The untold truth of Target

Target has been around for over 50 years, and it's is considered the "cool" big box store, with celebrity designers, hip styling, and trendy food products all their own. But there's a lot more to this Minneapolis, MN-based chain than you think you know. Like how First Lady Michelle Obama reportedly snuck out of the White House to shop there. Or how that French pronunciation of the store name has been around for longer than you may know. Here's a look behind the bullseye — both the store and its iconic furry-friend mascot.

People have called it "Tarjay" since the 1960s

Many Target shoppers have made the joke of using a French pronunciation for the store's name to make it sound more upscale. They may think they're funny or even original in doing so. But it turns out that this French pronunciation is a very old joke. How old? Douglas J. Dayton, the first president of Target, said he first heard it in Duluth, MN in 1962, the year the store first opened.

Bullseye is a male character, played by a female

Target has been using a white bull terrier as their "Bullseye" mascot since 1999. And no, they didn't find a dog that miraculously happened to have red markings on his face. Instead, they use safe vegetable-based paint to color in that bullseye. The pooch is featured on the stores' gift cards and Target has made several hundred Bullseye plush toy styles. One of the toys even made it to The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

The New York Times wrote in 2015 that Target picking a bull terrier as a mascot is "also a brave choice and a rare turn in the spotlight for a breed originally bred in Britain for dogfighting, a dog with the reputation of a canine gladiator that would fight to the death to please a master." But Bullseye is a friendly dog who loves to walk the red carpet and wear cool costumes, including a fire suit for auto races, and a Minnesota Twins jersey. He barks it up with celebs and even gets to travel first-class in airplanes in his own seat.

Make that her own seat. Bullseye is portrayed by a female.

​The Target name and logo was one of 200 choices​

George Draper Dayton was a New Yorker who wanted to get into the store business, so he chose Minneapolis, MN in 1881 to open the Dayton Dry Goods Company, later becoming the Dayton Company department store chain.

In 1961, the company announced that they would open up a discount store offshoot, saying that the new place would "combine the best of the fashion world with the best of the discount world, a quality store with quality merchandise at discount prices, and a discount supermarket... 75 departments in all."

But they didn't know what to call it. They looked at over 200 possible choices for the name and logo, and decided that a target, complete with a bullseye logo, was the way to go. They explained the choice, saying, "As a marksman's goal is to hit the center bulls-eye, the new store would do much the same in terms of retail goods, services, commitment to the community, price, value and overall experience."

The first Target opened in 1962, and while there have been a variety of logo styles over the years, the bullseye remains front and center. It is so recognizable that reportedly 93 percent of Americans who shop, can identify the brand without the store name — just the logo!

A high-tech command center scans the globe

Target's Corporate Command Center (CCC), located in Minneapolis, is where they watch what's happening at all their stores from over 75,000 feeds from digital cameras. According to Target's corporate site, it "serves as a hub and provides up-to-date information on weather conditions, natural disasters and major news world-wide, among other critical business needs."

The CCC also has partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to be ready for any sort of disaster. For example, if a hurricane is going to hit an area, they can ship needed supplies to that region for customers to buy. That's exactly what Target did when Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast in 2012. Forget the Waffle House Index, maybe it should be the Target Index for gauging the potential impact of natural disasters.

Target collabs boost designers' popularity

Target partners with big names in fashion, like Victoria Beckham, who unveiled clothing line VBxTarget in 2017. But she's just one of many designers who have created affordable products for the stores that are a far cry from the mom jeans and sweatpants that people expect from big box stores. And unlike when Halston killed his high-fashion career by teaming up with JC Penney, teaming up with Target has only added to current designers' fame.

In 2002, Isaac Mizrahi was the first big-name designer to create lines for the store, and many have followed. Missoni, Proenza Schouler, and others have caused a shopping frenzy over the years, eliciting so much excitement that "retail scalpers" (yes, that is a thing) have made a mint reselling their clothing.

The biggest-ever such collaboration? Lilly Pulitzer's Palm Beach resort wear in 2015 — all of the items were snatched up in just a few hours, according to The New York Times. They've long since sold out of stores, but still pop up on eBay.

There's a specific markdown schedule

Target has drawn such a cult following over the years that there's even a fan site called All Things Target, letting shoppers know what's happening in the stores, and offering tips on the best deals. According to the site, the chain has a specific schedule for slashing clearance prices.

Here's the schedule: if you're looking for "electronics, accessories, kids clothing, books, baby and stationery," those prices go lower on Monday. Tuesday features "domestics, women's clothing, pets and market (food items)." For "men's clothing, health and beauty, diapers, lawn & garden items and furniture," Wednesday means further markdowns. Thursday features lower prices on "housewares, lingerie, shoes, toys, sporting goods, decor & luggage," while it's "auto, cosmetics, hardware, & jewelry" on Friday.

There was #AlexFromTarget

Not only have Target products become cult favorites, but so have a few of their employees, too. Remember "Alex from Target"? Alex Lee, a teen cashier from Frisco, TX, became a social media sensation in 2014 after a smitten girl secretly snapped a picture of him at the checkout line and posted it on Twitter.

He quickly gained millions of followers, and Crowdbabble reported on Medium that he was paid to endorse over a dozen products on social media. But there was also a downside. The New York Times noted that he received death threats, too. These days, Lee no longer works for Target, but he still has millions of followers on social media thanks to going viral.

Another Target cashier went viral for a good reason

Another viral cashier was Ishmael Gilbert. In 2016, a customer in a rush spotted him being extremely patient with an elderly woman who was paying for her items in change. He helped her count everything out and was very kind. Sarah Owen Bigler, the customer who posted this story on Facebook, was in the store with her young son and daughter as she watched the whole thing unfold. The woman wrote, "I realized I hadn't been inconvenienced at all. That my daughter was instead witnessing kindness and patience and being taught this valuable lesson by a complete stranger; furthermore, I realized that I too needed a refresher on this lesson."

Gilbert's great customer service became a national story. Then later on that year, according to (via HuffPost), a manager at a local kidney dialysis center later spotted him in action and offered him a job at Fresenius Medical Care. HuffPost said he is currently employed there "as a patient care technician and is working toward becoming a certified hemodialysis technician," and that "the center is also paying for his education as he studies to become a registered nurse."

They have a test kitchen

Many retail food companies and chain restaurants have test kitchens, and so does Target. Since they have in-house food brands like Archer Farms and Market Pantry, they test all the recipes first before producing them. They even host a Cake Week multiple times a year.

One of the food kitchen experts in the video above explains their philosophy, "We're designers, but in the food world." Another says, "Food is chemistry so we're working with these ingredients and making sure they go together." But unlike a chemistry class, these experiments usually have a delicious ending.

That teen pregnancy story may have been bogus

In 2012, The New York Times claimed that an anonymous customer was a pregnant teenage girl whose father discovered her condition via targeted store coupons. But that may not have been the real story.

Charles Duhigg, the author of the piece, talked to Eric Siegel, who later authored the book Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die. Siegel directed Duhigg to a talk Eric Pole gave about Target's predictive analytics that Siegel witnessed. The speech reportedly did not include the teenager anecdote, but the article did, "with the unsubstantiated but tacit implication that this resulted specifically from Target's PA project," Siegel wrote in his book. He also noted that the anonymous anecdote helped launch Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, which hit The New York Times best seller list.

However, Siegel said in his book that the top way Target found out if a customer was pregnant wasn't from their shopping habits, but from them signing up for a baby registry at the store. What's more, analytics writer Gregory Piatetsky asked Siegel if the "predictive analytics" Target used "really [identified] and [revealed] a teen pregnancy," and Siegel said "that very likely this was NOT the case," Piatetsky wrote.

Minnesota's governor has a big Target connection

Mark Dayton, a former Democratic U.S. senator, has been governor of the state of Minnesota since 2001. He is the great-grandson of franchise founder, George Draper Dayton. According to Forbes, the Dayton family is reportedly worth $1.6 billion thanks to the store.

Target's Canadian debut was a flop

As much as Americans love Target, Canadians weren't feeling it. Target spent $7 billion and two years there, only to see it completely fail. CEO Brian Cornell said, "In my time here at Target, I've developed a better understanding of just how deeply our entry disappointed Canadian shoppers," who were reportedly initially excited about the stores, thanks to visiting them in the U.S.

Part of the problem was that Target took over the leases of Zeller's, a defunct chain, instead of building the stores from the ground up. Fortune pointed out that "most Zeller's stores were dumpy, poorly configured for Target's big-box layout, and were in areas not frequented by the middle class customers Target covets," saying that "inheriting many awful locations from a dying low-end retailer was at the heart of the damage to Target's cheap-chic allure in Canada."

In addition, Slate said that because the chain, "revved up so quickly, the company never had time to develop a working supply chain in Canada, which left its stores short on merchandise and full of empty shelves."

Their transgender policy was progressive, but hurt them financially

In April 2016, when the subject of transgender people using the restrooms of their choosing was abuzz, Target posted, "We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity." But customers who weren't on board with that decided to boycott the stores.

It was a move that made a dent in Target's bottom line, especially in the South. The Wall Street Journal reported in April 2017, one year later, that "inside the company, executives predicted the backlash would die down. It didn't, and foot traffic in several markets, particularly in the South, declined considerably in the months following the announcement."

The article noted that some of the stores seeing declining sales were near Walmarts, and "were physically worn down and weren't competitive on prices of commodity goods." Since that time, Target promised to "invest $7 billion" in part to upgrade and "remodel 110 stores this year, one-third of those in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — a market that lost foot traffic after the bathroom pronouncement." In addition, Target said they would spend $20 million to add private bathrooms to stores that didn't already have them.

​What's next for Target?

In addition to spending money remodeling some of its stores, CEO Brian Cornell said that the store was planning on spending some of that $7 billion to "adapt" to what the Target corporate site calls "Rapidly Evolving Guest Preferences."

Cornell says, in addition to spending more money in digital, including combining the Target and Cartwheel apps into one, the store is "rolling out new technology that allows team members to search our inventory, take payment from a mobile point-of-sale system and arrange delivery — all from the sales floor."

He also said, "We're upping our Tar-zhay game across our brand portfolio" and adding "12 new exclusive brands across our apparel and home departments." Yes, even the CEO of Target calls it Tar-zhay.