE BIG RED BALLS OUTSIDE ARE FOR YOUR SAFETY.

Plopped unceremoniously in front of many Target locations are giant concrete balls called bollards. While they do complement the store’s red aesthetic, they also serve a functional purpose: to keep cars from driving into the door and mauling shoppers.

Inspired by the bollards, one married couple took to Instagram and Facebook to post photos of themselves interacting with them for 365 days straight. (Don't have too much fun with them, though, When the company put a decorative beach-ball colored fabric over the balls in 2007, people complained that children might kick them and break their feet.)  

4. SHOPPERS WERE EVACUATED FROM ONE STORE DUE TO A PORN EMERGENCY.

A San Luis Obispo store had to clear itself of customers and staff this past July after a hooligan managed to hijack their public announcement system and pipe pornographic noises over the speakers. The SLO Tribune reported that management was able to turn off the ecstatic soundtrack following the evacuation.

5. THEY KNOW IF YOU’RE PREGNANT. (EVEN IF YOUR FAMILY DOESN’T.)

A company employee tipped off The New York Times Magazine in 2012 that data analytics obtained from shopping could be sorted to assess whether a shopper is pregnant. Using a record of transactions, things endemic to second-trimester shopping (unscented lotions, supplements like calcium and zinc) were identified. The company could even make a reasonable estimate of when a customer was due and send them coupons tailored for their needs. Creepy? Yes, especially when the father of a teenager called a Minneapolis store to complain his daughter was getting baby-related coupons. Turns out he didn’t know she was pregnant.

6. THEY’LL LET YOU BREAST-FEED ANYWHERE IN THE STORE.

If you’re nipple-averse, you might want to reconsider a Target trip. The company recently announced a policy that allows for mothers to fuel their babies anywhere they please on the premises. Housewares, electronics, sporting goods, stationery—no department is exempt. The policy was publicized after one mother was erroneously told to cover up in Texas and stores experienced organized “nurse-ins” in protest.  

7. THEY LIKE TO REFRIGERATE DORITOS.

In 2014, people took to the Internet to voice their confusion over Target stores that were keeping bags of Doritos in their coolers. Was there some new, as-yet-undiscovered way to appreciate the tasty tortilla chip? Had Doritos been perishable all this time? The truth was somewhat less sensational, albeit substantially more disgusting. Turns out they were trying to promote a recipe for “walking tacos” that called for refrigerated items like shredded cheese, ground beef and sour cream to get mixed inside a bag of Doritos.

8. THEY ONCE OPENED 11 STORES IN ONE CITY IN ONE DAY.

In a bold move not even Starbucks has attempted, Target opened 11 stores in Chicago on the same day in March of 1993. The aggressive launch may have been intended to declare retail war on competitors Wal-Mart and Kmart: Chicago was the first time all three were going up against one another in a major market.

9. THEIR PHARMACIES ARE NOW OWNED BY CVS.

Target was once responsible for doling out their own prescriptions, but no more. In June, the company announced that CVS Pharmacy would be buying their medication dispensaries for close to two billion dollars and the locations will be re-branded as CVS fixtures. Why sell? The company needed some cash after their Canadian expansion plans fell flat.

10. THEY HELPED REPAIR THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT.

In 1997, the company put up $1 million and pledged additional assistance to the National Park Service to repair a dilapidated Washington Monument. While companies often make expensive gestures, Target went one better and helped enlist Michael Graves to help brainstorm ideas to reinforce the structure during the restoration work. Graves later become the company’s first “name” designer to debut a line of branded products.

11. “MANATEE GRAY” AS A PLUS-SIZED COLOR WAS A MISTAKE.

A Target.com shopper was taken aback when she spotted a size selection option for a Mossimo kimono dress in 2013. All of the sizes were labeled “dark heather gray” except for the plus-sized option that was dubbed “manatee gray.” Target explained that it was an actual color found across a variety of lines and that relegating it to just one size in the dress was in error.

12. “ALEX FROM TARGET” GOT DEATH THREATS.

Back in November 2014, a photo of Alex Lee—a handsome, 16-year-old Frisco, Texas Target employee—went viral, and dreamy Alex soon became an Internet meme of considerable proportions. He went from 100 Twitter followers to 100,000 almost overnight and modeling offers soon followed. But not everyone was taken with his celebrity. Alex told The New York Times he got some threats of violence and saw his family’s social security numbers posted online. Undeterred, Alex (who has since left Target to pursue other ventures, like touring with other viral personalities) now has 1.8 million Instagram followers and a Gmail address exclusively for financial offers: You can reach him at “alexleeforbusiness”.

13. THEY REINVENTED THE SHOPPING CART.

While some stores are content to let metal shopping carts age less than gracefully, Target decided that their carts were in need of a makeover. In 2006, the company enlisted Design Continuum to reverse-engineer a cart so it was easier and more comfortable to maneuver. 15 to 20 pounds lighter than a conventional steel cart, the plastic version is less likely to damage shelves—or the calves of shoppers in front of you.

14. THE DOG FLIES FIRST CLASS.

Introduced in 1999, lovable store mascot Bullseye has been a constant in Target’s ad campaigns. Naturally, the bull terrier travels in accommodations worthy of her position. She’s been spotted in first class, and a rider specifies how long she’s able to work during personal appearances.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the bullseye dye on her face is vegetable-based.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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