Target Gets Personal with Associates

Dec 14, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Big box retailers looking to open stores in urban neighborhoods
often have different considerations to take into account vs. when
moving into upscale suburban locations. Limited space for building along with
more expensive rents and higher crime rates, for example, make store size and
security higher priorities in urban areas.

Another consideration is employee
welfare. According to a Los Angeles
article, Target found that associates in stores in Compton and
other urban locations faced challenges that could be quite different than
those of its workers in other stores.

Before moving into Compton, Target was
aware of its reputation for gang violence, drugs and numerous other social
ills associated with extreme poverty. What it didn’t really see coming was
how it would affect those individuals who made up its workforce.

was domestic violence, teenage pregnancy. We’ve had situations where team
members were homeless and living in their cars but still coming to work," Alice
Reyes, head of human resources at the Compton Target, told the Times. "More
than half of my day was dealing with team member concerns — ‘What should
I do, where should I go?’ They needed someone to talk to, someone who would

Target made the decision to go out and get someone to help associates
with their problems. In stepped ComPsych, a company that provides workplace
counselors, and Saundra Edwards.

Ms. Edwards, or Miss Saundra as she is known
at the store, spends two days a week at the Compton Target. She told the Times her
job is "not
about giving advice, it’s about giving assistance."

One case where Ms.
Edwards provided assistance was with a sales clerk who worked at another Target
and feared for her safety from a former boyfriend. Issues with the man caused
her to miss work and almost cost her the job at Target. Ms. Edwards, learning
of the situation, helped the woman find space in a women’s shelter and arranged
for her to move to the Compton store. Since then, getting to work has not been
an issue.

"Last year was terrible and it’s better now," the woman told
Ms. Edwards. "I didn’t know who to talk to. When you’re going through
things, you don’t want to take them to work and dump all over someone."

Compton store was the second in the chain to hire a social worker. Today, the
chain has 69 stores with social workers and those locations showed a 17 percent
improvement in attendance.

"Our Compton store has been a great success story," Gregg Steinhafel,
chairman and CEO of Target, told the Times. "I’m confident that
learnings from our three years in Compton will prove extremely beneficial as
we continue to expand."

Discussion Questions: Are there lessons for other chains from Target’s experience
with social workers? Would this approach also be effective in locations in areas
outside of urban areas?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

10 Comments on "Target Gets Personal with Associates"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Steve Montgomery
10 years 5 months ago

I am not sure if they will be common or not but as Walmart and others seek to enter major urban areas, they and others will certainly face similar situations. We hear a lot about food deserts and the opportunities they represent. There is no question there is a sales opportunity but it comes with a lot of operation issues.

While I think what Target is doing is a needed service and good for them and all concerned, I wonder if there is any concerns about contingent liability in that Target is sponsoring the service. Where I thought the story would go is that Target got the local governmental services involved and not that they assume the responsibility for providing this service.

Ian Percy
10 years 5 months ago

I’m sure we’ll hear lots of pros and cons in this thread but frankly Target just moved up a whole bunch of notches in my book. What a great story at this time of year!

If Target wanted to operate on a strictly ‘mechanistic’ model they’d insist employees look after their own issues and still do their job. If they couldn’t there are lots of others who can. Instead they’ve chosen to take an ‘energetic’ or ‘spiritual’ approach, recognizing that life doesn’t really come with partitions–it’s all one thing. I’m confident that the energy, spirit, vibe the employee in the story brings to the store and its customers is well worth anything Target has invested.

How people are managed is how they will serve. Here employees are being ‘managed’ with love and respect and they will serve customers in the same way. I have this uncontrollable urge to go buy something from our local Target!

David Livingston
10 years 5 months ago

This is old news to experienced retailers and it’s one of the reasons many retailers avoid difficult areas. The social problems these employees bring with them to work can be a human resources nightmare. Perhaps Target’s management should have consulted older executives that have lived through some of Target’s shut-downs of urban stores in the ’90s.

It seems every new generation of management thinks they can somehow operate in a combat zone without problems. The bottom line is, can these stores be profitable, and are customers and managers safe?

Anne Howe
10 years 5 months ago

Adding social worker support to urban stores is a viable solution to encourage retailers to operate in under-served urban areas. I am quite certain the benefits associated with providing basic assistance services to associates in need far outweigh the liability issues Target may face.

I applaud Target and other retailers who embrace this solution today, and I encourage others to model from their success instead of honing in on random stories of failure to use as excuses not to participate.

As our nation’s population continues to flow toward urban areas, the “mix and mingle” of shoppers and associates becomes more seamless. Those who view this as an opportunity will win loyal shoppers in the end. Sometimes retailers and marketers fail to realize that every employee shops, as do all of their families and friends. We need to think about the positive impact that every Target social worker success story is creating in the marketplace in subtle, yet powerful ways.

Roger Saunders
10 years 5 months ago

The “Emotional IQ” of store management teams will have to expand in order to work with crew members. This will take work on the part of corporate and regional management teams, in developing new leadership/management practices for these store management groups.

Not a straight-forward practice, but if the big box stores get it right, they can reap strong profitability from these densely populated areas, make a mark on the communities which they serve, and find the future leaders/managers who will be able to make added stores a reality.

Ed Dennis
Ed Dennis
10 years 5 months ago

As a human being I applaud Target, as a stockholder I question their judgment. Frankly I don’t want to invest money in a business that is not putting 100% of their efforts into growing my investment, and on the surface, it would seem that a lot of expense and effort is being expended building stores in locations that insure overhead will be higher than a suburban location. Why is this necessary? Target moves into these neighborhoods and puts 15 small business people and their employees out of business. Then Target probably won’t stay. They will stick it out for 10 or 12 years and the location will drag the company’s profits down and someone will finally make a business decision and shutter the store. I can’t count how many times I have seen this happen.

If you want to run a business, then run a business. If you want to be a social worker, then do that. The two activities don’t support each other.

Kai Clarke
10 years 5 months ago

Target is finally realizing that their associates are real people with real problems which impact their working lives. When Target decided to get involved in solving these issues, even though they were not necessarily work-related, it became a better employer. Work is an important part of life for these people, and its success is very important for Target, its associates, and even the consumers who shop at the stores.

Fabien Tiburce
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 5 months ago

To the people who have questioned Target’s business rationale, look at it this way: it’s a good story, a company with a social conscience. It makes me want to shop there. Walmart has often been accused of mistreating their employees. This has surely cost them business. With a bit of PR such as this story, social conscience and profits don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Good job Target!

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 5 months ago
The NBA’s Washington Wizards used to be the Baltimore Bullets (the area is referred to as BaltWash, so geographic specifics are unimportant). It was a PC name change, seeking not to encourage the gang violence rampant in the area. But what would Billboard Magazine’s reports of music sales be without the customary rankings “with a bullet” (denoting momentum)? (By the way, a bullet is only the lead projectile exiting from a firearm, leaving the brass shell behind. The whole shebang, fully assembled and prior to firing, is called a cartridge. However, both the Baltimore Bullets and Billboard bullets always depicted a cartridge. Curious. The “Baltimore Cartridges?” Billboard’s “Number One With A Cartridge?”) But I digress for the first time in my life. Could the Target logo be seen as similarly violence-encouraging and un-PC as a bullet logo? Some say so. Expected sales of Target-logoed t-shirts in urban areas fell well short of projections some years ago. Who wants a target on their chest or back, especially in violent neighborhoods? Couldn’t even give them away, either… Read more »
Jerry Gelsomino
10 years 5 months ago

I was intrigued by Ed Dennis’ comments and he has me thinking. What’s the most important reason for business, to change people’s lives or be profitable? And, as he questions, what about the small businesses that Target forces to close when the big discounter goes into the urban neighborhoods. It is a difficult, conflicting question; why do majors see the need to open stores there?


Take Our Instant Poll

Are social workers likely or unlikely to be commonplace in big box stores in urban areas in the years ahead?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...